Professor Monica Patterson, Assistant Director, Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art, and Culture (Curatorial Studies) and Associate Professor, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies (cross-listed with History), has written an article for The Conversation examining the decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to remove six titles due to racist imagery. An excerpt of her article examining the controversy surrounding this decision can be found below with the full article, “From erasure to recategorizing: What we should do with Dr. Seuss books” available online.
Was the decision to stop publishing six obscure Dr. Suess titles containing racist imagery and messaging an erasure of history?
Media coverage of the controversy has presented it as an example of censorship, an attack on free speech and yet another example of cancel culture. These reactions are rooted in both a lack of awareness of the challenges and realities of maintaining collections and a false understanding of history.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a children’s entertainment company that functions as both a business and a family estate dedicated to preserving and promoting Theodor Seuss Geisel’s legacy. After consulting with educators and other experts, they decided to halt publication of six books because, in their words, they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” An examination of many of the images and text in question confirmed the use of racist tropes in depicting Asian and Black characters.
This decision reflects norms in publishing, archiving and collecting.
Making space for new materials
Publishing companies regularly review their titles and sales to determine and reassess print runs. This is a necessary part of making space for new publications, and maintaining desirable profit margins.
In this context, thinking about museums and archives is helpful.