Cambridge University Archive to Add Trigger Warnings to Classic Children’s Books Over ‘Harmful Content’

Women reading To Kill a Mockingbird
Tim Boyle / Getty

A Cambridge University archive will begin slapping “trigger warnings” onto classic children’s books — such as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House On The Prairie — over the books’ so-called “harmful content.”

Researchers are reviewing more than 10,000 books and magazines to expose authors who have been “offensive to historically enslaved, colonized or denigrated people,” so that a Cambridge University archive can add warnings to the books regarding their “harmful content relating to slavery, colonialism and racism,” according to a report by Daily Mail.

Offending authors include Harper Lee over her classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, over her Little House On The Prairie, which is under fire for its “stereotypical depictions of Native Americans.”

The Associated Press

The cabin at the “Little House on the Prairie” site is a re-creation built in 1977 by the parents of Bill Kurtis and Jean Schodorf. The deteriorating log cabin at the “Little House on the Prairie” site in Kansas is expected to soon get a makeover. The current cabin was re-created and built near Independence in 1977 at the television series’ peak of popularity. The show is based off Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books centered on her childhood in the country’s Midwest region.. (Beccy Tanner/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

A lobby card from the film 'The Wizard Of Oz,' shows a film still of a scene in which American actress Judy Garland (1922 - 1969) (as Dorothy) wipes tears from the eyes of actor Bert Lahr (1895 - 1967) (as the Cowardly Lion), while watched by Jack Haley (1898 - 1979) (as the Tin Man) (left), and Ray Bolger (1904 - 1987) (as the Scarecrow), 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A lobby card from the film ‘The Wizard Of Oz,’ shows a film still of a scene in which American actress Judy Garland (1922 – 1969) (as Dorothy) wipes tears from the eyes of actor Bert Lahr (1895 – 1967) (as the Cowardly Lion), while watched by Jack Haley (1898 – 1979) (as the Tin Man) (left), and Ray Bolger (1904 – 1987) (as the Scarecrow), 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Author Theodor Seuss Geisel, popularly known as Dr. Seuss, is also under attack for his books containing “overt blackface” and cultural insensitivities.

Other children’s authors deemed offensive include Charles Kingsley for his 1863 classic The Water Babies — which is described as having the potential to “harm readers without warning” for comments about Irish and black people — and L Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, for his “Bandit Jim Crow.”

Now, the archive at Cambridge’s Homerton College is being reviewed so that words, phrases, and images deemed harmful in texts being uploaded to a digital library can be flagged, with content warnings slapped at the beginning of each text.

The college reportedly says it wants to make its digital collection “less harmful in the context of a canonical literary heritage that is shaped by, and continues, a history of oppression,” adding it would be “a dereliction of our duty as gatekeepers to allow such casual racism to go unchecked.”

The project is being paid for by a £80,633 grant (roughly $93,601) from the taxpayer-funded U.K. Arts and Humanities Research Council, reports Daily Mail.

The project is also being conducted jointly with the University of Florida, funded by the taxpayer-funded U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Problems are encountered continually with respect to the history of demeaning terms associated with disability and indigenous cultures, as well as the immigrants who have shaped modern America and Britain,” read funding bid documents for the project.

“Trigger warnings, with indications of harmful content for intersectional identities, will protect researchers, children, and general readers from offensiveness or hurt that can emerge in otherwise safe search queries or acts of browsing,” the documents add.

Not everyone, however, agrees with the concept of “trigger warnings.”

“The whole point of much of children’s literature is to introduce them to alternative worlds,” Campaign for Real Education’s Chris McGovern said. “Fairy tales, for example, are saturated with scary characters and that is partly the point of them. Only woke-afflicted adults have such silly notions as trigger warnings.”

Children’s author Judy Blume also contested the notion of trigger warnings, stating, “All books, then, need trigger warnings because in any book there could be something to bother somebody.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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