Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Why do we love our pets so much?

Since time immemorial, humans have kept animals for companions. Pets are known to provide physical and emotional benefits, not only in terms of companionship, but also in terms of outdoor adventure, exercise, and socializing with other pet owners. As Sigmund Feud once said, “Time spent with cats is never wasted.” Dogs and cats have been particular favourites throughout the ages, with cats commonly thought to have been domesticated in ancient Egypt, and dogs from the time of the hunter-gatherers.

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The price of freedom

This week, as Passover ends and those of us who observe that holiday allow hametz – leavened things – back into our homes and our lives, it is worth reflecting on what all the fuss is over, and whether we should make such a fuss at all. Holidays are carved from daily life for a purpose, and often, the mode of observance dovetails the meaning of the holiday.

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Reflecting on the Armenian Genocide

April 2014 marked the centenary of the initiation of mass murders of Armenians in Anatolia—events now known as the Armenian Genocide. As Robert Melson notes in the below introduction to Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ virtual issue on the subject, Turkish governments have consistently denied that the persecutions resulted from a policy of genocide.

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John Capgrave and a medieval view of scholarship as service

John Capgrave is one of the few medieval authors whose birthday we know. As he composed his universal history known as the Abbreviation of Chronicles, he recorded that on 21 April 1393, “the friar who made these annotations was born.” And lest this entry be overlooked amidst the doings of the powerful, he inserted his personal nota bene mark, a trefoil, beside it in the margin.

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Debating the right to die

There are so many reasons why we value and promote choice and autonomy. The country and news media quite rightly protests with outrage when bad things happen to good people as their lives and civil liberties are destroyed by acts of terrorism and grievous crimes. But what about all those many people who are living a life in situations they didn’t want or anticipate?

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The mountains are calling and we must act

Muir knew that the wilds surrounding him not only fed his soul but sustain us all. Too many of our current elected officials have forgotten his lesson. They seek to sell off our public lands throughout my western home to view them as little more than sources of oil and gas, and to strip federal oversight that has kept these lands there for all of us, generation after generation.

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Choral avatar with crest

Helping small amateur choirs to survive and flourish

Many small choral groups struggle with a range of problems such as ageing choruses, dwindling membership and audience, unsuitable repertoire, a recently retired musical director, poor finances, weak administrative infrastructure, and inadequate publicity. Simon Ible reflects on how to revitalize your choir.

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Gravitational waves, black holes, and astronomy without light

On 25 September 2015 scientists at the LIGO experiment detected something that no human had ever seen before: a gravitational wave. This wave was emitted by two black holes that lived and died more than a billion years ago. Each of the black holes was around thirty times as massive as our own sun, and when they merged they gave out so much energy that they temporarily outshone every star in the observable Universe put together.

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Managing stress: mind

Techniques such as mental imagery and meditation can be used to decrease your stress response. In mental imagery, relaxation is achieved by a few minutes of deep focus on a peaceful scene, often somewhere in nature. In meditation, relaxation is achieved by a few minutes of mental repetition of a word or phrase, usually in conjunction with relaxed breathing.

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Misogyny, cheap sweets, and daydreams

Some of the most startling expressions of misogyny over the last century have been directed at girls and young women enjoying themselves. By the 1900s women were reading novels in large quantities. Heavy, three-volume works of fiction were disappearing in favour of single volumes in light bindings: paper covers were beginning to sport colourful, inviting designs.

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Why banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t work for Russia

The Supreme Court of Russia has a decision to make this week about whether to label the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization and liquidate its assets. This act would transform the religious community into a criminal network, and make individual Witnesses vulnerable to arrest simply for speaking about their faith with others.

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Still sinning, part 2

Today I am beginning where I left off last week. As we have seen, Old Icelandic sannr meant both “true” and “guilty.” Also, the root of this word can be detected in the word for “being” (Latin sunt, etc.).

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The best of all possible worlds

Voltaire is known today for Candide, a short novel published in 1779. The young hero Candide travels the world in a tale littered with rape, murder, pestilence, enslavement, and natural catastrophe. Amidst this apocalyptic nightmare, Candide’s tutor Dr Pangloss maintains a philosophical detachment, arguing against all evidence to the contrary that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

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Libraries: The unsung heroes in A Series of Unfortunate Events

This January, Lemony Snicket’s first four critically acclaimed novels of the A Series of Unfortunate Events were adapted as a Netflix original series, starring Neil Patrick Harris. Although famously known as a book series built upon three children’s misery and misfortune, the stories do contain one consistent factor on which the kids can always rely: the library.

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