Research seminar: Clare Siviter (Bristol), Revolutionary Cancel Culture? Rethinking Censorship during the French Revolution
In democracies with a legal right to free speech, we often see commentators are calling out what they term 'new censorship', citing examples like cancel culture and sensitivity readers. This is often presented as worryingly novel, but as this paper shows through the case of the French Revolution, it is anything but. We will examine how, despite the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen's protection of the freedom of speech, and multiple promises to this effect after 1789, censorship by state and non-state actors continued. In so doing, this paper explores the complex, and at times paradoxical, relationship between democracy, freedom of speech, and censorship, and it proposes a new methodology to understand better how non-state actors can act as censors - both in the 1790s and today.
Clare Siviter is a theatre historian of eighteenth and nineteenth-century France and senior lecturer in French Theatre and Performance at the University of Bristol. Her monograph, Tragedy and Nation in the Age of Napoleon, appeared with Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment in 2020. She has co-edited a special issue of the Journal of War & Culture Studies (2021), and the collective volumes Celebrity Across the Channel, 1750-1850 (University of Delaware Press, 2021) and L’Engagement en vers et contre tous. Servir les révolutions, rejouer leurs mémoires (1789-1848) (Presses universitaires Blaise Pascal, forthcoming). She is currently undertaking a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for the project ‘Surveilling the Stage: Censorship and Subjectivity in the Age of the Revolution’.
Clare's paper will be followed by a Response from Kate Astbury, Professor of French Studies. Her research focuses on extending our understanding of French culture 1750-1815 by examining the traditions, themes, aesthetics and politics of novels, prints, theatrical texts, scores and performances of the time. Between 2013 and 2017, she was PI on an AHRC-funded project on French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era which subsequently generated two follow-on funding awards for collaborative work with English Heritage and the National Youth Theatre.More…