Books, libraries, librarians, and writers are subject to attacks—again. Recent bans of books across the United States targeting Black history, the Holocaust, and LGBTQ themes have dominated the news. But book censorship has a longer history. “Banned! A History of Censorship” explores this history, along with practices of censorship, the methods to control and ban books and ideas, the resilience of censored works, and attempts to push back.
As the Talmud says, “The parchment is burning, but its letters are flying to the heavens.” Authorities could ban books, but they could not destroy them or the ideas contained in them entirely. Indeed, while today some voices are heard complaining about universities not teaching major texts of “Western civilization,” many of these books were originally banned across Europe—by Protestant and Catholic authorities: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and more. Major works of literature—cherished today—were also banned, among them Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables or Alexander Dumas’s Three Musketeers, which were on “Index Librorum Prohibitorum,” or the Index of Prohibited Books.
As this exhibit demonstrates, cultural, religious, and moral values are never static. They change over time. If some of the books and ideas become acceptable, others might become abhorrent. Because Fordham as a Catholic and Jesuit university was obliged to abide by the Index of Prohibited Books until its abolition in 1966, the exhibit also explores how Fordham dealt with books that were included in the Index.
The exhibit is on view at the Walsh Family Library in the main exhibition hall on the first floor and in the Special Collections on the fourth floor.
The exhibit is a collaboration between Fordham University’s Walsh Family Library—especially its O’Hare Special Collections—and the Center for Jewish Studies. It was curated by Gabriella DiMeglio; Amy Levine-Kennedy; Hannorah Ragusa, FCRH ’26; and Magda Teter. Vivian Shen at the special collections and archives set up the exhibit with great care and attention to detail. Additional research has been provided by Samantha Sclafani, FCLC ’22, and Kevin Bogucki, FCLC ’23. The lecture series and student research associated with the exhibit have been made possible through the generosity of donors to the Center for Jewish Studies at Fordham.
This event is open to alumni, faculty/staff, parents, students, and the public.