Teaching censorship: a useful resource

Students always really enjoy learning about censorship, probably because we all like to explore the forbidden and the naughty! But studying censorship is an excellent way of learning about cultural change. The books, magazines, art and films that have been censored or banned can tell us a lot about what was considered immoral or dangerous at different historical periods.

The University of Virginia website on studying censorship, entitled ‘Wielding the Red Pen ‘, is an excellent teaching resource to introduce students to this topic.

The website encourages you to think for yourself, , for example, providing a list of censored books an asking ‘would you consider these to be dangerous or problematic books?’ or ‘would you ban a child from reading this book?’

A classic case of literary censorship was a Virginia county schoolboard’s attempt to censor Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is also explored in depth, complete with primary sources from Lee’s publisher and local newspapers. Questions designed to challenge students are included on the website. This material really is a ready made teaching resource!

FIlm censorship following the Hays Code of the 1930s is also examined, showing how the censors affected films that today seem innocuous such as Casablanca (1942), when hints of extramarital affairs were suppressed. Even married couples were not portrayed in a double bed under the Hays Code. Scenes of this nature were cut from the innocent seeming I Love Lucy (1952).

This website provides a great starting place for teachers looking for resources on 20th century American cultural history or for students researching similar topics.

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About Catherine Armstrong

Dr Catherine Armstrong is a Senior Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, specialising in North American History. She is a former teaching fellow in History at the University of Warwick and Oxford Brookes University. Catherine was also Director of Historical Studies in the Open Studies department at the University of Warwick. Her first book ‘Writing North America in the Seventeenth Century’ was published by Ashgate in June 2007. As a long-time jobseeker for an academic role herself, Catherine is in a unique position to understand and offer her knowledge and experience to those developing an academic career.

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