The 2019 Amsterdam Colloquium Character Assassination! Media and mudslinging from Caligula to King Gorilla
June 21, 2019
MAIN PROGRAMME: De Hortus, Plantage Middenlaan 2A, Amsterdam
Character assassination is a phenomenon that can be found in every historical epoch. Throughout the ages, numerous kings, queens, generals, clergymen, thinkers and rebels have suffered visual and verbal attacks which sought to undermine their prestige and cast them in a negative light. While this is currently done through tweets and campaign ads, in previous ages speeches, chronicles and pamphlets were the weapons of choice. Their effects were no less devastating. The reputation of notorious figures such as Emperor Caligula, the “Iron Duke” of Alba and the Dutch “King Gorilla” [William III] has been determined by character attacks to this day.
This colloquium places character assassination in historical perspective. In doing so, we focus primarily on persons from the political sphere: kings, aristocrats, statesmen. Can we identify constant factors through time in the ways these people’s reputations were attacked and in the motives behind these attacks? How have acts of character assassination been influenced by changing historical circumstances, particularly by the introduction of new technologies and media such as the printing press, the newspaper and radio? And can historians make use of methods and models from the political and social sciences to analyse character assassination? By discussing and comparing case studies from various historical epochs, we hope to shed light on these questions.