In Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith arrives each morning at the towering, well-funded offices of the Ministry of Truth, to help colleagues falsify news, erase people, and destroy or distort literature and language in service of a clearly-defined, multi-decade plan. This vivid tale of totalitarianism has become a bedrock of how we think and talk about censorship, but such centralized, top-down, state-directed censorship is very atypical of historical realities. Real censorship and information control efforts, from the Inquisition and book burnings to school library challenges and digital copyright law, demonstrate how censorship's reality is much more often decentralized, grassroots, hastily improvised, or bottom-up, and shaped by motives—from protecting children to maximizing profits—very different from the Orwellian quest for control. By examining censorship's historical realities we can better understand the real impact efforts at policing information have on society and knowledge, and how to be more vigilant against forms of censorship which do not resemble Big Brother.
The Comparing Practices of Knowledge Workshop launched in the 2016-17 academic year. Presentations range across historical and disciplinary boundaries and provide a major component of SIFK's inquiry into the process of knowledge formation and transmittal from antiquity to present day. Research-in-progress is welcomed and will receive constructive feedback. Lunch will be provided to those who RSVP.