History Department Challenges Censorship in Interactive Workshop

History Professor and Department Chair, Marcy Sacks stands in front of students who attended the Censorship Workshop on Thursday. Sacks was one of the four facilitators who presented on growing censorship and why it matters to them (Photo courtesy of Joseph Ho).

On Thursday, Albion College’s history department hosted a Censorship Workshop open to all students in Mudd Library. The goal of the workshop was to showcase the importance of knowing what parts of history are censored and/or not taught in school.

The event facilitators included History Department Chair Marcy Sacks, Associate Professor Joseph Ho, Assistant History Professor Laura Brade and Assistant History Professor Abigail Meert.  

To start the workshop, history professors Ho and Meert shared their thoughts on censorship and why it matters.

“How I tend to think about censorship in history is the eraser of voices and the creation of sanitized parts of history,” Ho said. 

Sacks said the workshop was created as a response to the growing restrictions in different states on what teachers can teach and what students can learn. 

“We felt as a department that it’s our responsibility, as the historians on campus, to talk about the way history is being censored and limited by state laws,” Sacks said.

Instead of a lecture or presentation, Ho said the history department decided to host a workshop so students could bring their experiences to the discussion. He said they wanted “a balance between content and conversation.”

“We wanted to incorporate both the content and get people aware of what’s going on,” Ho said. “As well as the conversation in which we can hear your voices, we get to know what’s important to you, and share what’s important to us.”

Those in attendance formed small groups and worked on sheets passed out by the facilitators. The first sheet asked two questions meant to be answered at the beginning of the workshop: “What do you know about the topic?” and “What do you want to know?”

Participants were encouraged to think about their experiences in classes they have taken at Albion and elsewhere. After each breakout, the professors called everyone back together to share their thoughts as a larger group.

Students mentioned how media was restricted, materials were changed and access to specific areas of history was limited. Connor Deeros, New Orleans sophomore, provided an example of a text that was able to “get in front of the censorship laws.

“The one that we hear about most is probably ‘Animal Farm’ and how it gets away from the censorship by telling themes of an animal,” Deeros said.

The second activity of the workshop was to read two excerpts, the first about the different kinds of bills introduced across the U.S. and the other titled “Holocaust Education in Germany.” After reading, students were asked to discuss their thoughts.

Brade said that in Germany, young people are being influenced by censorship because they aren’t being taught everything about their history. 

“There is an increasing decline in what young people know about the Holocaust in Germany and the United States,” Brade said. “I think it has to do with the current political climate in Germany.”

Brade also said the history department wanted students to think about how people in power are trying to control a particular narrative.

“One way we can do that is by reflecting our own experiences with a subject,” Brade said. “We wanted students to think about their own experiences with censorship, what you did know and what you wanted to know.” 

Before ending the workshop, the professors asked students what future steps the history department could take to facilitate learning.

Deeros said one of the things he wants is the opportunity to speak about the restrictions in a public setting. He said it wasn’t until he got to Albion that he learned about the Black Panther Party and different parts of World War II. 

“I want to talk about that, I want to listen about that, and I want to have the opportunity to go forward and say we need this,” Deeros said.

Other students want to see a banned book workshop, an event that involves textbook evolution, and like Deeros, want the opportunity to speak out by writing books or even creating a talk show in the future.

According to the professors present at the workshop, the history department is considering all feedback and is planning to have a workshop surrounding banned books and how textbooks have evolved over the years.

Editor’s Note – 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11: Joseph Ho was quoted as saying “How I tend to think about history is the eraser of voices and the creation of sanitized parts of history.” Due to a transcription error, there were words left out of this quote. It has since been changed. The original publication of this article was at 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 9.

About Rhiannon Slotnick 29 Articles
Rhiannon Slotnick is a Junior from Detroit, Michigan. She is double majoring in English Literature Creative Writing and Sociology. She enjoys putting words on to paper for both work and for personal pleasure. If she's not writing, you can find her reading a book or stargazing around campus. You can contact her at rms15@albion.edu

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