AD3033 - The Force of Suspicion: Scandals, Rumours and 'Fake News' in History

What will I learn on this module?

Political and social life is often shaken by claims about scandalous circumstances and events. In some cases, such revelations are the result of thorough investigations by activists and journalists, who help uncover serious misdeeds. In other instances, however, social media and ‘fake news’ amplify conspiracy theories and lies, casting suspicion on innocent people. The module approaches these different phenomena from a historical perspective.

There are two major strands to this module. First, you will investigate how, at different points in history, particular individuals or groups became the victim of false allegations. Potential examples include the fate of women who faced accusations of witchcraft as well as the stereotypes and myths that were deployed against Jews. In covering such cases, you will gain a better understanding of the perfidious power of rumours and lies. The second strand deals with political scandals and their attempted cover-ups. In some cases, such scandals amounted to significant milestones in political history. For example, the Watergate affair – revolving around major abuses of power by US president Richard Nixon – was uncovered by journalists, leading to Nixon’s resignation and becoming a reference point in American politics. You will also learn about scandals that involved corruption or people’s private lives – and the way in which they were covered in the media.

As a whole, the module advances your understanding of specific places, events and time periods, while tackling issues that are of ongoing significance.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn on this module by attending lectures and seminars. The lectures will introduce you to a particular case and its wider historical context. You will deepen your understanding of the subject through weekly seminars, which are based on independent reading that is undertaken in preparation to the seminar sessions. Seminar discussions will incorporate both large and small group discussions, built around focused questions on relevant themes and topics. Seminars will also include significant engagement with carefully selected primary sources. You will receive formative feedback throughout the learning process and summative assessment will match your learning against the learning outcomes for the module.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your academic development will be supported through your module tutor, engagement with your peers, and through the programme leader. The module tutor will be accessible within publicised Feedback and Consultation hours and via email. Your peers will provide you with a collaborative learning environment, and your programme leader will guide you through the requirements and expectations of your degree programme, of which this module is part. You will also be supported through individual engagement with the academic literature, lectures, and resources available on the eLP. Formative feedback will be on-going through seminar activities and assessment tasks.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. Demonstrate your understanding of different historical concepts and phenomena
2. Display an ability to analyse historical events relating to different periods or places

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Engage with scholar texts and concepts
4. Communicate your findings and ideas in writing

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
5. Show awareness of the potency and dangers of rumours and stereotypes

How will I be assessed?

This module is assessed by one primary-source discussion of 500 words (weighted at 25%) and one essay of 1,500 words (weighted at 75%).

You will receive formative feedback from your tutor and your peers in your seminars. You will also have the opportunity to discuss an essay plan for both of these assignments. You will receive written feedback from your tutor on all assignments. Feedback on initial summative assessments will enable you to improve on later ones.





Module abstract

This module examines how rumours and scandals are made, and it highlights the political and social power that they have exercised at various points in history. On the one hand, you will investigate how particular individuals or groups became the victims of false allegations – for instance through witchcraft accusations or through anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. On the other hand, you will consider the efforts of journalists and activists who helped to uncover corruption, serious abuses of power and their attempted cover-us. In studying a variety of historical cases, you will learn about different places, events and time periods, and at the same time, explore issues that are highly relevant to society today.

Course info

UCAS Code L8L9

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 1 year full-time followed by a further 3 years full-time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing.

Full time Courses starting in 2023 are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but may include elements of online learning. We continue to monitor government and local authority guidance in relation to Covid-19 and we are ready and able to flex accordingly to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff.

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with additional restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors, potentially to a full online offer, should further restrictions be deemed necessary in future. Our online activity will be delivered through Blackboard Ultra, enabling collaboration, connection and engagement with materials and people.


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