HISTORY 329 - Social Science Topics in History
Section: 001 Fake News: A History
Term: FA 2018
Subject: History (HISTORY)
Department: LSA History
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
May be elected five times for credit.
Primary Instructor:

Over the last year, “fake news” has been one of President Donald Trump’s most oft-repeated phrases, undermining confidence in the press. In 2016, it was a term used by the media to describe deliberate misinformation spread on social media during the presidential campaign, often comprised of conspiracy theories. So what is “fake news” and how should we understand it, identify it, and make sense of how it is being used?

In this discussion-based seminar, we will analyze the historical precedents of “fake news.” Course readings will take us from Renaissance Italy, to imperial China, revolutionary France and America, colonial India, through totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and up to the present day. Each week, we will delve into a different historical event in which rumor, conspiracy, propaganda, or satire played a central role. We will dissect the meaning of these terms across time and space and ask how and why they become meaningful in particular societies at particular moments. In the process, we will examine how historians treat deception, misinformation, and forgery in attempting to explain what happened in the past. Finally, we will ask whether “fake news” is a useful analytical category; what does it mean, how can we study it, and how can we handle it in our current society? Students will leave the course with a mastery of the historical context of fake news, an ability to identify and decode false information, and an understanding of methods for approaching a confusing and contested past. Course materials will include books, articles, podcasts, and films. Students will be evaluated primarily based on class participation, weekly discussion questions, and two essays.

Course Requirements:

Students will be evaluated primarily based on class participation, weekly discussion questions submitted before class, and two essays.

Intended Audience:

Sophomore, Junior, Senior

Class Format:


HISTORY 329 - Social Science Topics in History
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
MW 11:30AM - 1:00PM
002 (SEM)
TuTh 8:30AM - 10:00AM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 0719089484
News and rumour in jacobean england : information, court and politics and diplomacy, 1618-25., Publisher: Manchester Univ Press 2014
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 0691002339
A poisoned chalice, Author: Jeffrey Freedman., Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press 2002
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 0674931939
The vanishing children of Paris : rumor and politics before the French Revolution, Author: Arlette Farge and Jacques Revel ; translated by Claudia Mieville., Publisher: Harvard University Press 1991
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 0674821513
Soulstealers : the Chinese sorcery scare of 1768, Author: Philip A. Kuhn., Publisher: Harvard University Press 1990
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 1421418657
Groundless : rumors, legends, and hoaxes on the early American frontier, Author: Dowd, Gregory Evans 1956-
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 9781906165277
The great fear of 1857 : rumours, conspiracies and the making of the Indian uprising, Author: Kim A. Wagner., Publisher: Peter Lang 1st publ. 2010
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 0520217039
Speaking with vampires : rumor and history in colonial Africa, Author: Luise White., Publisher: University of California Press 2000
Other Textbook Editions OK.
Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

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