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Censorship and Book Banning



Brief history:

In ancient times, when hand-scribed books existed in only one or a few copies, destroying them (usually by burning) guaranteed that no one would ever read them. Once the invention of the printing press around 1450 made it possible to circulate many copies of a book, book-burning, though still highly symbolic, could no longer effectively control the dissemination of texts. Twenty years after Johann Gutenberg’s invention, the first popular books were printed and sold in Germany; within another 20 years, Germany’s first official censorship office was established when a local archbishop pleaded with town officials to censor “dangerous publications.” In England, Henry VIII established a licensing system requiring printers to submit all manuscripts to Church of England authorities for approval and in 1529, he outlawed all imported publications. In 1535, the French king Francis I issued an edict prohibiting the printing of books. By 1559, in reaction to the spread of Protestantism and scientific inquiry, the Roman Catholic Church issued the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, likely the first published and most notorious list of forbidden books. The purpose of the Index was to guide secular censors in their decisions as to which publications to allow and which to prohibit, since printers were not free to publish books without official permission. In 1650, a religious pamphlet by William Pynchon was confiscated by Puritan authorities in Massachusetts, condemned by the General Court and burned by the public executioner in the Boston marketplace. The incident is considered to be the first book-burning in America.


Anothony Comstock:

The pioneer of modern American censorship was Anthony Comstock, who founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1872. In 1873, using slogans such as “Morals, not art and literature,” he convinced Congress to pass a law, thereafter known as the “Comstock Law,” banning the mailing of materials found to be “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene.” Between 1874 and 1915, as special agent of the U.S. Post Office, he is estimated to have confiscated 120 tons of printed works. Under his reign, 3,500 people were prosecuted although only about 350 were convicted. Books banned by Comstock included many classics: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Arabian Nights, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Authors whose works were subsequently censored under the Comstock Law include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill and many others whose works are now deemed to be classics of literature.


Anthony Comstock



(March 1844 - September 1915)




Book Burning:




"Book burning" refers to the ritual destruction by fire of books or other written materials. Usually carried out in a public context, the burning of books represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question. In 1933, Nazi German authorities strove to synchronize professional and cultural organizations with Nazi ideology and policy. In keeping with this endeavor, Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, began an effort to bring German arts and culture in line with Nazi goals. The government purged cultural organizations of Jewish and other officials alleged to be politically suspect or who performed or created art works which Nazi ideologues labeled “degenerate.” The Nazi book burnings were a campaign conducted by the authorities of Nazi Germany to ceremonially burn books in Germany by pacifist, socialist, Jewish, and other authors whose ideologies were seen to be subversive to the National Socialist administration.








Censorship Today



ALA (American Library Association):

Founded on October 6, 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the American Library Association was created to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. Our current strategic plan, ALA Ahead to 2015, calls for continued work in the areas of Advocacy for Libraries and the Profession, Diversity, Education and Lifelong Learning, Equitable Access to Information and Library Services, Intellectual Freedom, Literacy, Organizational Excellence and Transforming Libraries.


The ALA has a big impact on book censorship and book banning. The ALA, Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. ALA compiles lists of challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools.


Book "Challenging V.S "Banning":

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.



Book-banning now

Despite the lessons of the past, incidents of book-banning have continued to the present. Many of the most recent incidents occur at a local level, in public schools and libraries. People trying to ban books from libraries do not usually regard their efforts as censorship. A member of the community, school board member or parent objects to, or “challenges,” a book, requesting its removal or sequestration so that students may not have free access to it. Most frequently, books are challenged because they contain profanity or violence, sex or sex education, homosexuality, witchcraft and the occult, “secular humanism” or “new age” philosophies, portrayals of rebellious children, or “politically incorrect,” racist or sexist language. The American Library Association has documented more than 6,000 such challenges in the United States between 1990 and 2000. If enough people protest the challenge, the book may not be removed. But sometimes no one notices: A book is removed and stays lost to a school or community. Sometimes a parent, community member or even a librarian fearing controversy will quietly remove the book from the shelf. It is impossible to document and quantify this form of “stealth censorship.” Judith F. Krug, the American Library Association’s director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, estimates that for every recorded book challenge, as many as four or five challenges go unreported.


Classic literature such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men were among the top 10 most frequently challenged books from 1990 to 2000, according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Of the 448 recorded challenges in 2001 (down from 646 in 2000), the most often challenged were those in the Harry Potter series, for its focus on wizardry and magic and “Satanic influence.”




Books Group


List of banned books in the U.S by ALA:


ALA's Banned Book List



Mullally, Claire. "First Amendment Center." Banned Books. N.p., 13 Sept. 2002. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/banned-books.


"About Banned & Challenged Books." American Library Association. ALA, 1997-2012. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/aboutbannedbooks.


"Nazi Book Burning." Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_book_burnings. N.p., 30 Oct. 2012. Web. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_book_burnings


"Holocaust History." Book Burning. United States Holcaust Memorial Museum, 11 May 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852>.




Books, Present


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