nl en

Faking the Past: Forgery, History and Propaganda


Admission requirements

Required course(s):


Recommended course(s):

  • Birth of the Modern World

  • Political Iconology: Art & Diversity (1600-1800)

Students with a particular interest in the history of fake news are encouraged to also apply for a place in the Research Clinic Fake News & the Dutch Republic (1600-1800) (blocks 3 & 4).


Fake news is nothing new. Ever since the invention of movable type, printing presses have been churning out reports of fabricated events as well as a range of other kinds of faked pasts, and photography, film and the internet have all added numerous historical fakes of their own. This course explores a large group of these forgeries (dating from the 17th century to today and ranging from fake diaries to forged national histories) and examines the different ways in which they engage with the past. If history is, as Johan Huizinga wrote in his essay ‘The Task of Cultural History’ (1929), ‘the interpretation of the significance that the past has for us’, then historical forgery is the ultimate expression of that significance – histories not merely interpreted but fabricated to suit their own time’s perceptions, expectations and demands of the past.

The course will start with an introduction to forgery, in which we will discuss different definitions and genres as well as the various rhetorical strategies that forgers have used to make their faked pasts appear authentic. We will then continue with a historical overview, focusing on why particular forgeries were made and what their faked pasts reveal about their own period. What can they tell us about the development of particular discourses, such as religious, social and political diversity, gender and nation? What do they reveal about encounters between different cultures? How do they reflect developments in the perception and role of history in their respective cultures? Particular attention will be paid to the propagandist use of forgery: invented pasts are an effective tool for those in power as well as those who fight to bring about political and social change. In this course we will study both types of forgers and their use of history as a propagandist tool as well as the political, social and cultural impact of their fabrications.

Course Objectives


  • Give definitions of the various genres of forgery and describe their dynamics

  • Give an overview of historical forgery and its impact from 1600 onwards

  • Know the main purposes of historical forgery and the main discourses it has engaged with between 1600 and now

  • Give an account of the various ways in which historical forgery reflects changing perceptions and practices of history.


  • Recognize the main rhetorical strategies employed by forgers

  • Know which questions to ask when confronted with a suspected forgery and how to look for answers

  • Use historical forgeries effectively as source materials for historical research.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Interactive seminars (two per week), including two Special Collections workshops at the University Library in Leiden. The course also includes a guest lecture by Prof.dr. Remco Breuker (Korean Studies, Leiden University) about historical forgery in South Korea.

Assessment Method

  • Fake news assignment (25%, week 4)

  • Research assignment (30%, week 6)

  • Exam (30%, week 9)

  • Participation (15%, in-class participation, ongoing weeks 1-8)

The fine print: please note that all assignments need to be submitted in order to pass the course and that penalties will apply to work that is handed in after the deadline. Corrupted files do not count as submissions – if I cannot open a file, the assignment will be considered as still outstanding and penalties will be applied according to the rules described in the syllabus.

Reading list

A detailed reading list will be given before the start of the course. The course will not require you to buy any books: all materials will be available via Leiden University Library’s digital catalogue.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Jacqueline Hylkema,