Censorship and American History

Lecture Description

In this lecture I argue that America has a much longer & deeper tradition of censorship than we usually acknowledge, and that it has shaped how we tell our history. Most American colonies had no printing press until the 1720s, and even then publications were heavily censored via the common law of seditious libel, which allowed people to be punished for simply criticizing those in power, regardless of whether what they said was true. Despite the rejection of these principles, on some level, after the expiration of the alien and sedition acts in the early 1800s, censorship of anti-slavery literature, for example, was normal in the antebellum south. Sedition continues to be a crime for those in the U.S. military, even today. This lecture ends by reflecting on how the censorship of what we read influences how we see the world–as modern voters–and as historians.


General and Historiography

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