Carlo Ginzburg - Fake news? An old, new story
In this lecture, Carlo Ginzburg will attempt to analyse the phenomenon of “Fake News” with a certain chronological and conceptual distance. He will do so on the basis of the essay by Robert Merton, who popularised the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy. This essay, published in 1948, well before the advent of the internet, has not been prominently cited in the debate on fake news. Yet it allows us to understand the phenomenon from an angle that is both enlightening and unexpected.
Born into a Jewish family of Russian origin who emigrated to the United States, Merton prefaced and shed new light on the best-known work of Gustave Le Bon, a reactionary and anti-Semitic polymath, entitled "The Crowd: a study of the popular mind" (1895). This book, still very popular today, has profoundly influenced people as varied as Vladimir Lenin, Benito Mussolini, Kemal Atatürk, Theodore Roosevelt, Sigmund Freud, and perhaps even Adolf Hitler. Ginzburg proposes to read Le Bon's book against the grain, in order to analyse online crowds, the very ones that are the target of fake news.
But is it possible to fight against the phenomenon? Ginzburg believes so, with the help of philology, an old university subject that has unfortunately fallen into disuse. In order to shed light on the political implications, he will also focus on an extraordinary text by Lorenzo Valla, a 15th century humanist, which demonstrated that the document known as the "Donation of Constantine" is a fake. The story of the "Donation of Constantine" is presented in the exhibition "Fake For Real".
Carlo Ginzburg (1939) has taught at the University of Bologna, UCLA, and the Normal School of Pisa. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages, including The Night Battles; The Cheese and the Worms; Clues, Myths and the Historical method; The Enigma of Piero; History, Rhetoric and proof; The Judge and the Historian; Wooden eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance; No Island is an Island; Thread and Traces; Fear, Reverence, Terror; Nevertheless: Machiavelli, Pascal. He has been awarded the Aby Warburg Prize (1992), the Humboldt-Forschungs-Prize (2007), and the Balzan Prize, in the category European history 1400-1700 (2010).
Introduction by Constanze Itzel, Museum Director, House of European History.
Image courtesy of WeAreCEU