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Portrait of Amy Werbel

Associate Professor

Amy Werbel

  • School of Liberal Arts
  • History of Art Department

Lust on Trial
Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock

Anthony Comstock was America’s first professional censor. From 1873 to 1915, as Secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, Comstock led a crusade against lasciviousness, salaciousness, and obscenity that resulted in the confiscation and incineration of more than three million pictures, postcards, and books he judged to be obscene. But as Amy Werbel shows in this rich cultural and social history, Comstock’s campaign to rid America of vice in fact led to greater acceptance of the materials he deemed objectionable, offering a revealing tale about the unintended consequences of censorship.

Cover of Lust on Trial

How did you come up with the idea?
Comstock was a figure I mentioned in my first book on the artist Thomas Eakins and I wanted to learn more about him.

What was your research process like?
I traveled to about 30 archives gathering records of Comstock’s censorship activities, and also traveled to a lot of museum collections to find censored items. The most important archives were in the Library of Congress and National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.

What are you proudest of?
Lust on Trial makes a contribution to a very important conversation about the relationship between government, law, and the ability of ‘we the people’ to resist authoritarian constraints on our freedom of expression.

  • Time to publication: 10 years
  • Professor at FIT since 2013
  • Teaches classes on American art history (HA 219, HA 314)