Fake News From the Flood

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A History of “Fake News” from  the Flood to the Apocalypse

April 19 - May 12
Coursera Lectures and Live Discussions
4 weeks (8 sessions)

Recorded Lectures:

Watch Session 1

Watch Session 2

Watch Session 3

Watch Session 4

Lectures will be shared via Coursera on Sundays.
Live Discussions will be held Tuesdays from 7 PM-8PM EDT.

Course Description

In our digital age of hacking, online bots, and trolls stealing, faking, and confounding information across the Internet, it is often forgotten that “fake news” has, in fact, always been with us. The history of fakes, lies, and forgeries transcends human history and encompasses nearly every discipline within the liberal Arts, from literature, art, and philosophy, to history, religion, and archaeology. Human civilization has been filling gaps in the historical record and inventing alternative narratives for all sorts of reasons: political, commercial, evangelical, and personal. This course examines this dark undercurrent within human achievement across historical time, exploring specific examples of historical and literary forgeries that date from the biblical Flood to the future Apocalypse.  

We will explore the textual traditions of false archaeological discoveries and fabricated epigraphic fragments from classical antiquity, manufactured time capsules bearing pagan prophecies of the coming of Jesus, fake “illuminations” of Christopher Columbus and Joan of Arc, preposterous accounts of the world’s great “travel liars,” and even look at books from “Shakespeare’s own library” bearing his personal “annotations.”

In the process, we will learn that history’s fakes and forgeries are also, in part, creative and imaginative enterprises that require considerable knowledge, creativity, and even inspiration, to pull them off effectively. At every stage, this on-line mini-course will draw upon the riches of JHU’s own Bibliotheca Fictiva—the world’s premier rare book and manuscript collection dedicated to literary forgery across the millennia. 

Session 1 (45 minutes): Babelic Confusion, from the Helicopter Hieroglyphs of Seti I to the Quest for Ancient Astronauts

15 mins: Caveat Lector! Reader Beware!

15 mins: The Mysteries of Writing and other “Wonders” of the Ancient World

15 mins: The Search for Ancient Astronauts

Session 2 (45 minutes): Apocrypha: Sorting Out Sacred History

5 mins: Mind the Gaps: Filling in the Blanks of the Bible Story

20 mins: The Nuremberg Chronicle: Sacred History from the Flood to the Apocalypse—in a Nutshell

20 mins: Biblical Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, from the Secret Lives of Adam and Eve to Jesus’s Letter from Heaven

Session 3 (45 Minutes): Patriotic Mythologies: “Finding” Ancient Fakes in the Renaissance    

5 mins: Me First!: Burying and “Rediscovering” the Births of Nations

20 mins: Walking in the Footsteps of Noah: Fake Archaeology and the Invention of Urban “Foundation” Myths                 

20 mins: Curzio Inghirami’s Time-Capsule Scariths of Scornello

Session 4 (45 minutes): “Fake News” from the Enlightenment to the Modern-day Bibliomania

5 mins: I Told You So: History’s Gotcha! Moments

20 mins: Imposters and Travel Liars, from Psalmanazaar of Formosa to Prince LoBagola of Baltimore

20 mins: “Impossibly Rare,” “Exquisitely Unique”: Tales from the Island of “Lost” Books and Manuscripts

Course Instructor

earle havensDr. Earle Havens is Nancy H. Hall Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts; Director of the Virginia Fox Stern Center for the History of the Book, in the Sheridan Libraries; and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures at Johns Hopkins University. He has recently edited two books on the subject of this course: Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries: Rare Books and Manuscripts from the Arthur and Janet Freeman Bibliotheca Fictiva Collection (Sheridan Libraries, 2014; 2nd ed. rev., 2016); and (with Walter Stephens), Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450-1800 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018). 



Want to Explore More? 

Earle Havens, ed., Fakes, Lies, & Forgeries: Rare Books and Manuscripts from the Arthur and Janet Freeman Bibliotheca Fictiva Collection (2nd ed., rev.; Baltimore: Sheridan Libraries, 2016)


Walter Stephens and Earle Havens, eds., Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450-1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)


 Event Date
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Start Time: 7:00pm


Coursera and Zoom
Baltimore, MD

Hopkins at Home

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