This course will examine the paradoxical nature of censorship in Boston, the “Athens of America.” Institutions such as the Boston Athenaeum and the Boston Public Library championed books even as the Watch and Ward Society was making “Banned in Boston” a national stigma. But even our cherished libraries sometimes resorted to keeping controversial books from public view.
We will look at censorship through the prism of John Milton’s Areopagitica, his 1644 plea to Parliament to stop its licensing (pre-approval) of books. This seminal defense of free speech still reminds us of the “benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.”
We will then consider some of the prime targets of the censor’s ire: Voltaire’s Candide (seized by Boston customs agents in 1929 on its way to a French class at Harvard); Orwell’s 1984 (attacked both from the right and the left); and the perennial favorite of school curriculum doubters, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. What is it about these books that is so offensive? And what does the act of censorship tell us about the society that targets a book for oblivion?