Banned Books Week!

September 27, 2016

In honour of Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 - Oct. 1, 2016), an annual event established by the American Library Association celebrating the freedom to read, the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL) has put together a series of visualisations showcasing a selection of banned or censored authors and their works. The project serves to highlight the pervasiveness of censorship among some of the most beloved and important works of literature and places them in the context of the times and places in which they were banned or censored.

Below are five themes, each grouped around important themes of censorship around the world.

1. Books Banned by the Nazis

Nazi censorship of books began in the 1930s as the fascist movement gained momentum in Germany and Austria. They banned books written by Jewish authors, communists, and those who spoke against the political and cultural goal of the Nazis.1,2

2. Banned 20th-Century Novels in English

The Modern Library, the original parent company of Random House, is known for its somewhat controversial "best of" lists, including its list of best 100 20th-century novels, first published in 1998. Many of the titles in Modern Library's list of best 20th-century novels have been banned at one point over the course of the century, as the following visualisation show.

3. Banned Nobel Laureate Authors

Each year the Swedish Academy awards an author the Nobel Prize in Literature for producing the most outstanding body of work in the field of literature. Since the prize was first awarded in 1901, 32 authors on this distinguished list have had works banned or censored by their country of origin or elsewhere in the world for being politically dissenting, sexually explicit, or blasphemous.

4. Banned Zola

Émile Zola (1840-1902) was a prominent nineteenth-century French novelist. His works have been banned both during his lifetime and as recently as the 1990s, including J'accuse, an open letter denouncing military authorities for the wrongful imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French military accused of treason. Zola's works have been completely banned in some countries, such as Ireland in 1953, and censored in others, such as in the United States, where the National Organization of Decent Literature deemed his novel about the prostitute, Nana, indecent. 3,4

5. English Books Banned by the Vatican

From 1559 to 1948, the Vatican listed all books banned by the Roman Catholic Church in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books). Books were included if they were seen as contaminating the faith or corrupting the morals of Roman Catholics.5 The selection of titles in the following visualisations are English Books listed in the Index; the total index includes over 4000 titles.6

For more information on the on Banned Books Week and to see even more visualisations on book censorship, see the Banned Books Week display in Bennett Library all this week.

The Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL) is one of the pillars of SFU’s Big Data Initiative. The key aim of DHIL is to assist SFU researchers with the development of digital scholarship research by providing consultation, training, mentoring, research software development and technical support to faculty and graduate students.

DHIL will foster collaboration and interdisciplinarity across faculty and promote the development and dissemination of high-quality research that will position SFU as a world leader in digital scholarship.  

Located in the W.A.C. Bennett Library at SFU Burnaby and utilizing space at the Vancouver and Surrey Campuses, DHIL represents an opportunity to align research in the Digital Humanities with the Library’s expertise in digital initiatives, unique special collections, and skill development and research dissemination programming.