The Forbidden Book


This course aims to introduce students to English laws surrounding obscenity, and the book trade that developed around “forbidden books” between 1810 and 1960. Working with a wide range of rare books, ephemera, and bibliographical material, students will examine how, at different times, this trade linked the production, distribution, and reception of diversely arrayed publications—including pornography, medical and scientific works, song and joke books, radical political tracts, and avant-garde literature—and was associated with different industries and movements outside the book trade. The trade’s on-going affiliation with the risqué, the censored, and the banned can overshadow this relationship with public culture, and influenced its production processes in ways that can make it difficult to trace the publication histories of the works it produced accurately. Another aim of the course will be equipping students with strategies for approaching ‘books that might lie,’ like these ones.

Tutor bio

Sarah Bull is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, which she joined in 2015 after completing her PhD in English, with a focus on nineteenth century British print culture, at Simon Fraser University. Sarah’s current research project, 'Medical Publishers, Obscenity Law, and the Business of Sexual Knowledge in Victorian Britain', examines the medical publishing business. While charting the changing structures of medical publishing in Victorian Britain, she is also investigating how different kinds of publishers selected, edited, marketed, and distributed writing on sexual health to readers during a period that witnessed rising anxiety about the social effects of sexually explicit writing.