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Roman Fake News. Documentary Fictions in the Roman World


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


This course is a deliberate experiment with historical anachronism. It investigates the extent to which modern theories and models about the contemporary upsurge in fake news can be fruitfully applied to the Roman world, in which manipulated official documents were circulating on a relatively wide scale. The assumption is that the difference between modern fake news and Roman documentary practices is primarily quantitative rather than qualitative. There are, to be sure, significant differences in the underlying societal forces that cause the spread of faked news in modern society and those that structure the circulation of documentary fictions in the Roman world. However, the modern and the Roman form of fake news share a striking number of similarities. On the one hand the modern theories help to approach the Roman documentary practices in a new way, on the other hand the Roman case provides modern fake news with a historical contextualization that is at present almost completely lacking from the debate.

The course consists of two parts. In the first part, which consists of readings of scholarly literature, we discuss ways to combine modern theory with what we know about ancient documentary practices. The second part, which consists of student presentations, focuses on particular clusters of Roman official documents that are suspected to have been tampered with.

The course starts with an entry test. See Literature. The assigment will be published on Blackboard 10 days before the start of the course and should be handed in 48 hours in advance.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 2) The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 3) The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 4) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 5) The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • 6) The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  • 7) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 8) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 9) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 10) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following; in the specialisation Ancient History: unification processes in the Graeco-Roman World, 400 BC – 400 AD; insight into the recent large-scale debates in the field with respect to both the history of mentality and socio-economic history.

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following: in the specialisation Ancient History: the comparative method; application of socio-scientific methods; specialized source knowledge, in particular of documentary sources, and more specifically epigraphy.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) acquires knowledge about modern theories of fake news

  • 14) learns how to emply modern theory to the ancient world

  • 15) acquires thorough knowledge about a particular cluster of ancient sources

  • 16) (ResMA only) learns to reflect about the methodological issues surrounding the borrowing of modern theory


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Entry test (including preparation): 20 hours

  • Seminars: 13 x 2 = 26 hours

  • Preparation seminars: 13 x 4 hours = 52 hours

  • Assignments 1 and 2: 2 x 5 hours = 10 hours

  • Assignment 3 (incl. writing chapter): 20 hours

  • Writing paper (incl. literature study): 152 hours

Assessment method


  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 5, 8, 13-14 (and 16 for RMA)

  • Assignment 1 (bibliography and brief delineation of the subject)
    measured learning objectives: 1-4

  • Assignment 2 (research proposal and revised bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-6, 11-14

  • Assignment 3 (oral presentation of previously circulated introduction, chapter and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 7-9

  • Written paper (6,500-7,500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-5, 7-15 (and 16 for RMA)


  • Entry test: 5%

  • Assignment 1 (bibliography): 5%

  • Assignment 2 (introduction): 5%

  • Assignment 3 (oral presentation): 10%

  • Participation (both in class and on the Blackboard forum): 5%

  • Written paper: 70%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficent.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

Reading list

To prepare for the entry test, students should read B. McNair, Fake News: Falsehood, fabrication and fantasy in journalism (London 2017). It is not necessary to buy the book; there is a digital copy available through U-Cat. Other literature will be listed on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


L.E. Tacoma