Deadly Words: Witches, Jews, and Muslims in the First Era of Fake News

This is a thrilling and timely project, led by Associate Professor Hannah Johnston from the University of Pittsburgh. Hannah is funded by a Fulbright Fellowship to come to New Zealand where we will collaborate on this project.

Our book project Deadly Words is a study of some of the stories people tell when they wield words as weapons. To call someone a witch in premodern Europe was to do more than insult her—it was to put her life in question. To claim that Jews murdered young Christian boys was to do more than retell a folktale—it was to court violence. To insist that no compromise was possible with a Muslim-dominated Holy Land in the era of the Crusades was to tell a story so powerful it had the potential to kill Christians, Jews, and Muslims indiscriminately. Yet these dangerous stories are not relics; they are still alive, in forms both intimately familiar and roughly repurposed. To tell a story is not a neutral act, but a powerful gesture, whether that story is limited to 280 characters, or takes the form of a 100-page manifesto. Ours is an age of dangerous stories, old and new: Deadly Words is motivated by the conviction that as scholars we have an obligation to explain the power and repercussions of such narratives so that as citizens we can work to change the script.