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Coast, D; Fox, J (2015)
Publisher: Wiley
Languages: English
Types: Article
Subjects: BF, D1
This article examines the historiography of rumour and its relationship to other disciplines, particularly psychology. The article explores the methodological problems of defining rumours and interpreting source material, as well as the limitations of psychological interpretations. It examines the ways in which rumours can allow us to access pass mentalities and understand popular and elite politics. It analyses attempts by governments to monitor rumours and what they can tell us about the relationship between the individual and the state. Finally, it explores how the interpretations of rumours shaped, and were shaped by, race, gender, social differences, and cultural attitudes. Although social scientists and historians have approached the study of rumour in very different ways, closer collaboration between the two can illuminate our understanding of this complex and fascinating phenomena.
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    • 1 http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/oct/06/importance-free-press-alan-rusbridger, accessed 20th October 2014.
    • 2 See, for example, Clay Ramsey, The Ideology of the Great Fear. The Soissonnais in 1789 (Baltimore, 1992); Anand A. Yang, 'A Conversation of Rumors: The Language of Popular “Mentalitès” in Late Nineteenth-Century Colonial India', Journal of Social History, 20:3 (Spring, 1987), p. 486. For George Lefebvre's original work, see Georges Lefebvre, La Grande Peur de 1789 (Paris, 1932).
    • 3 For the difficulty in defining rumours, see Jean-Nöel Kapferer, Rumors: Uses, Interpretations and Images (New Brunswick, 1990), ch. 1.
    • 4 See, for example, Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.) Diary of John Rous (Camden 1st Series, vol. 66, 1856); George Roberts (ed.), The Diary of Walter Yonge (Camden 1st series, vol. 41, 1848).
    • 5 Tamotsu Shibutani, Improvised News: a sociological study of rumor (New York, 1966), pp. 131-2.
    • 6 Leonard Doob, 'Propaganda', in Erik Barnouw (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Communications, (Oxford, 1989), vol. 3, p. 375.
    • 7 Nicholas DiFonzo and Prashant Bordia, Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches (Washington, 2007), pp. 229-30.
    • 8 Adam Fox, 'Rumour, News and Popular Opinion in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England', The Historical Journal, Vol. 40, No. 3 (1997), pp. 597-620.
    • 9 Luise White, Speaking with Vampires: rumour and history in colonial Africa (Berkeley, 2000), p. 85.
    • 10 Nicholas Stargardt, 'Beyond “Consent” or “Terror”: Wartime Crises in Nazi Germany', History Workshop Journal 72 (2011), pp. 201-2.
    • 11 Similar trends may be found, for example, in the study of propaganda: see, Harold Lasswell, Propaganda and Communication in World History (Honolulu, 1979); Harold Lasswell, Propaganda Technique in the World War (London, 1938); F.C. Bartlett, Political Propaganda (London, 1940); F.C.
    • Bartlett, Psychology and the Soldier (Cambridge, 1927); Leonard Doob, Propaganda: its Psychology and Technique (New York, 1935).
    • 12 Gordon Allport and Leo Postman, The Psychology of Rumor (New York, 1947).
    • 13 More recent experimental work has demonstrated that the accuracy of reports improves when test subjects are allowed to clarify what they hear and when the topic is important to them. See Nicholas DiFonzo, The Watercooler Effect: a psychologist explores the extraordinary power of rumours (New York, 2008), pp. 161-2.
    • 14 Shibutani, Improvised News.
    • 15 As Shibutani explained, many of his examples were drawn from his wartime experiences. Ibid. p. vii.
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