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“Bad Books: An Exploration of Censorship” by Kendall Futrell

Kendall Futrell, Smith College

After a semester I have finally finished the project I started in January — Bad Books: An Exploration of Censorship! It is a digital exhibit, which you can check out here: https://badbooks.5colldh.org (it’s a .org, I feel so cool).

Graphic from the home page of 5CollDH Undergraduate Fellow Kendall Futrell’s website, a digital exhibit.

The project is meant to showcase censorship and the many different ways it can look. I knew when I started the project that censorship wasn’t just burning and banning books, but I had no idea where I was going to end up after doing my research. I looked at all sorts of materials – an expurgatory list (that’s a list of books to destroy), a ceramic stone, a couple letters between an art historian and a publisher, and countless pictures of Winnie the Pooh. And I read a lot of cool books and articles about censorship and information ethics – most of which I didn’t even end up using in my project. That’s the nature of research I guess.

Futrell responds to a question about censorship following her presentation of her project’s website at the 2019 Undergraduate Fellows Symposium on April 24, 2019 at UMass Amherst.

Throughout the semester we had fellow meetings with the 5CDH team and the other fellows. I got to hear about the other projects and get inspired by the things my fellow fellows were doing. It was really helpful to have check in times, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gotten very much work done. When I hit a wall or didn’t know how to do something the team would help me figure it out. Alex, our angelic and lovely 5CDH fellow, helped me fix a bunch of the code for my website to get it to do the things I wanted. (Her Slack response time is unbelievable, y’all seriously wouldn’t believe it.) Between her guidance and a lot of YouTube videos and articles about how to code, I made a website.

I also talked with people in Smith Special Collections every so often. I work there so I was sort of used to navigating our collections, but they helped me find more things than I could find on my own. I would go to the reading room and call up a book, or they would just let me go look around in the stacks—working in Special Collections seriously has its perks. Although I found a lot of cool things I could’ve used from the special collections across the Five Colleges they mostly talked about a certain kind of censorship. I wanted to look at censorship of the internet and arts, so I went online. The beauty of digital exhibits is you can access them from anywhere, and I did. I found a lot of my materials through museum and college library databases as well as the occasional google search in the dark. To learn more about the research I did check out the website. Seriously, the best of my work is on there.

To finish, I got to give a talk at the 5CDH symposium which was absolutely nerve wracking but I am so glad to have done it. If no one else sees my site I got to show it to the people in that room and answer their questions.

I honestly thought that my favorite part of the project was going to be the research but it turns out I love building websites. I spent so much time fiddling around with layouts, color palettes, and ways to navigate through the site. I built the website using Omeka, which is designed for exhibits, so I was limited a bit, but I’m pleased with the functionality. It was very user friendly. I learned a lot about censorship which was cool, but I think that the best result of this project was discovering all of the cool things that I could use technology for. I feel pretty confident that I can make a website now, and I’m excited to try some of the tech that the other fellows used – augmented reality has seriously blown my mind, it is like magic (thanks Evan!!!). I’m really glad I got the chance to make this project real.

Watch the recording of Kendall’s Symposium presentation here:

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