Fake News: A History


The term ‘fake news’ began to appear in public discourse only a few years ago. But the phenomenon to which it refers is extremely old. This course will explore its distant origins, the anxieties it has always provoked, how it took particular forms in the nineteenth and twentieth century in the popular press of the United States and Britain, and in propaganda at times of international tension. We will also explore the manifestations of ‘fake news’ in fiction, and the efforts of various authorities over the years to contain and control it, and to mitigate its political and social effects. And we will consider whether the nature and significance of ‘fake news’ has been changed by the internet and ‘post-truth’.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest in and around the city.

Please note that OUDCE reserves the right to alter course content and/or cancel field trips in accordance with government guidance.

We start with some definitions, and explore the way ‘fake news’ has been thought about, in the contemporary world as well as historically, in particular in relation to propaganda and post-truth. We will also look at the historiography of the idea, and some of the appearances ‘fake news’ has made in fiction.

We examine the early origins of ‘fake news,  through the discovery of printing and the early establishment of commercialised pseudo-truth in ‘Grub Street journalism, to the creation of ‘serious’ journalism from the end of the eighteenth century, brought about by the perceived need for ‘the truth’ in support of democratic forms of government.

This session will look at the ‘yellow’ press and tabloid journalism, under owners William Randolph Hurst, Joseph Pulitzer and Alfred Harmsworth; and the influence of popular journalism on the emergence of ‘fake news’ in state propaganda during the First and Second World Wars and in the Cold War.

Shock-horror reactions of authorities to ‘fake news’, including the rise of the academic study of propaganda and the ‘nervous liberalism’ of the interwar years in the United States; cries of ‘vandals at the gates’ in the development of new media, notably radio and television, inside regimes of state regulation in Europe; and the rise of ‘media studies’ across the Western World.

Considering the emergence of the internet in the era of post-truth politics, we ask what about the development of the media landscape has been conducive to the re-emergence of ‘fake news’; and whether this latest manifestation is something altogether new, or simply a new expression of fundamental issues and concerns seen previously.


Description Costs
Fee option 1 (single en suite accom and meals) £1565.00
Fee option 2 (single standard accom and meals) £1380.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals) £1472.50
Fee option 4 (double en suite accom and meals) £1472.50
Fee option 5 (twin set standard accom and meals) £1380.00
Fee option 6 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner) £1070.00


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments (and refunds) are subject to exchange rates at the time of processing.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking
  • If submitting an application form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date

Cancellations and refunds

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk or by post to The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid

  • Cancellations received up to and including 30 April 2021 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-31 May 2021 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 June 2021 - no refunds will be made.

Important note: You need to take out travel insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs.


Dr Michael Redley

Michael Redley’s doctorate at Cambridge was in the colonial history of East Africa. He has worked in public administration, including regulation of broadcasting, and has a Masters Degree in economics from the London School of Economics. He has published on various topics, and taught courses for OUDCE over fifteen years on twentieth century British history and politics.

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 12 people. Elements of this teaching will normally include mini lectures and presentations by tutors and tutor-led class discussions.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 1 May 2021.

Please note: most courses fill up fast so early registration is strongly recommended.

Single accommodation and non-residential places may be booked online by clicking on the “Book now” button in the “Course details” box at the top right-hand side of the course page.

If you experience any difficulties enrolling online please contact the Programme Administrator at oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk

Those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form as these rooms cannot be booked online. Completed forms should be sent:


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

Participants should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite

  • Single standard

  • Twin en suite

  • Double en suite

  • Standard ‘twin set’

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Standard rooms have their own washbasin and shaver point but bathroom facilities are shared. ‘Twin sets’ comprise two single rooms opening off a sitting room.

Please note that only single accommodation may be booked online; those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form. (See “Application”.)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form), together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.

We also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals (lunch and dinner) at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.