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Herodotus and the invention of history
Herodotus and the invention of history

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Herodotus and the invention of history


With the information explosion online, how can you tell fake news from the real thing, or be more sensitive to how information can be weaponised? In the fifth century BCE, a Greek by the name of Herodotus faced a similar challenge when he set out to examine why his people, the Greeks, and the Persians went to war with each other. Chief among his tasks was deciding what and whom to believe, as he pieced together the events of the past. His response was to produce an enquiry (in Greek: historiē, which is where the English word ‘history’ comes from). Explore how Herodotus puts together his enquiry and learn how he makes the problem of finding out what happened to ours too.

After studying this course you will be able to:

  • identify the context in which Herodotus was writing and the subject matter of his Histories, as well as key episodes, themes and issues
  • analyse passages of Herodotus’ text in order to learn how he presents his material and his methods as a historian
  • evaluate sources (including Herodotus’ writing as well as modern-day material) as you assess their reliability and significance
  • discuss aspects of identity in the ancient Greek world, especially the opposition between Greeks and non-Greeks
  • reflect on personal experiences as an informed critical reader.

Before you get started we would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations for this course, in our optional start-of-course survey [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Participation will be completely confidential and we will not pass on your details to others.

A drawing of a tree. In the leaves of the tree are the words ‘Fake news’. In its branches are written ‘rumour, hoaxes’, ‘information’, and ‘disinformation’; its trunk has ‘social media’. Its roots point to two word bubbles, in which are written: ‘Loss of confidence in traditional media’ and ‘Low levels of critical thinking and news literacy’ on the left; and on the right, ‘Shifts in business models’ and ‘Malicious actors’.
Figure 1 The roots of ‘fake news’, from UNESCO’s 2017/2018 Report into World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global.

Study note: a note on names

In this course, you will come across a number of names of places and people from the ancient Mediterranean world that may be unfamiliar to you. We have given you a guide to the standard pronunciation of some of the more commonly occurring ones, but do bear in mind that you will often hear ancient names, places and words pronounced in slightly different ways. The key here is not to worry too much about getting it ‘right’ and to be open to the fact that there are different conventions in operation.