Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Ironies of Censorship in Imperial Germany, 1871-1918


History Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


In imperial Germany, state attempts to censor literature and the theater had many ironic outcomes, producing results that were frequently contrary to what authorities intended and expected. The institutionalization and bureaucratization of censorship meant censors developed a vested interest in identifying objectionable material; censorship became self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. Efforts to encourage public acceptance of censorship, for example by creating citizen advisory boards, actually produced more, not less controversy and heightened, rather than mitigated, the polices isolation. Censors efforts to protect the image of the Hohenzollern dynasty and to defend religious sentiment proved shortsighted because it encouraged German dramatists to avoid a genre of pro-monarchical nationalistic plays and to shy away from certain religious themes. Attempts to preserve interconfessional harmony by banning blasphemous works often served to exacerbate political and confessional differences. In several cases censorship served to increase the popularity and distribution of works that transgressed established norms, and banning certain material often magnified its effect and social significance. Many authors and publishers, in turn, courted or even invited censorship of their works. In short, censorship in imperial Germany often proved not only ineffectual, but counterproductive.

Conference Name

Censorship, Yesterday and Today. History of Censorship in the World, from XVIIIth to the XXIst Centuries

Conference Location

Paris, France

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