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Moby Dick Oxford World's Classics

Weird Moby-Dick

There are a lot of peculiar phrases in Moby-Dick. My new introduction to the second Oxford World’s Classics edition of Herman Melville’s novel highlights the startling weirdness of the book, both in its literary form and its language.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

Becoming Emeritus

When I received the letter granting me emeritus status, I naturally got curious about the etymology.

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Identifying future-proof science by Peter Vickers

How to identify a scientific fact

When do we have a scientific fact? Scientists, policymakers, and laypersons could all use an answer to this question. But despite its obvious importance, humanity lacks a good answer.

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The Catholic Church and European State Formation, AD 1000-1500

Bringing the Church back in: European state-formation, AD 1000-1500 [long read]

European state-formation would have looked very different if rulers did not constantly have to negotiate with a strong clergy, independent townsmen, and the nobility over, inter alia, the wherewithal for warfare, succession and public peace. But the medieval Church shaped European societies in other ways than this. It was the one institution of late antiquity that survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, and it carried the torch of the Roman world after the Empire collapsed.

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The neuroscience of consciousness by the Oxford Comment podcast

Looking into space: how astronomy and astrophysics are teaching us more than ever before [podcast]

On today’s episode of The Oxford Comment, we’re looking at what these recent discoveries mean to our understanding of the universe. Why should we all know about distant galaxies? How will this learning impact us? And what role will artificial intelligence and machine-learning play in the wider astronomy field in the coming years…

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Excommunication in Thirteenth-Century England by Felicity Hill

Excommunication in thirteenth-century England: a volatile tool

Reactions to excommunication in thirteenth-century England varied considerably, but its consequences for society as well as individuals were significant. The fact that sentences needed to be publicised so that communities knew who to avoid made excommunication a valuable tool of mass communication. However, when the sanction was used unfairly or vengefully, this publicity shone a light on such abuses, with potentially damaging consequences for the church.

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Scientific Testimony

Pursuing deliberative democracy through scientific testimony

Science skepticism is a central threat to deliberative democracy. Generally speaking, scientific investigations based on collaboration between scientific experts are far more reliable than individual efforts when it comes to finding the truth about complex matters. So, since public deliberation is better off when it rests on science, deliberative democracy requires a reasonably high degree of public uptake of science communication.

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Word Origins

Some premature gleanings

I decided not to wait another week, let alone another four weeks, and discuss the notes and queries from my mail. As usual, I express my gratitude to those who have read the posts, added their observations, or corrected my mistakes.

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Leonardo's Salvator Mundi and the Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts

Salvator Mundi: the journey of a false saviour

Discovering the provenance of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi formed a significant part of the book that I co-authored with Margaret Dalivalle and Martin Kemp. Determining which records and references pertained to the original and which to the many copies and derivations of the painting required the unraveling of dozens of documentary threads, intertwined and occasionally knotted, stretching across the centuries.

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Analysis

The return of Humpty Dumpty: who is the ultimate arbiter of meaning?

In philosophy of language, as well as in many court opinions (e.g., Liversidge v. Anderson, 1942), Humpty Dumpty is held up as an example of how not to think about meaning. Contrary to his claim that the meaning of his words is determined solely by his intentions, there is broad agreement that what words mean is not solely up to us—we can change their meanings over time, but that requires a group effort, and something like consensus.

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