Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

For the love of trees

I used to climb trees when I was young (and I still, on occasion, do). As a boy in Iraq I had a favoured loquat tree, with branches that bore leathery, serrated leaves, shiny on the upper surface, and densely matted with fine hairs underneath. It seemed so big, though I now reflect it was probably rather small. I would haul myself up and over the lowest branch, making whatever use of the twists and folds of the trunk as provided purchase to my small feet.

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Hillary Clinton and voter disgust

Hillary Clinton declared that she is running for the Democratic Party nomination in a Tweet that was sent out Sunday, 12 April 2015. This ended pundit conjecture that she might not run, either because of poor health, lack of energy at her age, or maybe she was too tarnished with scandal. Yet, such speculation was just idle chatter used to fill media space. Now that Clinton has declared her candidacy, the media and political pundits have something real to discuss.

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Six things you didn’t know about light

Light occupies a central place in our understanding of the world both as a means by which we locate ourselves in nature and as a thing that inspires our imagination. Light is what enables us to see things, and thus to navigate our surroundings. It is also a primary means by which we learn about the world – light beams carry information about the constituents of the universe, from distant stars and galaxies to the cells in our bodies to individual atoms and molecules.

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A thousand words: Photography in the Lincoln era

Lincoln was not the first president of the United States to be photographed, but he was the first to be photographed many times, and not only in the portrait studio. His photo archive makes him a modern figure, a celebrity. His short presidency happened just at the time when photography first became straightforward and reliable. Many of the Lincoln photographs were taken by Scottish-born Alexander Gardner.

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Ritual in our lives [quiz]

Whether we know it or not, ritual pervades our lives, silently guiding our daily behavior. Like language, tool use, and music, ritual is a constituent element of what it means to be human, joining together culture, archaeology, and biology. The study of ritual, therefore, is a reflection on human nature and the society we inhabit.

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From Carter to Clinton: Selecting presidential nominees in the modern era

Franklin D. Roosevelt broke the two-term precedent set by George Washington by running for and winning a third and fourth term. Pressure for limiting terms followed FDR’s remarkable record. In 1951 the Twenty-Second constitutional amendment was ratified stating: “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice…” Accordingly, reelected Presidents must then govern knowing they cannot run again.

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Why do British politicians find it so hard to talk about the EU?

As the general election rolls around into its final phase it’s worth observing one of the great paradoxes of British political life. On the one hand, everyone says that ‘Europe’ is an important issue and that we must debate it, but on the other, nobody ever seems to actually have that debate.

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The origins of Easter

Easter, commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is historically the most important of all Christian festivals, even though in some Western countries it has largely lost the religious significance it retains amongst the Orthodox; nevertheless it merits discussion in a broader context not only because it is often a public as well as a religious holiday, or indeed because even Christians may be baffled by its apparently capricious incidence, but because the history of its calculation illustrates many complexities of time-reckoning.

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What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) all about? Companies appear to be adopting new attitudes and activities in the way they identify, evaluate and respond to social expectations. Society is no longer treated as a ‘given’, but as critical to business success. In some cases this is simply for the license to operate that social acceptability grants.

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Is privacy dead?

In the 1960s British comedy radio show, Beyond Our Ken, an old codger would, in answer to various questions wheel out his catchphrase—in a weary, tremulous groan—‘Thirty Five Years!’ I was reminded of this today when I realized that it is exactly 35 years ago that my first book on privacy was published. And how the world has changed since then!

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Unbossed, unbought, and unheralded

March is Women’s History Month and as the United States gears up for the 2016 election, I propose we salute a pathbreaking woman candidate for president. No, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Shirley Chisholm, who became the first woman and the first African American to seek the nomination of the Democratic Party for president. And yet far too often Shirley Chisholm is seen as just a footnote or a curiosity, rather than as a serious political contender who demonstrated that a candidate who was black or female or both belonged in the national spotlight.

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How to win the 2015 General Election

If you want to win votes and get elected in Britain, at least in general elections, then you had better get a party. The occasional and isolated exceptions only prove the rule. Before the 2010 general election, in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, there was speculation that independent candidates might do unusually well, but in the event this did not happen. Elected politicians have a wonderful capacity for persuading themselves that their electoral success is to be explained by their obvious personal qualities, but the evidence is all against them.

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Why we should read Dante as well as Shakespeare

Dante can seem overwhelming. T.S. Eliot’s peremptory declaration that ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third’ is more likely to be off-putting these days than inspiring. Shakespeare’s plays are constantly being staged and filmed, and in all sorts of ways, with big names in the big parts, and when we see them we can connect with the characters and the issues with not too much effort.

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Psychotherapy now and in the future

The 20th century has been called ‘the century of psychiatry’, and in many ways one could read that as ‘the century of psychotherapy’. A hundred years ago, at the onset of World War I, psychotherapy had touched the lives of only a tiny number of people, and most of the population had simply never heard of it. Since then it has reached into almost every aspect of our lives—how we treat the mentally ill, how we understand our relationships, our appreciation of art and artists, and even how we manage our schools, prisons, and workplaces.

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The King’s genes

On 25 March 2015, 530 years after his death, King Richard III of England will be interred in Leicester Cathedral. This remarkable ceremony is only taking place because of the success of DNA analysis in identifying his skeletal remains. So what sort of genes might a king be expected to have? Or, more prosaically, how do you identify a long dead corpse from its DNA?

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Conscience in the contemporary world

Debates about conscience arise constantly in national and international news. Appropriately so, because these debates provide a vital continuing forum about issues of ethical conduct in our time. A recent and heated debate in the United States concerns the killing of an unarmed African American youth named Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

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