Books have been banned, burned, and blacklisted since humans created them. As receptacles for knowledge and ideas, books represent not only tools for enlightenment but also, for some, pose a serious threat to social order. Examining this worrisome practice both historically and in the present helps us understand our common future.
This course ran from January to February 2023.
For six weeks, New York Times journalist and author Nina Siegal dove into the issue of banned books in the United States, as well as examining historical instances of book banning around the world. Titles included George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, infamous graphic novels MAUS and Persepolis, LGBTQ+ comics and novels including GenderQueer, and the 1619 Project, which is currently under fire for supposedly “ignoring history” even though it intends to do the exact opposite.
Nina explained that banning books is often a harbinger of cultural violence and suppression, and the effects ripple through society in disastrous ways. For instance, the Proud Boys (a far-right, neo-fascist, and male-dominated organization promoting political violence) have frequently shown up loaded with guns to an innocent reading-session of LGBTQ inclusive books to children. Simultaneously, under the governorship of Rob DeSantis, the state of Florida seems more eager than ever to eradicate diversity from its public school libraries and curricula from kindergarten through university. What causes the banning of certain books, and the resurgence of such practices in the United States, a country that so dearly clings to its ideals of respecting and promoting free speech?
To provide you with more insight into the format and content of our past course, this report zooms in on the session about To Kill a Mockingbird.