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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 current-ly 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.

Detail Summary
Date 21 June 2019
Time 09:30 - 16:30

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 at-tacks? 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.


Hortus Botanicus, Plantage Middenlaan 2A, Amsterdam
Entrance free. Please register: Martijn Icks ( of Edwina Hagen (


Vanaf 9.30u                 Inloop met koffie

10.00-10.10u               Woord van welkom (Edwina Hagen)

10.10-10.30u               Inleiding (Martijn Icks)

10.30-10.50u               Imperial madness? The case of Roman emperor Gaius Caligula (Henri van Nispen, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)

10.50-11.10u              Defaming the Merovingians: manipulating the past to accommodate political change in the Early Middle Ages (Erik Goosmann, Universiteit Utrecht)

11.10-11.30u               Discussie

11.30-11.50u               Koffiepauze

11.50-12.10u              Crusades and character assassination: political mudslinging in the thirteenth century (Frans Camphuijsen, Universiteit van Amsterdam)

12.10-12.30u              De Hertog van Alva en de Opstand in de Nederlanden: karaktermoord op een individu en een natie (Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez, Universiteit van Amsterdam)

12.30-12.50u               The murder of John and Cornelius de Witt: the body of state demolished (Luc Panhuysen, onafhankelijk onderzoeker)

12.50-13.10u               Discussie

13.10-14.20u               Lunch

14.20-14.40u              Fake news for the American Revolution: the character assassination of George Washington (Eric Shiraev, George Mason University)

14.40-15.00u               Koning Willem III (1817-1890): reputatie en realiteit (Dik van der Meulen, onafhankelijk onderzoeker

15.00-15.20u              Doodsteek voor het debat? Persoonlijke aanvallen in het Nederlandse parlement, een historische analyse (Carla Hoetink, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)

15.20-15.40u              How character assassination unfolds in a Pakistani context: the case of Benazir Bhutto (Munira Cheema, University of Sussex)

15.40-16.00u               Discussie

16.00-16.20u               Slotbeschouwing (Edwina Hagen)


Aansluitend vindt vanaf 17.00 uur in de Doelenzaal van de Universiteitsbibliotheek de keynote-lezing Van burgervader tot karikatuur: Provo en de karaktermoord op Gijs van Hall door Dirk Wolthekker plaats. Na deze lezing is er een borrel.