Call for Papers: Beyond Truth: Fiction and (Dis)information in the Early Modern World

17-18 September 2018, New College, Oxford

Organisers: Emma Claussen, Thomas Goodwin, Luca Zenobi

Keynote speakers: Emily Butterworth (King’s College, London) & Alejandra Dubcovsky (University of California, Riverside)


‘Fake news’ is nothing new. Early modern scholarship has long since done away with the idea that the invention of print led to an unambiguously positive revolution in the circulation of information. Attention has been drawn to the way the press  along with improvements in transport, roads and postal services – facilitated the spread of rumours and falsehood. On the other hand, scholars working on utopian writing and the invention of new fictional forms have pointed to the provocative blurring of fact and fiction in early modern philosophy and literature. Indeed, the very classification of different kinds of information as ‘factual’, ‘fictional’, ‘news’, ‘gossip’ or ‘lies’, has been problematized by historians and literary critics studying the power dynamics inherentto any such judgements.

This conference explores the boundaries between truth and falsehood in the early modern period, thinking about disinformation, fiction, and power in tandem. By drawing together scholars working across regional, linguistic and disciplinary specialisms – from texts to visual materials, from network analysis to the study of literary genres – the conference seeks to call into question the idea of 'fake news' as a uniquely modern phenomenon while bringing fresh perspectives to classic debates on the evolution of news networks, the development of fictional forms and the origin of the public sphere in the early modern world.

Possible topics might include:

  • Theories and attitudes concerning truth and falsehood in the early modern period
  • The development of new genres such as the novel, the pasquinade and the canard
  • Multimedia practices of disinformation (images, texts, maps and voices)
  • Authorities, censorship and the manipulation of information
  • Movement, networks and the circulation of (dis)information
  • Fictions of gender, race and sexuality in (dis)information
  • Global news, Imagined travels utopias
  • Libel, slander and the law

Prospective speakers are invited to submit proposals for 20-minute papers (max 300 words). Interdisciplinary approaches, and papers that address non-European topics, are especially welcome. Please send your proposal, along with your paper title and a brief bio (max 150 words) to by Friday 20 April 2018.

There are bursaries available to contribute towards travel and accommodation costs for PhDs and ECRs who cannot obtain institutional support.

For more information please visit our website,, or use the Twitter hashtag #OxDisinfo.