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Misrepresented - Concealed - Suppressed. On the art of navigating the stream of news

Together with Jessika Nowak (Wuppertal), I am currently building an international network of researchers who are investigating how interpretive struggles were fought out in the pre-modern period (6th-17th centuries) in different European and non-European contexts, by means of the diffusion, control and suppression of news. We are currently preparing an anthology for the series "Mittelalter. Interdiszplinäre Forschung und Rezeptionsgeschichte, Beihefte", which is to be published in 2024.

'Fake news' has become a popular word since Donald Trump, and in our digital age, it is receiving more and more attention. Undoubtedly, the pandemic crisis is not the first, but a particularly poignant revelation of the difficulty of dealing with fake news, rumours and half-truths that, when spread digitally on a global scale, call into question a universal concept of truth. It is therefore not surprising that a new tableau seems to have formed in the Western discussion about how many different "truths" can exist side by side and which criteria can be considered for classification into the categories "true", "just" and "legitimate".

Behind this stands the question of how the social community should distribute, perceive, interpret and remember certain news, and how the distribution of news was influenced in different social and cultural contexts in the pre-modern era. The distribution mechanisms of news and especially the techniques used to suppress news that contained information perceived as harmful or dangerous and competing views will be highlighted. One technique used to suppress opposing interpretations, in addition to directing news and information flows, is censorship, which is used to disrupt the flow of information. In the wake of censorship is always self-censorship, in which certain information is not passed on in order to escape possible reprisals. Another, related method of steering news into appropriate channels and at the same time preventing competing interpretations is the dissemination of information that corresponds to one's own view but is basically false - in modern terms: the afore mentioned fake news.

The questions raised about how struggles for interpretation were fought out in the pre-modern era by means of the diffusion, control and suppression of news and information can be connected to a whole range of current research concerns in media and communication history, political and social history, as well as urban, legal and ecclesiastical history.

Preliminary work:

Die Stimme aus dem Off. Oppositionelle Handwerker beschreiben ihre Stadt, in: Klaus Kipf und Jörg Schwarz (Hgg.): Stadtgeschichten. Stadt und Kultur in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit (600–1600) (Das Mittelalter. Beihefte) [in print].

6 Zoom workshops on "Fake News, Secrecy and (Self-) Censorship as Means of Targeted News Control in the Pre-Modern Era", together with Jessika Nowak (Wuppertal)