Fake news – It’s older than you think!

A University of Sussex historian has been chosen by the BBC to turn her new, ground-breaking work on Henry VIII and Elizabeth I into a nationwide radio programme.

Dr Joanne Paul’s broadcast will show how the apparently new phenomenon of ‘fake news’ and information leaks aren’t just 21st-century issues, but were widespread more than 400 years ago.

Dr Paul, a Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University, will make her programme after being selected for the BBC’s prestigious Radio 3 ‘New Generation Thinkers’ scheme during a UK-wide search for the best academic ideas for TV and radio shows.

Although not finalised, Dr Paul’s programme will be based around her research into the culture and conflicts of the Tudor and Stuart courts. She will investigate the strategies used by counsellors and advisers of Henry VIII, such as Thomas More, and those of Elizabeth I, including William Cecil, Robert Dudley and Sir Francis Walsingham, popularly remembered as ‘spymaster’ to Queen Elizabeth I.

By examining the tactics of ‘speaking truth to power’, or how advisers in the Middle Ages influenced those in power without losing their heads, Dr Paul will uncover connections to how people in power today can be and are influenced.

In particular, Dr Paul's programme will highlight how modern strategies for swaying both ordinary people and the powerful - such as information leaks and fake news - have their roots in the conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Dr Paul, who joined the University of Sussex last September, said: “It's a real privilege and an exciting opportunity to work with the AHRC and BBC in developing ways to share my research into this very important period of history. I want to point out not only the parallels between then and where we are today, but also the important differences, highlighting what we can learn from the past.

“There were many similar strategies used then that are used today including techniques for ‘speaking truth to power’ and forms of resistance including political satire and the ‘leaking’ of private documents.”

Dr Paul is one of only 10 academics chosen to make a programme after BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) scoured the country for academics at the start of their careers to join its seventh annual scheme.

Dr Paul added: “For me, the past can be a refreshing vantage-point from which to view the present. If the past is a foreign country, I hope to show people that a visit there can make us see our own situation - such as issues in modern politics - in a whole new light.”

Applicants were invited to show how their research could be presented to a broad audience, and this year’s shortlisted topics cover a wide spectrum of arts and humanities. The final 10 were selected for their ability to demonstrate a passion to communicate their scholarship to a wider audience.

They were chosen after a four-month selection process involving a series of day-long workshops at the BBC. The academics will now spend a year being mentored by producers from Radio 3’s 'Free Thinking' programme.

The 10 academics will be publicly unveiled at an event recorded as part of BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival in Gateshead on Saturday 18 March and due to be broadcast on 4 April. Further programmes on the academics’ research will be aired throughout 2017.

By: Brendan Murphy
Last updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2017