History Department Invites Conversation During Banned Books Workshop

Students sit in the Mudd section of the library and listen to the Banned Books presentation given by the five History professors. The history professors in charge of the event said that it was created because of high-demand from students to see and discuss banned books (Photo courtesy of Joseph Ho).

The history department hosted a Banned Books Workshop on Wednesday; this was their second event of the semester.

History Department Chair and Professor Marcy Sacks said that it is important for students to learn about how the “master narrative of white, heterosexual, usually able-bodied and males” excludes those who are not a part of it.

Sacks added that it’s important to know this information to “combat” the issue of banned books.

“We were very excited to give everyone a chance to take a look at the kinds of material being censored,” Sacks said. “It was really valuable for people to realize how many books are targeted.”

Opening the workshop, Associate Professor of History Joseph Ho said the history department wanted those in attendance to be thinking and talking about the reasons for banning books and how it may affect them. He added that it’s important to think about the reasons for banning books “in relation to history and present-day impacts,” and how we might want to navigate those issues as Americans.”

As he passed out true or false quizzes to each table group, Ho said the reason for doing so was to gain a better understanding of how students think of banned books. He then asked students to raise their hands after looking over the questions and give what they thought the answer was. 

Afterward, Ho advised students to continue thinking about the facts presented to them and why there was a surge of banned books in 2022

Ho gave a presentation on statistics regarding book banning in the United States. Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of 2023, there have been 695 attempts to ban or restrict library books; 3,923 titles were victim to censorship attempts. 

According to Brade, “book banning usually starts with a challenge.”

Brade also said book banning and challenging can start with good intentions. She said 30% of these reports are made by parents, 28% by patrons and 17% by political or religious groups.

“Usually, the people who lodge a challenge or attempt to ban a book are doing so because they want to protect someone,” Brade said. “It’s usually children, from something that is harmful or difficult for them.” 

At each table, students were prompted to look through banned children’s books and have conversations about why they thought each book was banned. These books included: “Where the Wild Things Are,” “They, She, He,” “Easy as ABC” and “Stella Brings the Family.”

Brade asked students to consider what is lost when books are banned; answers included opposing viewpoints, personal experiences, life lessons and parts of people’s identities. 

After being given some time to discuss with those in their group, Sacks called the students back to share their thoughts in a large group. Brade said that books can be banned because of political reasons, homophobia, race and unsuitable themes for age groups.  

At least one banned book present at the event, “Pride” by Rob Sanders, is a children’s history book depicting the creation of the pride flag. When Sacks asked why books that contain LGBTQ+ themes might be banned, a student answered that people believe if you read a book containing that content, you will turn gay.

“There is that idea that if children, young impressionable minds, are exposed to homosexuality they will, you impressionable people, will become homosexual,” Sacks said. “And the assumption is that is a problem.”

When you take away the experiences of others, Sacks said, “you lose the ability to understand others.” 

Assistant History Professor Christopher Riedel said that when considering history, different groups offer different options for education. He added that if one group gives one textual narrative while the other gives more than one, the knowledge of each other’s history will be different.

“One of the things we’re thinking about for the next time is if this is what governments are telling us we’re not allowed to read, what is the government trying to get us to read instead,” Riedel said. “What is the alternative narrative that’s being put in front of people?”

During the workshop, Riedel read a passage from a memoir used in one of his courses. In “Iran Awakening” the author, Shirin Ebadi, recounts an encounter in which she gathered and burned her personal book collection while her daughter watched. 

Riedel said he wanted to read the passage to get people to think about what book banning can lead to, adding that he wanted to highlight that “no one made her do this; she was simply afraid of having the wrong book.” 

“Once you start making books difficult to access, once you start making objections to all kinds of books, people start avoiding the books they know will cause problems,” Riedel said. “People will start self-censoring, and that’s really the ultimate goal of any kind of censorship.”

To close the workshop, Assistant History Professor Abigail Meert asked students, “Where are these bans taking place?” 

Meert said Michigan is one of the top 10 states with the most banned books: 39 instances of book banning have been recorded for the state. 

“This is not a them issue, this is not a faraway issue; this is an issue that for a lot of us is close to home,” Meert said.

Meert went on to ask students about what steps they believe should be taken to prevent the issue of banned books or to spread awareness. The answers provided by students ranged from reading the banned pieces to educating themselves even more on the current issue.

“The minute you hear a book is getting banned, I want you to run to a library, I want you to run to a bookstore,” Meert said. “And I want you to find out what it is that they don’t want you to know.” 

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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