Archiving Censorship in Latin America

About This Exhibit

Book banning has been inextricably woven into the history of print culture worldwide. This exhibit offers a glimpse into three Latin American countries where government officials deemed certain presses, authors, and cultural works as political threats during the twentieth century. Reflecting on censorship requires an effort to unveil what is presumed to be invisible: censors disappearing books, readers safeguarding materials, and banned authors continuing to write, all wishing their efforts to go unnoticed.

By envisioning the hidden history of these texts, one that was meant to be unseen, we invite you to contemplate the unstable materiality of books in contexts of state repression. Books are simultaneously fragile, susceptible to fire or destructive raids, and enduring, surviving alongside their readers in clandestine print shops or buried in the ground. Beyond their potential to turn into ashes or be disguised as other reading material, we can imagine the human and nonhuman infrastructures necessary for censorship or for ensuring books remain available in times of repression. Consider the readers and their homes, concealing beloved books while pondering whether possessing such objects might lead them to jail or worse. Contemplate the institutions and bureaucracies established to control the production of ideas by targeting the objects that contained them. Also imagine the silence, the void, the impoverished cultural realm that censorship leaves in its wake.

(In)visible labor is involved at every stage in the history of censorship. In this small exhibit you can visualize how the Argentinian, Brazilian, and Cuban states acted as subjects fixated on the archive, with the ability to  confiscate manuscripts, and collect, preserve or burn books. Furthermore, although it is not depicted here, you are invited to explore the endeavors of individuals, collectives, and institutions that have used writing, reading and sharing books as essential forms of resistance.


The physical and digital exhibits were researched and curated by Gloria J. Morales Osorio, and they were made possible through a partnership between the Spanish and Portuguese Department at UW-Madison and the UW Libraries, specifically Ibero-American Studies and Romance Languages librarian Laura M. Martin, who played a pivotal role in securing resources and providing valuable insights throughout the entire project. The exhibit was held on the first floor of Memorial Library from September 4th to October 23rd, 2023.

Librarians Laura Martin, Lisa Wettleson, and Anna Simon not only organized a captivating “looking together” event in Special Collections on September 21th, 2023, but they also introduced visitors to a rich selection of books and other reading materials related to censorship worldwide. Professor Ksenija Bilbija’s compelling introductory talk at the event provided a thought-provoking context that greatly enriched the visitors’ experience.

This project would not have been possible without the collective expertise and efforts of Sarah Logsdon, Dave Luke, and Jesse Henderson. They were instrumental in creating the project’s web page and all the graphics that visually brought the exhibits to life. Special thanks to Ellen Sapega, Sarah Anne Carter, Víctor Goldgel-Carballo, Denise Oyuki Castillo, Isabel Martín-Sánchez, and Joe Briggs for their time, ideas, and encouragement. We also extend our gratitute to LACIS -Latin American, Caribbean & Iberian Studies Program- for their permanent support. Finally, thanks to Juliana Sandoval, Ari Vélez, and Lina P. Lara for our initial conversations about this exhibit, years ago.

We appreciate the generosity of the Brasil Nunca Mais Digital and Armazém Memória collective for sharing their rights to use a picture about the Brazilian dictatorship that belongs to their archives. You will find it as the cover of this webpage section (About).