Censorship & Information Control In Information Revolutions
Bringing together scholars & practitioners to see what earlier information revolutions can teach us about censorship in our digital age
This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Fri, October 26 2018 3:10 AM UTC +00:00.
NEW TO SHARE: Click here for the preview Audio File of Session 2!
Sample what we're making! This is the complete audio of our panel on "What are Censorship's Real Historical Consequences" featuring Gehnwa Hayek (censorship of comics in contemporary Lebanon), James Larue (American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom), Mary Anne Monharaj (literary consequences of colonialism in Sri Lanka), Anthony Grafton (censorship of Renaissance books & Jewish books), plus co-organizers Cory Doctorow, Adrian Johns, and Ada Palmer. The video is still being processed but we're delighted to share the audio in this preview form to give you a first taste!
NOW: Stretch Goal #4 at $11,000: Audio Streaming/Podcast
In addition to sharing the finished videos online, we want to hire a sound editor to clean and transform the extracted audio and set it up to stream online as a public podcast.
ACHIEVED: Stretch Goal #1 at $7,300: Pay the Actors!
ACHIEVED: Stretch Goal #2 at $8,300: Hire a Sound Technician
ACHIEVED: Stretch Goal #3 at $9,800: Make Best-of Videos
We're putting on a lecture & discussion series, it's mostly funded, but we need a little extra to cover video recording costs, so that we can make both the lectures and videos be free and open for all comers. Plus we have some plans to keep the project going...
We are a team of three specialists who study information:
- Cory Doctorow: novelist, blogger, digital information expert, information freedom activist
- Adrian Johns: historian of science specializing in printing and information piracy, from the birth of copyright to the digital age
- Ada Palmer: novelist, blogger, historian of the Inquisition and censorship of radical ideas, from magic to atomic theory to atheism
Together, we want to create and share with the public a set of eight filmed discussions which will help people understand the new forms of censorship and information control that are developing as a result of the digital revolution. We've assembled a team of twenty-six experts on censorship and information control. Some are scholars of earlier information revolutions, from the printing press to radio and the copy machine. The others are participants in the digital revolution: journalists, editors, publishers, authors, activists, and more. Together, we want to use historical knowledge to help understand new forms of censorship that are developing today.
We want to create:
- A series of eight filmed conversations about censorship and information control, putting scholars of past information revolutions in dialogue with those who work on today's revolution. These videos will be made available to the public online, for everyone.
- A museum exhibit, examining the history of censorship from antiquity to the present, focusing on the Inquisition, the legacy of Orwell's 1984, and how the real activities of censors past and present differ from the way we tend to imagine them.
- A printed catalog of the exhibit, with images and descriptions of objects that help us understand censorship's long history, from theology books hand-censored by inquisitors to atomic research silenced during the Cold War.
- A book of essays written by the participants based on our shared discoveries.
- More publications, print and online, if we can muster resources to keep the project going.
Click here for a sample, the preview Audio File of our second session, discussing Censorship's Real Historical Consequences.
The Big Question: Censorship and Information Control Today
The digital revolution is triggering a wave of new information control efforts, from monopolistic patent laws to the Great Firewall of China. Some are conspicuous, as with the deletion of archives or arrests of authors, others subtle, as in the fine print terms of service contracts which accompany the software downloads that saturate our lives. Around the world creators, corporations, and governments are racing to improvise ways to track, control, and monetize the new movement of information. But we don't need to grope in the dark, since this is not the first time a new information technology has triggered a wave of new information control. The print revolution after 1450 triggered a similar process, and many of today’s attempts to police and own information closely parallel early responses to the printing press or other earlier information technologies. In the case of the printing press we have centuries of data about what impact different policies had on economies, artists, readers, and publishers, which policies made print capitals thrive and which made them stagnate. By tapping this historical information, and data from other past information revolutions, we can help predict the likely consequences of similar policies people are proposing today, and help us all shape our decisions--whether as creators, leaders, legislators, or consumers--in ways that will help us make the digital world a fertile space for creativity and innovation. Learn more on the project website, or below.
Topics of the Eight Sessions:
SESSION 1: Introduction, Censorship & Information Control During Information Revolutions
Our three co-organizers kick off the series. Are there patterns in how revolutions in information technology stimulate new forms of information control? What can earlier information revolutions teach us about the digital revolution? How do real historical cases of censorship tend to differ from the centralized, well-planned censorship that Orwell’s 1984 teaches us to expect? How can forms of information control which were not intended as censorship have similar consequences to censorship, with or without human agency?
Ada Palmer and Adrian Johns will participate in all sessions, Cory Doctorow in several.
SESSION 2: What Are Censorship’s Historical Consequences?
Censorship’s attempts to destroy a book, strengthen a regime, or silence a movement often fail in those direct objectives but have other profound effects on literature, culture, language, even identity. This week we set aside dystopian stereotypes to examine the real cultural effects of attempts at censorship, comparing the cases of post-colonial Sri Lanka, contemporary Lebanon, Jews in pre-modern Europe, the Inquisition, and the modern USA.
- Antony Grafton (Renaissance & early modern book history)
- Gehnwa Hayek (censorship of comics in contemporary Lebanon)
- James Larue (American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom)
- Mary Anne Monharaj (literary consequences of colonialism in Sri Lanka)
- Cory Doctorow in person.
Click here to preview the complete Audio File of this 2nd session!
SESSION 3: Theory and Practice of Freedom of Expression
One of the thorniest faces of free speech debate is the tension between free expression as an abstract principle and kinds of speech that harm, such as hate speech, incitements to violence, or uses of information which can cause economic damage or threaten security or privacy. And technologies change how information can move, and harm. This week we put a historian of the earliest post-printing-press debates over free speech in dialog with a historian of the information practices of hate groups in America.
- Kathleen Belew (use of technologies by modern US hate groups)
- David Copeland (history and origins of free speech debates)
SESSION 3: News, Politics and the Ownership of Information
New news media have been a hot topic in political analysis the past few years. This week we compare current news media’s growing pains to how news platforms and networks also transformed radically in the first centuries of print’s dissemination, especially the human social networks and agencies which strove to disseminate, control, and monetize news.
- Will Slauter (news in the early print period)
- Siva Vaidhyanathan (digital media & social networks)
SESSION 4: Data About Data Suppression
Evaluating the censorship practices of governments and other powerful organizations often faces the challenge that the censoring bodies themselves control the production and circulation of documents. We examine the documentary practices of censoring powers, by putting an expert on the institutional and administrative history of the Inquisition in dialogue with a specialist in contemporary government redaction, to compare the kinds of evidence interrogations generate, and how we can attempt to access the real activities of those censors who are protected by state backing.
- Nicholas Davidson (Inquisition trials)
- Joshua Craze (contemporary state document redaction, Guantanamo Bay & other cases)
SESSION 5: Changes in Media Technology Small and Large
Practicalities of how creative works circulate—physical size, the cost of a copy, which venues can or will stock them, how they reach audiences—can exert enormous control over works, creators, and publishers, with effects similar to censorship even if no one intends it. And they can also be exploited to act as intentional censorship. This week’s experts discuss the impact of successive small innovations in media technology on book publication, comic books, and music.
- Charles Brownstein & Ted Adams (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund)
- Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden (editors & publishers, Tor Books, Macmillan)
- Aram Seinrich (digital music, piracy)
SESSION 6: Policing Performance
Performers and an audience—in a way, theatrical performance is a technology whose fundamentals have not changed since antiquity. This week we explore the history of theater censorship, using it as a contrast case to ask how information technologies have—or haven’t—affected a medium which seems so unchanging.
- Brice Stratford & the Droll Players (performing banned 17th century plays)
- Stephen Nicholson (UK theater censorship)
- Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (burlesque performance)
As a special event, to go with this session, the Owle Schreame Theatre Company will perform banned 17th century Droll plays for us, and we will film one to share with the series! Six actors are trekking from the UK for this out of the kindness of their hearts, so we are delighted that we WE HAVE ACHIEVED STRETCH GOAL #1: Pay the Actors!
SESSION 7: Controlling Readers, Policing Reception
Much discussion of censorship and information control focuses on creators, so we will wrap up by examining how they affect readers, often by curating access, creating concentric categories of people who are permitted access to different materials. Social status, ethnicity, religion, language group, political affiliation, age: in this two-day event creators and scholars specializing in six different regions of the world will discuss how information control systems from the Inquisition to the Great Firewall of China have categorized and policed readers.
- Kyeong-Hee Choi (colonial censorship in occupied Korea under Japanese rule)
- Wendy Doniger (author of a book censored in India)
- Alan Charles Kors (Enlightenment censorship & book regulation, free speech on College Campuses)
- Hannah Marcus (Inquisition licensing process, history of science)
- Stuart McManus (Iberian empires, Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions)
- Glenn Tiffert (contemporary China, internet censorship)
You can read more about our amazing participants on our project website.
Curated by Ada Palmer and hosted at the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Library, our exhibit traces censorship from antiquity to our digital age, showing how information control has worked, thrived, or failed, and how real censorship movements tend to be very different from the centralized, methodical censorship depicted in Orwell’s 1984. From indexes of forbidden books to the subtle censorship of teaching biased histories, the materials on display chronicle censorship's 2,500 year history, exploring movements from the Inquisition to the Cold War to contemporary challenges in schools and libraries. A team of more than thirty student researchers worked with Ada Palmer to select and analyze materials from around the world.
Sections of the exhibit:
- Expectations and Realities: How does real historical censorship differ from what Orwell's 1984 teaches us to expect?
- How do YOU define censorship?: Edge cases that help us find the blurry edges of our own ideas about what is and isn't censorship.
- The Plural Inquisitions: The Inquisition was actually an enormous and complicated set of overlapping systems with evolving goals and conflicting authorities.
- Censorship in Translation: From banning languages to hiding resistance inside other authors' words, translation has long been a tool of censorship, and a defense against it.
- History of Fake News: Fake news is not new; from Shakespeare to the World Wars, sorting truth from falsehood in journalism has been one of the frontiers of information control.
- Comic Book Censorship: Graphic stories are frequent targets of censorship, because of their visual format, political power, and association with children.
- Censorship of the Classics: From bans to bowdlerizations, the treasures of ancient literature have faced every phase of Western censorship.
- Toxic Ideas: Hobbes, Luther, Spinoza, Marx, Darwin; we explore how people and states respond to explosive new ideas that challenge existing worldviews.
- The Rocky Birth of Copyright Law: The laws which govern intellectual property today accumulated over time, shaped by many different groups and interests.
- Censor's Desk: What did it feel like to be a professional censor? Sit down at our Censor's Desk and try your hand at expurgating by Inquisition guidelines, or redacting government documents.
- Banned Bookcase Tour of the Continents: An open stacks section where you can touch and examine books and materials banned or challenged in every inhabited continent.
In addition to the exhibit cases, the posters also showcase fresh research on:
- The History of Book Burning: From our earliest records to the 2000s.
- Internet Censorship: New information control challenges and possibilities of the digital age.
- The Great Firewall of China: How the first semi-automated censorship system is moving the power to silence out of human hands.
- Censorship in the Soviet Union: What does it mean for censorship to "succeed" or "fail" in a case like the USSR's unprecedentedly enormous efforts to control culture and expression?
- Censorship in New Zealand: What censorship looks like in a culture very similar to the USA but without the First Amendment.
- The Great Fig-Leafing: From altering paintings to covering statues, various responses to the nude in art track cultures' comfort and discomfort with the body's many meanings.
- Art Censorship in Chicago: How art's power to provoke brings free speech challenges to every community.
The exhibit catalog includes full-color images and details on all the exhibit materials, so you can take the experience home with you.
Curious? Learn more about the exhibit here.
Our Funding Needs:
This project is half scholarly and half public, so we have some grant funds for it, and are turning to you to help fill in the rest. Our current support comes from the University of Chicago, especially the university's Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, and from the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. They are covering a lot: the exhibit costs, the venue, travel for participants, administrative support, and some editorial help.
What still needs to be funded?
- Videography, to put the discussions permanently online for everyone to access.
- Closed captioning, to make the videos accessible for those with disabilities and for international audiences for whom reading English can be easier than parsing speech. We want to make these videos accessible worldwide, so they can be a resource for people everywhere, especially those far from libraries and traditional sources.
- Printing the catalog, to create a permanent version of our exhibit on the history of censorship, and make it available to people who can't come to Chicago in person.
- Outreach, to make sure these resources (and access to them) are disseminated as widely as possible, so many people can make use of them.
- Keeping it going! After these dialogs we want to produce a book of essays by the participants, a book on "Why People Censor" based on our research, more web content based on our exhibit, and hopefully further projects, but we need to hire help with editing and administration to keep things going.
With your help we can share this resource with everyone around the world, and make a real impact on our global struggles with censorship and information control in the digital age.
Keep up with the project and learn about the organizers, participants, and exhibit at our project website.
We want to share this project with everyone, so the videos and other major fruits of our collaboration will be shared with everyone, but we have some ways to thank our supporters:
- The exhibit catalog, a digital or physical copy, packed with color images, sent to you so you can see and explore relics of many major moments in censorship history.
- Materials from our Censor's Desk, so you can experience what it feels like hand censoring a document, like an Inquisitor or a government redactor.
- Banned Bookmarks from our Banned Bookcase Tour of the Continents, with tidbits of research about works banned or challenged on the continent of your choice.
- Autographed copies of the exhibit catalog, or the co-organizers books.
- A chance to submit a question for discussion in the sessions.
- A chance to chat one-on one about the topic with one of the organizers or participants.
- Thanks in our digital catalog, and future related publications.
But above all, THANK YOU for helping to make it possible for us to share this work with each other and the world. We hope this work really has a chance to powerfully affect how people talk and think about censorship in the digital age, but we can't do it without your support!
ADD-ON OPTION: Pledge $20 extra to get a 2nd print catalog
Want to share the project with a friend? If you've already pledged at a level with physical shipping, simply add an additional $20 (no extra shipping cost) and we'll include an additional print catalog. If you're getting a digital-only level but want to add a print catalog, you can add it on for $25 USD, $30 Canadian, or $40 for the rest of the world.
Risks and challenges
The most important risk is the possibility that something could go wrong with the filming process, so we might lose a chance to capture one of the sessions. For that reason we want to make sure we hire a very professional video crew (not just a student volunteer with a smart phone), and that we have a backup audio recording system in place.
We also want to publicize the videos as much as possible, to make sure they reach the right audiences. We are working with the university, and Cory Doctorow and Ada Palmer are working with their web resources and their contacts in the publishing and F&SF worlds, but we want to use some of these resources to help reach out more, especially to schools, and to international venues.
Other than that, the biggest challenge was assembling our team and figuring out a schedule which could accommodate everyone, and we are proud to say we managed it... but it was a very exhausting process, so we are looking forward to having the funds to hire some help for the next phases.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter