History of Censorship Timeline

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Socrates Executed

399 BCE

First famous case of public censorship. Socrates was executed because of his influence he was having over the youth of Rome.

Chinese Book Burning

213 BCE

Minister Li Si and Emperor Qin Shi Huang of China ordered the destruction of many history and philosophy books during the year of 213 B.C. The Emperor wanted people after him to believe that the world started with his rein. These destructive acts lead to a revolt in China, the subsequent destruction of the remaining philosophical and historical documents, and subsequently the ruin of Chinese culture. The Chinese had to rebuild what defined them as a people in the decades and centuries after.

Library of Alexandria Burnt Down

50 BCE

The burning of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt between 50 B.C. and A.D. 700 is one of the most important instances of censorship even today. Perhaps a mistake, the fire set in the library destroyed over 40,000 manuscripts. Many of these were only copies and the valuable information they held is forever lost.

Emperor of Egypt burns Alchemist books in Alexandria

292

Royal Library of the Samanid Dynasty burned in Turkey

1000

Mayan Books Burned

1562

Fray Diego de Landa, a Spaniard acting bishop of the Yucatan, burned many of the Maya’s sacred books in 1562 because they conflicted with the Christian ideology he was trying to teach them.

German translation of the bible was banned by order of the Pope

1624

Martin Luther had translated the Catholic bible into German hoping that the people of German would be able to read that bible themselves. The Catholic Church’s act of censorship led to the formation of the Lutheran Church.

Huckleberry Finn Banned from libraries

1800

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, published in1884, caused quite a stir. It was tossed out of the collection of numerous libraries in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s due to the idea that is set a bad example for youth who may read it. It is still a frequent target of challenges and bans.

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species Banned

1859

Cambridge’s Trinity College banned the book from its library even though Darwin was one of its own graduates. From its publication to present day, Darwin’s book about his theory of evolution has been the target of numerous challenges and censorship cases.

Braille Books Banned in Paris

1892

In 1842, the director of the Paris school for the blind ordered that all book written in Braille be burned. He apparently did not want the students of the school to be reading books on their own. Fortunately not all of the employees of the school agreed with his idea and secretly used the coded writing anyway. Braille was eventually restored at the school. Without the few who had defied the new director’s orders Braille would be lost today and the blind would not have nearly the amount of independent access to information that they enjoy today.

Bolshevik censorship in Russia

1917

The Bolsheviks, in 1917, censored all books in Russia that did not feed into the beliefs of communism. These books included religious pieces, works that spoke favorably of past Czars, and economic texts. The Bible and Quarn were among the books banned in the Soviet Union. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a fictional piece that the Bolsheviks had banned.

Nazi Censorship

1933

Nazi Germany is probably the most well-known, 20th century, case of mass censorship. The custom of mass book burnings and persecution of people with ideas that did not agree with Nazi philosophy first began on April 6, 1933 with a proclamation released by the German Students Association for Press and Propaganda. They urged the “cleansing” of literature and threw public festivals to celebrate the bonfires. On May 10, 1933, the largest of these book burnings took place. University students burned around 25,000 copies of literature deemed “un-German”. Books written by Jewish, communist, and socialist authors were burned in huge bonfires. Select authors such as Ernest Hemmingway and Jack London, Helen Keller, Sigmund Freud, and Upton Sinclair also had their works find their way into the Nazi fires. Stalin, leader of the USSR, also in an effort to abolish Jewish culture, ordered the burning of Jewish books in his country in the 1930’s and 1940’s.