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Date Answered: 10/8/2012
Question:
Does the University of Illinois endorse book burnings? Have there been any book burnings in University history?
Answer:
Dear Pyrotechnician In-Training (or do you prefer Biblioclast?),

Your question sparked a particular interest, as QB is directly across from the UGL’s media collection and doesn’t ever really see any of the books. So QB did some investigating.

Since QB loves history, the first question to arise in the search concerned some background on what exactly a book burning is. A search for “book burning” in good old Wikipedia could have been the beginning and the end, but wanting an expert source, QB took one of Wiki’s recommended further readings and found a copy of the article in the Academic Search Premier database. The piece, “On Book Burnings and Book Burners,” offered an in-depth look at the rise of and reasons for book burning across many cultures and eras, but a great general definition was provided as well: “The burning of books,” writes author Hans J. Hillerbrand, “is the categorical attempt to eradicate ideas. Whatever idea is found offensive by certain people at a certain time and place is tossed into a bonfire…The range of possibilities is wide…[and] assuredly includes not only religious ideas but a whole set of other ideas and notions as well, be they political or lascivious.” Equipped with a better understanding of what kind of acts your question might be regarding, QB decided to narrow the focus down to the University level.

Figuring that some clues might be unsheathed in campus’s own Daily Illini publication, QB ventured to the online archives of UIUC’s Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection (IDNC). Although the DI’s range in the database only covers years 1874-1945 and 1962-1975, QB thought it would still be a great place to start. Using the key phrases: “book burning,” “burning books,” and [“censorship” AND “books”], QB found a number of tidbits from U of I campus history.

The only direct instance of a UIUC book burning anywhere in the IDNC archive is on May 13, 1965, the beginning of that year’s Illioskee Spring Carnival. However, the event does not appear to be political—instead, the event sounds more like it was a celebratory burning of textbooks at the end of a long semester. (QB supposes this occurred during a time before textbook buybacks.) There are no other burnings of a similar nature written about elsewhere in the Daily Illini. The rest of the hits found in the IDNC search were related mostly to consistent condemnation of the practice in general, such as an opinion piece from March 19, 1935, calling book burnings deplorable and expressing outrage at police book burnings in New York. Additionally, the search term “burnings” brought up a number of articles from the later 1960s and early 70s about draft card burnings happening on campus, a much more frequent occurrence as part of the nationwide movement to protest the war in Vietnam. QB found that generally, wartime periods produced a lot more anti-book burning sentiments in the Daily Illini, especially in response to Nazi activity in 1930s-40s Europe.

In case you might be interested in learning more about 20th century UIUC campus culture (or perhaps events involving libricide in general), QB found some additional online resources that might ignite your curiosity. The IDEALS (Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship) website search of “book burning” turned up a couple of interesting pieces by UIUC faculty about censorship and intellectual freedom in this century and last. There’s also some great information on University happenings and student life in years gone by is available through the UIHistories Project online (for example, did you know Illini used to have something called Class Tree Wars?).

Hopefully QB has satisfied any burning desires for information you may have had. While it does not appear that U of I has ever endorsed book burning activities, the conversation about their significance and history has by no means fizzled out over the years.

Until next time, fight fire: inquire!

QB
Source(s) Used to Answer Question:
Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. “On Book Burnings and Book Burners: Reflections on the Power (and Powerlessness) of Ideas.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 74, No. 3 (September 1, 2006), 593-614. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001532840&site=ehost-live

IDEALS search for “book burning”
https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/search?scope=%2F&query=%22book+burning%22&rpp=10&sort_by=0&order=DESC&submit=Search

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection (UIUC)
http://www.library.illinois.edu/dnc/Default/Skins/UIUC/Client.asp?Skin=UIUC&AppName=2&AW=1349657938601

Student Life, UIHistories Project Online
http://uihistoriesproject.chass.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/cview?SITEID=1&ID=330