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How much do you know about early Hollywood’s leading ladies?

By Sarah Rahman


Clara Bow, whose birthday falls on 29 July, was the “it” girl of her time, making fifty-two films between 1922 and 1930. “Of all the lovely young ladies I’ve met in Hollywood, Clara Bow has ‘It,’” noted novelist Elinor Glyn. According to her entry in American National Biography, “With Cupid’s bow lips, a hoydenish red bob, and nervous, speedy movement, Bow became a national rage, America’s flapper. At the end of 1927 she was making $250,000 a year.”

Clara_Bow_1920

Clara Bow by Paramount Photos. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In recognition of the numerous leading ladies of the early days of Hollywood, the American National Biography team has put together a quiz to test your knowledge of early Hollywood and its stars. Film buff or not, the experiences of these iconic actresses may surprise you.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Sarah Rahman is a Digital Product Marketing Intern at Oxford University Press. She is currently a rising junior pursuing a degree in English literature at Hamilton College.

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The post How much do you know about early Hollywood’s leading ladies? appeared first on OUPblog.


 

How I created the languages of Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones

By David J. Peterson


My name is David Peterson, and I’m a conlanger. “What’s a conlanger,” you may ask? Thanks to the recent addition of the word “conlang” to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), I can now say, “Look it up!” But to save you the trouble, a conlanger is a constructed language (or conlang) maker — i.e. one who creates languages.

Language creation has been around since at least the 12th century, when the German abbess Hildegard von Bingen created her Lingua Ignota — Latin for “hidden language” — an invented vocabulary she used for writing hymns. In the centuries that followed, philosophers like Leibniz and John Wilkins would create languages that were intended to serve as grand classification systems, and idealists like L. L. Zamenhof would create languages intended to simplify international communication. All these systems focused on the basic utility of language — its ability to encode and convey meaning. That would change in the 20th century.

Tolkien: the father of modern conlanging

Before crafting the tales of Middle-Earth, J. R. R. Tolkien was a conlanger. Unlike the many known to history who came before him, though, Tolkien created languages for the pure joy of it. Professionally, he became a philologist, but he continued to work on his own languages, eventually creating his famous Lord of the Rings series as an extension of the linguistic legendarium he’d been crafting for many years. Though his written works would become more famous than his linguistic creations, his conlangs, in particular Sindarin and Quenya, would go on to inspire new generations of conlangers throughout the rest of the 20th century.

Due to the general obscurity of the practice, many conlangers remained unknown to each other until the early 1990s, when home internet use started to become more and more common. The first dedicated meeting place for conlangers, virtual or otherwise, was the Conlang Listserv (an online mailing list). Some list members came out of interest in Tolkien’s languages, as well as other large projects, like Esperanto or Lojban, but the majority came to discuss their own work, and to meet and learn from others who also created languages.

Since the founding of the original Conlang Listserv, many other meeting places have sprung up online, and through a couple of decades of regular conlanger interaction, the practice of conlanging has evolved.

Game of Thrones dragon

Conlang typology

Conlangs have been separated into different types since at least the 19th century. First came the philosophical languages, as discussed, then the auxiliary languages like Esperanto (also known as auxlangs), but with Tolkien emerged a new type of language: the artistic language, or artlang. At its most basic, an artlang is a conlang created for artistic purposes, but that broad definition includes many wildly divergent languages (compare Denis Moskowitz’s Rikchik to Sylvia Sotomayor’s Kēlen). Finer-grained distinctions became necessary as the community grew, and so emerged the naturalistic conlang.

This is where the languages of HBO’s Game of Thrones and Syfy’s Defiance come in. The languages I’ve created for the shows I work on come out of the naturalist tradition. The goal with a naturalistic conlang is to create a language that’s as realistic as possible. The realism of a language is grounded in the reality (fictional or otherwise) of its speakers. If the speakers are more or less human (or humanoid) and are intended to be portrayed in a realistic fashion, then their language should be as similar as possible to a natural language (i.e. a language that exists here on Earth, like Spanish, Tagalog, or Cham).

The natural languages we speak are large, but also redundant and imperfect in a uniquely human way. Conlangers have gotten pretty good at emulating them over the years, usually employing one of two different approaches. The first, which I call the façade method, is to create a language that looks like a modern natural language by replicating the various features of a modern natural language. Thus, if English has irregular plurals, such as mouse~mice, then the conlang will have irregular plurals, too, by targeting certain nouns and making their plurals irregular in some way.

The historical method: making sense of irregular plurals in Valyrian

Game of Thrones DaenerysA contrasting approach is the method that Tolkien pioneered called the historical method. With the historical method, an ancestor language called a proto-language is created, and the desired language is evolved from it, via simulated linguistic evolution. The process takes a lot longer, but in some ways it’s simpler, since irregularities will naturally emerge, rather than having to be created by hand. For example, in Game of Thrones, the High Valyrian language Daenerys speaks differs from the Low Valyrian the residents of Slaver’s Bay speak. In fact, the latter evolved from the former. As the language evolved, it produced some natural irregularities. Consider the following nouns and their plurals from the Valyrian spoken in Slaver’s Bay:

hubre “goat” hubres “goats”
dare “queen” dari “queens”
aeske “master” aeske “masters”

Given that the singular forms all end in ‘e’, one has to say at least two of the plurals presented are irregular. But why the arbitrary differences in the plural forms? It turns out it’s because the three nouns with identical singular terminations used to have very different forms in the older language, High Valyrian, as shown below:

hobres “goat” hobresse “goats”
dāria “queen” dārī “queens”
āeksio “master” āeksia “masters”

Each of these alternations is quite regular in High Valyrian. In the simulated history, a series of sound changes which simplified the ends of words produced identical terminations for each of the three words in the singular, leaving later speakers having to memorize which have irregular plurals and which regular.

Conceptualizing time

Simulated evolution applies to both grammar and the lexicon, as well. For example, natural languages often derive terminology for abstract concepts metaphorically from terminology for concrete concepts. Time, for instance, is an abstract concept that is frequently discussed using spatial terminology. How it’s done differs from language to language. In English, events that occur later in time occur after the present (where “after” derives from “aft,” a word meaning “behind”), and events that occur earlier in time occur before the present. Thus, time is conceptualized as a being standing in the present, facing the past, with the future behind them.

In Irathient, a language I created for Syfy’s Defiance, time is conceptualized vertically, rather than horizontally. The word for “after”, in temporal terms, is shei, which derives from a word meaning “above”; “before”, on the other hand, is ur, which also means “below” or “underneath”. The general metaphor that the future is up and the past is down bears out throughout the rest of the language, where if one wanted to say “Go back to what you were saying before”, the literal Irathient translation would be “Go down to what you were saying underneath”.

Ultimately, what one hears on screen sounds and feels like a natural language, regardless of whether or not one knows the work that went on behind the scenes. Since the prop used on screen is a language, though, rather than a costume or a piece of the set, the words can be recorded and analyzed at any time. Consequently, a conlang needs to be real in a way that a throne or a 700 foot wall of ice does not.

It’s still extraordinary to me that in less than 25 years, we came from a time when many conlangers were not aware that there were other conlangers to a time where our work is able to add to the authenticity of some of the best productions the big and small screen have to offer. The addition of the word “conlang” to the OED is a fitting capper to an unbelievable quarter century.

This article originally appeared on the OxfordWords blog.

David J. Peterson is a language creator who works on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Syfy’s Defiance, and Syfy’s Dominion. You can find him on Twitter at @Dedalvs or on Tumblr.

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Images: Game of Thrones Season 3 – Dragon Shadow Wallpaper and Game of Thrones Season 3 - Daenerys Wallpaper. ©2014 Home Box Office, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Roll over, Rimbaud: P. F. Kluge, Walt Whitman, and Eddie and the Cruisers

By Kirk Curnutt


Ask folks who came of age in the 1980s what they remember about the movie Eddie and the Cruisers and one of the following responses is likely:

  1. It spawned the great rock-radio staple “On the Dark Side” and briefly made MTV stars of the improbably named John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.
  2. It was such a shameless Bruce Springsteen rip-off that Boss fans considered it as sacrilegious as devout Christians do Jesus Christ Superstar.
  3. It had a whiplash-inducing twist ending that Roger Ebert called “so frustrating, so dumb, so unsatisfactory that it gives a bad reputation to the whole movie.”
  4. It was a box-office flop that thirty years ago this month shocked Hollywood by becoming a surprise HBO hit.
  5. It was a movie you rented repeatedly during the decade’s video boom because it fit perfectly VHS’s promise of cheap home entertainment: undemanding, toe-tapping, and eminently re-watchable, it was an ideal 99-cent diversion that helped you forget VCRs cost $500 and were as boxy as Samsonite suitcases.


What you’re less likely to hear, unfortunately: it was based on one of the best, most criminally underappreciated rock ‘n’ roll novels ever.

In a preface to Overlook Press’s 2008 reissue (the book’s first widely available trade paperback), no less than Sherman Alexie admits he never knew Eddie was originally a novel by P. F. Kluge until deep into his own career, long after “obsessing” over the movie as a high-schooler. It’s indicative of how the film overshadows its source material that Kluge’s Eddie doesn’t even make this supposedly comprehensive list of rock novels published since the 1950s.

The novel’s relative obscurity is a shame, for as Alexie notes, it has literary “ambitions and secrets and qualities” that far surpass the movie’s “mainstream” pleasures. Director Martin Davidson, who co-wrote the script with his wife, Arlene, made several changes to Kluge’s tale of a Jersey rock star who may or may not be haunting former bandmates twenty years after his supposed death. The most significant is seemingly the most cosmetic. Whereas Kluge conceived hero Eddie Wilson as a Dion-esque doo-wop rocker, Davidson turned him into an awkward splice of Springsteen and Jim Morrison. In so doing, the filmmaker altered the literary inspiration that in Kluge gives the musician a model for imagining rock ‘n’ roll as an art form instead of mere entertainment. The change is decisive to how differently each version of Eddie depicts the purpose of popular music.

Une_saison_en_enfer_-_01

Une saison en enfer, Arthur Rimbaud, Bruxelles, Alliance typographique, 1873. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the movie, college dropout Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway, the story’s Nick Carraway, introduces Eddie to the 19th-century French symboliste Arthur Rimbaud. Literature spurs the hunky frontman to make “serious” music instead of cranking out bar-band favorites for Jersey beachgoers: “I want songs that echo,” Eddie insists. “The [music] we’re doing now is like bed sheets. Spread ’em, soil ’em, ship ’em out to laundry. Our songs — I like to fold ourselves up in them forever.” Soon enough, Eddie pens a concept album called A Season in Hell, after Rimbaud’s most famous work. His slimy record-company owner refuses to release it, however, because the music sounds “like a bunch of jerkoffs making weird sounds.” The rejection sends Eddie squealing away in his ’57 Chevy, which hurtles off the Raritan Bridge, either an accident or a suicide. The Cruisers are forgotten for two decades later until an Entertainment Tonight-type reporter begins hyping Hell as an ominous foreshadowing of the late sixties, “a new age, an age of confusion, an age of passion, of commitment!” Suddenly, someone claiming to be the dead rock star is stalking the surviving Cruisers, intent on finally releasing the missing opus so the public can recognize Eddie’s brilliance.

Serious scholarly papers have drawn parallels between Eddie and Rimbaud, but the script’s invocation of the poet never really rises above literary window dressing. Davidson mainly uses Rimbaud to allude to Morrison, who idolized the literary libertine and who, according to a farcical urban legend, faked his 1971 death to escape the rock biz (much as Rimbaud abandoned literature before he was twenty). The movie asks us to believe that the Beatlemania-era Eddie predicted the Dionysian extremes of the Doors’ “The End” or (God help us) “Horse Latitudes,” but the song that’s supposed to illustrate his visionary genius, “Fire,” hardly qualifies as “weird sounds”. It’s merely an arthritic gloss on Springsteen’s “Adam Raised a Cain” with none of the Boss’s blistering vitality.

Walt Whitman by George C. Cox (1851–1903, photo) Adam Cuerden (1979-, restoration). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Walt Whitman. Photo by George C. Cox, restoration by Adam Cuerden. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

For Kluge’s Eddie, by contrast, the spirit father isn’t Rimbaud but Walt Whitman, and Eddie’s magnum opus is Leaves of Grass. Having seen Leaves appropriated to do everything from woo interns to expose unlikely meth kingpins, I’ll be the first to say that the Good Gray Poet’s popularity as the Go-To Lit Reference sometimes leaves me craving a Longfellow revival. Yet his role in Kluge isn’t gratuitous. Whitman inspires Eddie to reimagine rock ‘n’ roll as the vox populi, a medium not for becoming famous but for creating the true song of democracy. To produce his rock version of Leaves, Eddie recruits black and white greats from Elvis to Sam Cooke to Buddy Holly (the novel is set in 1957-58, a half-decade earlier than the film). Their mission is to snip the American barbed wire of segregation through a series of secret jam sessions designed to “to bring off the impossible, some fantastic union of black and white music.” What breakthroughs Eddie achieved before his supposed death is as compelling a page-turner as the mystery of who’s harassing the surviving Cruisers. (Spoiler alert: Eddie does not predict “Ebony and Ivory”).

In ditching Whitman for Rimbaud, Davidson’s film became a story not about the Gordian knot of race in American music but about rock-star greatness and fame. That point is bashed home like a gong by the movie’s trick ending, which reveals Eddie is indeed alive but indifferent to the hullaballoo the media creates when his masterwork is finally released. Despite the adaptation’s defects, Kluge speaks appreciatively of it, and rightly so: as a cult favorite, the movie kept the novel’s name alive during the decades the book was out of print. Besides, when the other movie based on your writing is Dog Day Afternoon, you can afford to be generous.

Nevertheless, the lack of attention Book Eddie receives feels like a missed opportunity for rock novels in general. The genre is a diverse, unruly one. Some of its entries are romans à clef that do little more than pencil fictional names into legends rock fans already know by heart (Paul Quarrington’s Brian Wilson-retelling Whale Music). Many others are coming-of-age novels in which that form’s traditional theme of lost innocence plays out like a Behind the Music episode, all downward-spiral cocaine and coitus. Still others are less about music-making than about the grotesquery of fame and fan worship (Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street). What rock novels aren’t nearly as often about is race — or, at least, the alchemies of ethnic interchange explored in such great nonfiction music histories as Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom (1986). A handful of exceptions do come to mind, Alexie’s own Reservation Blues (1995) most notably. Yet for the most part storylines about ahead-of-their-time geniuses predominate, and frankly, the plot of making personal art instead of appeasing a hits-happy public is as tired as the playlist at my local oldies station.

The idea of rock ‘n’ roll as both the promise and impasse of a racially egalitarian barbaric yawp, on the other hand… That’s a song in fiction we still don’t hear nearly enough.

Kirk Curnutt is professor and chair of English at Troy University’s Montgomery, Alabama, campus, where Scott Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre in 1918. His publications include A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald (2004), the novels Breathing Out the Ghost (2008) and Dixie Noir (2009), and Brian Wilson (2012). He is currently at work on a reader’s guide to Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Read his previous OUPblog posts.

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The post Roll over, Rimbaud: P. F. Kluge, Walt Whitman, and Eddie and the Cruisers appeared first on OUPblog.


 

OK Go: Is the Writing on the Wall?

By Siu-Lan Tan


When I saw OK Go’s ‘The Writing’s on the Wall’ video a few days ago, I was stunned. If you aren’t one of the over eight million people that has seen this viral music video yet, you’re in for a visual treat.

OK Go is known for creative videos, but this is the band’s richest musical collage of optical illusions so far. The most amazing part is that it was done … in one take!

Click here to view the embedded video.

Over 7.5 million viewers saw this extraordinary video in the first week it was posted.

And just newly released, OK Go uploaded this equally splendid video that gives us a ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ look.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Just a lucky coincidence?

OK Go posted ‘The Writing’s on the Wall’ on 17 June 2014. I wonder if they knew this is a significant date for Gestalt psychology? Important enough to be in the APA’s historical database for 17 June:

“June 17, 1924. Robert M. Ogden of Cornell University wrote to German psychologist Kurt Koffka, inviting him to become a visiting lecturer. This was the first step… that brought Gestaltists Koffka, Köhler, Wertheimer, and Lewin to America” (Street, 2007)

Wertheimer, Koffka, and Köhler are key figures in Gestalt psychology who laid the groundwork for what we know about perception, especially how we organize visual elements into meaningful wholes. Central to their work is the idea of ‘figure’ versus ‘ground’ – or how we distinguish the main focus (or figure) from the background or landscape in which it is set (ground).

They were also interested in perceptual illusions, influenced by psychologist Edgar Rubin who created many figure/ground illusions such as the Rubin vase, which now appears in every introductory psychology book.

Here’s a modern version: Are these columns or five tall standing figures with bowed heads? That depends on what you take to be figure vs. ground.

153733-157359

OK Go’s ‘The Writing on the Wall’ plays with figure/ground relations. Many illusions in this brilliant music video ambiguate, and then disambiguate, what is foreground versus background.

This is especially well illustrated in the illusion that “the writing’s on the wall” — as it never really is. In every appearance of the written word == in the title, the blurbs in the middle, and the amazing reveal at the end — the writing’s never on the wall.

Instead, the words blend figure and ground into single alignment. The illusion works — and then is dismantled before our eyes — as the movement of objects or camera disentangle what is foreground and background.

Figure and ground seem to dissolve into each other as the musicians emerge from the red, blue, yellow shapes.

Ambiguity of where figure and ground separate is pushed even further with single images that blend foreground with distant surfaces (floors, walls): blue spots, a network of cubes, a ladder, green checkered tiles, and a row of people that appear to stand together. It’s brilliantly captured at 02:47, in the aerial image of a multi-layered apparatus that “flattens out” into a representation of drummer Tim Nordwind’s bearded face (screenshot below).

153733-157370

The walkthrough also takes us through the development of art: from basic shapes, to patterns (dots, stripes), to 3D (or not) cubes, geometric sculptures, and finally to representations of the human face and full body figures.

The music is not just an accompaniment to the collage of optical illusions and paradoxes, but an integral part of the work. The song is about miscommunication that can go on in a relationship. (Or is the idea of two people really ‘getting each other’ merely an illusion?)

The result is wonderfully perplexing, a delicious trick of the senses. And a fitting tribute to the 17 June landmark in Gestalt psychology.

Siu-Lan Tan is Associate Professor of Psychology at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, USA. She is primary editor of The Psychology of Music in Multimedia (Oxford University Press 2013), the first book consolidating the research on the role of music in film, television, video games, and computers. A version of this article also appears on Psychology Today. Siu-Lan Tan also has her own blog, What Shapes Film? Read her previous blog posts.

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Image Credit: Optical illusion. Image by Sha Sha Chu. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via shashachu Flickr.

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Poetic justice in The German Doctor

Film is a powerful tool for teaching international criminal law and increasing public awareness and sensitivity about the underlying crimes. Roberta Seret, President and Founder of the NGO at the United Nations, International Cinema Education, has identified four films relevant to the broader purposes and values of international criminal justice and over the coming weeks she will write a short piece explaining the connections as part of a mini-series. This is the final one, following The Act of Killing, Hannah Arendt, and The Lady.

the german doctor

By Roberta Seret


One can say that Dr. Josef Mengele was the first survivor of Auschwitz, for he slipped away undetected in the middle of the night on 17 January 1945, several days before the concentration camp was liberated. Weeks later, he continued his escape despite being detained in two different Prisoner of War detention camps.

He made his way to Rome, a sanctuary for Nazi war criminals, where he obtained a new passport from Vatican officials. Continuing to Genoa with the help of the International Red Cross and a Fascist network, he embarked on the North King ship in 1949 to Buenos Aires under the alias of Helmut Gregor.

President Juan Peron had 10,000 blank Argentine passports for the highest Nazi bidders. Buenos Aires became their home; there Mengele lived, respected and comfortable, until 1960 when Eichmann was kidnapped by the Mossad just streets away. Afraid he’d be next, Mengele decided it would be safer for him in Paraguay with the support of the pro-Nazi dictator, Alfredo Stroessner. He stayed in Asunción for one year.

The Argentine film, The German Doctor (2014), takes us in media res to 1960 Patagonia and Bariloche, a beautiful mountain oasis in the Andes that reminds Mengele of “home.” This fictional addition to his biography, serves as a six-month stopover before he escapes to Paraguay.

Lucia Puenzo, Argentine filmmaker, has adapted her own novel, Wakolda, for the screen. She adroitly mixes fiction with history and truth with imagination in a tight, tense-filled interpretation that keeps us mesmerized. Yet, as we watch the scenes unfold, we wonder which ones are based on fact and how far should poetic justice substitute for historical accuracy.

The director takes advantage of our “collective conscience” of morality and memory regarding the identity of Dr. Mengele. Despite not once hearing his name, we know who he is, although the characters do not. The director uses our associating him with evil to enhance tension and catapult plot – a clever device that works well.

What is biographically accurate in the film is that Mengele continues his experiments on human beings in order to create the perfect race. The director uses this premise, then extrapolates to fiction and sets the stage with a family that Mengele befriends. The doctor sees an opportunity to experiment with charming Lilith, the under-developed twelve-year-old and injects into her stomach growth hormones that work for cattle. He also gives “vitamins” to the girl’s pregnant mother, Eva, once he realizes she is carrying twins. When the babies are born, he continues his experiments by putting sugar in the formula for the weaker of the two. As the infant cries dying and Mengele studies the reaction, we shudder that the Angel of Death has once again achieved Evil.

The experiments on people that Mengele is obsessed with in the film, is a continuation of his sadistic work at Auschwitz with pregnant women, twins, and genetics. His lab experiment on a mother who had just given birth was notorious. He taped her lactating breasts while taking notes on how long the infant would cry without receiving her milk. When he left for dinner, the distraught mother desperately found morphine for her dying baby.

Mengele was also known to inject dye into the iris of prisoners’ eyes (without anesthesia) to see if he could change the brown to an Aryan blue. He documented his results by pinning each eyeball to a wooden board.

And there were more experiments on thousands of human beings.

Josef Mengele, from 1943-45, appeared each day at Auschwitz’s train station for Selektion. Wearing white gloves, polished high black boots, and carrying a stick, his evil hand pointed Left and Right to order more than 400,000 souls to leave this world through chimneys as ashes. His crimes against humanity can never be forgotten.

After living more than 30 years undetected in South America, Mengele died in 1979 of a heart attack while swimming in the warm waters near São Paulo. This peaceful death for such a monster reinforces his ultimate crime. Film director, Lucia Puenzo, would have been well-inspired to have finished The German Doctor with this horrific and true scene.

Roberta Seret is the President and Founder of International Cinema Education, an NGO based at the United Nations. Roberta is the Director of Professional English at the United Nations with the United Nations Hospitality Committee where she teaches English language, literature and business to diplomats. In the Journal of International Criminal Justice, Roberta has written a longer ‘roadmap’ to Margarethe von Trotta’s film on Hannah Arendt. To learn more about this new subsection for reviewers or literature, film, art projects or installations, read her extension at the end of this editorial.

The Journal of International Criminal Justice aims to promote a profound collective reflection on the new problems facing international law. Established by a group of distinguished criminal lawyers and international lawyers, the journal addresses the major problems of justice from the angle of law, jurisprudence, criminology, penal philosophy, and the history of international judicial institutions.

Oxford University Press is a leading publisher in international law, including the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, latest titles from thought leaders in the field, and a wide range of law journals and online products. We publish original works across key areas of study, from humanitarian to international economic to environmental law, developing outstanding resources to support students, scholars, and practitioners worldwide. For the latest news, commentary, and insights follow the International Law team on Twitter @OUPIntLaw.

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