Is Censorship Still Here? (LS-ME-539)

It might seem that censorship is part of the past, but is it? This Museum Education learning scenario aims to explore censorship’s role in history and nowadays and encourages the participants to reflect on their personal experience.

Notes on implementation

I implemented this learning scenario online during Covid-19 lockdown with a group of 15-year-old students. We started by looking at two Europeana blogs about some of the earliest examples of known censorship in Europe –  ‘Book Censorship and Banned Books’ and  ‘Banned Authors – who got on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?’ and finished with a contemporary example in form of a photography project ‘Censored Dresses’ by David Siepert. To enhance engagement at the beginning of the lesson I asked the participants to come up with 1-3 words that would best describe censorship. All the responses were collected into a word cloud to illustrate what are the initial thoughts on this topic.

Word cloud representing participants’ ideas of what censorship is

Important lesson in human rights

During the museum learning activity, we looked at what the Latvian constitution says about censorship. Based on that the participants were asked to point out instances when censorship could be legal. We also talked about respectful and safe communication on social media and what to do if a potentially dangerous situation is encountered online. This helped to build participant’s understanding of the responsibilities that come with the freedom of speech and democracy.

Participants’ responses to a question of when censorship might be acceptable

Links to personal experience

To achieve deeper learning I used participants’ and my own personal experience while discussing censorship. Looking at the Internet Censorship World Map was an eye-opening experience for the participants because it is hard for them to imagine that internet access might be restricted let alone banned. In recent times there have been a lot of examples of censorship occurring in relation to Covid-19. It was important to discuss some of these instances to demonstrate that censorship still is a reality today.

Tailoring to your needs

Before implementing this Learning Scenario in your own museum you should think carefully about which artefacts to choose from your museum’s collection to enrich and complement the Europeana resources and point the learning in the direction that works for you. You should also feel free to adjust the learning scenario to best incorporate your resources. I used several digital artefacts from the collection of The National Library of Latvia, some of which are also included in the Europeana collection  – the first one is a list of banned books from 1939 and the other one is a similar list from two years later. Both of these lists have a similar agenda, but each served a different political regime. These examples helped strengthen participants’ understanding of the local political situation in the 20th century.

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Public Domain Mark 1.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the International Institute of Social History.

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