Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How did the Jews survive? Two unlikely historical explanations

How have the Jews survived over the centuries? This is a question that has intrigued and perplexed many. While powerful world empires have risen and fallen, this miniscule, largely stateless, and often despised group has managed to ward off countless threats to its existence and survive for millennia. In seeking to answer the question, a wide range of theological, political, and sociological explanations have been proffered.

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How to measure social pain

Against the grain of much twentieth-century research on the nature and function of pain in humans, which tended to focus on injury and the bodily mechanics of pain signalling, recent neuroscientific research has opened a new front in the study of social and emotional pain.

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300 years of fraternal history

Around midsummer 1717 the first masonic Grand lodge is said to have been created in London. Although the event is not documented in any primary sources, freemasons across the globe – and there are between 2 and 3 millions of them – celebrate this tercentenary with a host of special events: concerts, exhibitions and parades. But what role has the fraternity played in history?

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9 facts about hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the art of understanding and of making oneself understood. But what does ‘hermeneutics’ mean? Where did the term originate and how is it used in day-to-day life? Jens Zimmermann, author of Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction, tells us 9 things everyone should know about hermeneutics.

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Did branding predict Brexit?

Branding predicted Brexit. This bald assertion points to a fascinating truth about the art of branding. Because branding feeds on, and feeds into, popular culture, it’s often a leading indicator of bigger, political phenomena. Where branding leads, the rest of us follow. Let me explain. 2016 was the year of populism. Among other things, the phenomenon of Brexit and Trump was a popular backlash against the globalisation.

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10 facts about the animal kingdom

How many species of animals are there? What is the largest animal, and how are we related to rats? Peter Holland, the author of The Animal Kingdom: A Very Short Introduction, tells us 10 things everyone should know about the animal kingdom, and how we humans fit in.

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Pandemics in the age of Trump

If Donald Trump’s administration maintains its commitments to stoking nationalism, reducing foreign aid, and ignoring or denying science, the United States and the world will be increasingly vulnerable to pandemics. History is not a blueprint for future action—history, after all, never offers perfect analogies. When it comes to pandemic disease focusing on nationalist interests is exactly the wrong approach to take.

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Prime numbers and how to find them

Prime numbers have now become a crucial part of modern life, but they have been fascinating mathematicians for thousands of years. A prime number is always bigger than 1 and can only be divided by itself and 1 – no other number will divide in to it. So the number 2 is the first prime number, then 3, 5, 7, and so on. Non-prime numbers are defined as composite numbers (they are composed of other smaller numbers).

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The best baby money can buy: are you sure about that?

Take a look at the back page advertisements in any college newspaper. Dotted among the classified ads, there will invariably be an invitation or two to male undergraduates to sell their sperm. It’s an easy and hardly arduous way to make money, and pretty speedy too. Masturbate, ejaculate, hand over the results and you’re on your way with a little money in your pocket.

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Slaves to the rhythm

I met up with Russell Foster in 1996 when I was writing a book on the social impact of the 24 hour society. I wanted to know what effect working nights had on human biology and health. At the time Russell was Reader at Imperial College. Since then he has become professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford University; a Fellow of the Royal Society; and he has a shelf full of medals from scientific societies around the world.

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Modern life and clinical psychology

It’s a sad but very modern paradox. Despite the many wonderful opportunities and options like education, technologies, internet resources and travel that are open to young people today, young people’s mental health today has never been so fragile. In contrast to the frequently portrayed images of happy, successful, and socially connected millennials in selfies, in fact many millennials seem to feel more empty and lost than ever.

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The contemporary significance of the dead sea scrolls

Many people have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but few know what they are or the significance they have for people today. This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it gives us an opportunity to ask what are these scrolls and why they should matter to anyone.

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Marvellous murmurations

Shortly before sunset, especially in winter from October to February, flocks of tens of thousands of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) fly in aerobatic displays called murmurations. The flocks swirl and morph, transforming from, for example, a teardrop shape into a vortex, and then into a long rope. The spontaneous synchronised flock turns as if of one mind.

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Global future challenges, twists, and surprises

From time immemorial, humans have yearned to know what lies ahead. Setting the context is a three-thousand-year romp through the ‘history of the future’ illustrating how our forebears tried to influence, foretell or predict it. Examples extend from the prophets and sibyls to Plato and Cicero, from the Renaissance to the European Enlightenment.

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The historian and the longitude

If a social conversation turns to the history of navigation – a turn that is not so unusual as once it was – the most likely episode to be mentioned is the search for a longitude method in the 18th century and the story of John Harrison. The extraordinary success of the book by Dava Sobel has popularised a view of Harrison as a doughty and virtuous fighter, unfairly disadvantaged by the scientific establishment.

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A cross-section of the Earth

We now know that the Earth is many billions of years old, and that it has changed an unimaginably number of times over millennia. But before the mid-eighteenth century we believed that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Then scientists (who we now call geologists) began to explore the Earth’s layers and found fossils, suggesting it was much, much older than they first thought.

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