"I'm Buffy, and you're history": Putting fan studies into history

Nancy Reagin

Pace University, New York, New York, United States

Anne Rubenstein

York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—This essay kicks off the special historical issue of Transformative Works and Cultures by offering an overview of the ways in which fan communities have been studied by academic historians, and how fan studies has written the history of fan communities. The essay discusses historical work done by amateur fan historians throughout the 20th century; what academic historians can offer fan communities; why academic historians could benefit from studying fandoms as part of the history of popular culture; and what fan studies as a discipline might gain from a broader historical analysis of fandoms.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan history; Female fan; Tarzan; Karl May; Science fiction; Wiki; Zine; Sherlockian; Fan letter; Music fan; Sports fan; Cultural exchange; Cross-ethnic identification; Cold war; Lord of the Rings; Tolkien; Copyright; Walter Benjamin

Reagin, Nancy, and Anne Rubenstein. 2011. "'I'm Buffy, and you're history': Putting Fan Studies into History." In "Fan Works and Fan Communities in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," edited by Nancy Reagin and Anne Rubenstein, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0272.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In 1934, pulp fiction writer Edgar Rice Burroughs signed over the rights to his most popular character, Tarzan, to a brand-new production company that had promised him that it could translate his novels to film more accurately than had been done in earlier Tarzan productions. Burroughs fared about as well in his dealings with Hollywood as most authors who sell the rights to their imaginary worlds, however. The movie producers promptly announced that Tarzan was moving from Africa to Central America, and set up an expedition to film an eight-chapter-long serial in Guatemala. Guatemalan authorities welcomed this new industry to their Depression-ravaged nation with alacrity, investing government funds in the production and offering newly excavated ancient Mayan ruins as locations for filming.

[1.2] Local audiences already knew Tarzan very well through widely distributed comic strips imported from Mexico, and from earlier Hollywood Tarzan movies shown in Guatemala: Tarzan had a substantial fan base in Guatemala by the 1930s. Local people turned out to be far less welcoming than their government was, however. No protest accompanied the film crew's use of archaeological sites, but when they dared to enter the cathedral in the market town of Chichicastenango, a small riot ensued. The skimpily dressed stars, the director, the cameramen, and other crew members, along with all their equipment and—for good measure—a visiting anthropologist and the local hotelier, were all chased out of town by a machete-wielding crowd. Only the hotel manager ever returned to Chichicastenango, and although the serial was completed, no other Tarzan movie was ever filmed anywhere in Guatemala.

[1.3] This story—like the case studies analyzed in far more depth in the articles included in this issue of the Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures—hints at what sustained historically focused research might have to offer fan studies: new ways of understanding the vast range of fan activities and audience responses as they shift between places and change over time. Tarzan's Guatemalan fans, for instance, were quite pleased to see him as a tourist visiting the ruins left behind by ancient civilizations. But they were angered to the point of violence when it appeared that the movie crew were trying to depict (and probably misrepresent) important aspects of their real lives. For reasons having to do with local economic, cultural, and racial tensions and recent land grabs by German immigrant coffee entrepreneurs, as well as a long history of exploitative employment practices by huge US corporations operating in Guatemala, the residents of Chichicastenango did not want to be perceived as "natives" like the bit players in the background of the Tarzan movies they had already seen (Rubenstein 2003).

[1.4] In order to understand why these particular Tarzan fans behaved very differently from other fans of Tarzan, we have to understand them in their historical context. Like the other fans discussed in this special issue, Guatemalan audiences of Tarzan had their own interpretations of important works in popular culture that had originated elsewhere (such as Tarzan), and their reactions were shaped by broader trends in economic and cultural history (such as the history of US corporations operating in Guatemala). And like all the fans discussed in this issue, they were willing to defend their interpretations passionately.

[1.5] This special issue of TWC represents, as far as we know, the very first published collection of historical studies of fan communities and activities (note 1). When we discuss "fans," we are referring to people who were active participants in popular culture, often decades earlier than is often acknowledged in modern fan studies. The groups discussed in this essay and issue include people who joined fan organizations and attended conventions; enthusiasts of a particular sports team, movie series, musical artist, or literary series who traveled to visit sites of particular importance to the object of their enthusiasm; those who made or collected artifacts (costumes, published programs and other texts, art) associated with their cherished hobby; those who exchanged letters in the columns of magazines catering to particular groups; and those who were involved in small, less formally organized groups of fans.

[1.6] We hope that this edition of the journal initiates a conversation among scholars and fans (and people who are both) around a series of questions about the past: How did changes in the material conditions of leisure, entertainment, and play relate to changes in ordinary people's worldviews? What difference did the rise of mass media make in everyday life? How did changes in seemingly trivial everyday practices connect to larger social and cultural transformations? What was the relationship between participation in leisure activities and participation in politics? How did communities of fans contribute to historical change? Historians (and others) have been puzzling over some of these problems for many years; we expect that studying communities of fans ("fandoms") will bring new evidence and new perspectives to old debates. But some of these are newer questions; we believe that scholarly conversations about the 19th and 20th centuries are shifting in interesting directions, and we hope to encourage that process.

[1.7] Above all, we hope to encourage fans—many of whom have written their own histories, while eagerly editing and correcting other narratives about themselves—to think about themselves in a broader historical context. Many fans have thought of fandom as separate from "the real world," the mundane realm in which we must earn a living and survive the daily pressures of our lives. We often cannot control the conditions under which we work, and we all live in societies where power, wealth, and influence operate within hierarchies that often seem far beyond our control; fandom, by contrast, can be an egalitarian haven in a heartless world. But we think it is possible for fans to experience their lives as fans in that special, separate world while understanding the ways in which fannish communities and activities are still entirely part of "the real world"—and are a part of the transformative forces that made the world what it is.

2. Every fan her own historian? What fan historians offer to fan communities

[2.1] "There and Back Again. And What Happened After"…compiled by Bilbo Baggins

—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

[2.2] Communities of fans often are well aware of their own histories and dynamics. Like Bilbo Baggins writing the story of his adventures, individual fans sometimes write their own detailed accounts of key events and personalities in their community's history, and many are also deeply engaged amateur historians (note 2). But academic historians can offer something quite different: research and narratives that enable fans to connect their own particular fandom's story to much broader changes over time, locating themselves and their communities in a global history of culture. We can trace important social, legal, and economic changes that set the stage for the emergence of fan communities and show how fans participated in and had an impact on broader cultural change.

[2.3] The sort of historical work that individual fans and small groups have undertaken varies considerably. Fans have occasionally written extremely detailed "insider" histories (or, more accurately, genealogies) of their fannish communities. These insider histories, most often, are nostalgic in tone. Rich in fascinating detail, they usually trace the rise of one particular fandom, recounting the names of the key first fans of the team, story, or star around which the fandom centers; the fans' first encounters with each other; the obstacles that the organizers faced in linking fans with each other; the earliest meetings of groups of fans; the technological framework (e.g., mimeographs) that a fandom's founders had to operate within; or the first cons (if these were held), along with the names of those who attended. And of course such histories often include details about decades-old disputes within the fandom, since fans' passionate engagement with their chosen hobbies often leads to energetic and even acrimonious debates. One of the best insider histories of fans of the German popular author Karl May spends many pages on conflicts of all sorts. There were quarrels between organized May fans and May's estate, which held the copyright to his works. There were tensions between West German May fans, who wanted to make pilgrimages to May's birthplace and other places he had lived, and the East German state, where those places were located. And of course there were both spats and long-standing grudges among different May fan groups (Heinemann 2000).

[2.4] Insider histories like these are essential and sometimes wonderful sources for those who come later, both academic historians and younger fans. Fans have never needed help from anyone else—no matter what their professional credentials—to produce these histories, and the articles in this special issue are not intended primarily as contributions to the ongoing production of insider histories by fans.

[2.5] Fans engage in many other sorts of amateur historical work as well. They may create or rehabilitate important memorial sites. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series have founded memorial societies in several locales associated with the author's life or those of her relatives; these memorial societies have painstakingly refurbished or maintained homes—often carefully furnished with re-creations of household activities—associated with the Wilder family (for instance, two houses in De Smet, South Dakota, where Wilder's parents lived), which have then become popular pilgrimage sites for fans of the series (note 3). Science fiction fans have built impressive collections of thousands of "zines" (amateur fan magazines), while music collectors have built stunning archives of bootleg recordings of their favorite artists. During the last decade, fan historians have developed a substantial online presence, often building wikis to document the histories both of their own communities and of the authors, film stars or musicians, movies, books, sports teams, or musical forms that they are engaged with (note 4). The predilection of fans to collect or reconstruct sites or artifacts that are important to their particular interests has often led them to build treasure troves that form rich testimonials to the history of material and popular culture.

[2.6] Academic historians have something else to offer fans. Historians are interested in the ways that communities develop over time. We study individuals' struggles for survival and their efforts at making more interesting, exciting, or satisfying lives for themselves, because we understand that these efforts can add up to or reflect transformative changes in the world. Thus, we can see not only how changes in the wider world changed fans' practices, but also how fans' actions helped change the world.

3. What professional historians offer to fan communities

[3.1] For the world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth.

—Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens, The Fellowship of the Ring

[3.2] In a voice-over during the opening credits of the 2001 film The Fellowship of the Ring, elf princess Galadrial laments the changes she senses in the world, noting the rise of humans and the retreat of magic. And indeed, in the novels on which the Lord of the Rings films are based, the author reserves his most scathing condemnation for those, like the evil wizard Saruman, who turn to industrialized mass production (note 5). But although fans have long loved the idyllic, preindustrial world of Tolkien's elves, hobbits, and Ents, it was the very social, legal, and economic changes that Tolkien deplored that made the emergence of modern fandoms possible.

[3.3] Copyright is a good example. There is no such notion in Tolkien's Middle-earth: elves tell and retell their histories over centuries and aeons. The concept of an individual author who could create a literary text and lay sole claim to the right to reproduce it did not exist in the human cultures that first created the Iliad and the Arthurian legends (both of which include contributions from multiple authors), either. The legal idea of copyright, and the broader body of intellectual property rights law that it belongs to, first emerged in the English-speaking world during the 18th century—the first British copyright law was passed in 1709—and an international agreement on copyright was only established in 1886 (Sherman and Bently 1999). The creation and enforcement of copyright was key to the development of novels as a literary form during the 18th and 19th centuries, since it meant that more people could now aspire to make a living by writing.

[3.4] Copyright law joined with a new understanding of an individual author or artist as a creative genius—especially among the early 19th-century Western European Romantics—to make possible the understanding that a particular text, song, or work of art could be owned. This was a precondition for the later opposition between fans and copyright holders, and between the "original" works, often called "canon" by fans, and fans' own interpretations and reworkings of these now-copyrighted forms of popular culture. If there were no single author-owner of a text, then the term "fan" wouldn't have much meaning, either, at least in many literary, musical, and artistic fandoms. Similarly, sports fandoms depend on the existence of professional teams—often with trademarked logos or names—which began to emerge during the late 19th century in many parts of the world (note 6). Fans could then begin to organize into communities during the early 20th century, united by their enthusiasm for (or sometimes by their opposition to) the author, artist, team, or band. "Fanon," the set of beliefs about a beloved object of fannish attention that are shared within a fannish community, could only form in opposition or contrast to canon (the original texts, art, music, or team that inspired the fandom). To use Walter Benjamin's analysis: the original was the work of art, and the fan works were the copies, and merely making the copies brought into question the original creator's ownership of (or authority over) the original.

[3.5] Intellectual property laws were only the first of a series of broader social changes that began around 1850 and laid the foundations for modern fan communities. Other prerequisites for modern fandoms included the growth in literacy rates that followed the spread of public education in the mid- and late 19th century in Western Europe and parts of North America, urbanization, a rapid decline (resulting from technological innovations and the opening of the New World forests) in the cost of papermaking and printing, the reduction or abolition of special taxes on newspapers and some other sorts of printed works, and the increasing ease and affordability of transportation in many parts of the world, so that publications could be mailed and national—even international—reading markets could develop.

[3.6] These changes underlay the explosive growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of many kinds of cheap printed materials that became interesting reading for fans. Newspapers reported on events important to fans, especially those of sports and films. Magazines did the same. Pulp fiction and genre fiction of all sorts was published in North America and Europe, and, after 1900, in many other parts of the world: detective stories and lurid "true-crime" periodicals; westerns; comics, which started in newspapers but soon escaped to form a genre of their own; sports journalism and novels dealing with polo, rugby, cricket, baseball, horse racing, and football; romances; and what became known as "weird fiction" during the early 20th century and developed into the genre of science fiction. Additionally, calendars contained chromolith printed illustrations, and music lovers collected sheet music.

[3.7] Migrations also set the stage for the emergence of global and local fandoms. In the 19th century, nation-states in Europe and the Americas created national cultures as part of the process of state formation, inventing and refining "traditions"—regional costumes like the Scottish kilt and the German Tracht, national holidays such as Thanksgiving in the United States—as a way to explain what it meant to belong to these societies. But this process was challenged by massive movements of people across borders and from rural to urban settings. Beginning in the second half of the 19th century and continuing into the present day, immigrants came to the New World from Europe and Asia, indigenous and African-descended people moved within and between the nations of the Americas, European colonialists entered and withdrew from large parts of Asia and Africa, and rural people all over the world moved to cities. All these people carried with them the ideas, memories, and material goods in which their cultures and identities lived.

[3.8] We can see conflicts between such traveling cultures and new local realities, and sometimes even resolutions of such conflict, in the ways that ordinary city dwellers responded collectively to mass media and made popular culture of their own. For example, the Portuguese-born singer Carmen Miranda rose to fame in Brazil in the early 1930s as the greatest singer of samba in its first decades as a recorded (and therefore national) art form: she made herself Brazilian by singing local music, while costuming herself as a local stereotypical and sexualized Afro-Brazilian food vendor. In Carmen Miranda's later career as a Hollywood icon of exoticism, she was rejected vehemently by most Brazilians; it was only after her death in 1955 that Brazilian fans claimed her as their own once again, turning her funeral procession in Rio de Janeiro into a celebratory parade. By returning Carmen Miranda to her status as a true Brazilian in such a public way, her fans claimed a cosmopolitan, urban Brazilian identity for themselves while rewriting the history of the most important local musical form. Carmen Miranda's career, and the ways in which her fans "repurposed" her image after her death, is a good case study full of interesting material for historians to study: how Hollywood used exotic "others" in popular culture, the commercialization of folk cultures by mass commercial media, and the nationalization of regional cultures by the Brazilian state; but also how Brazilian fans used her and the music she popularized to create new identities and to promote a globalized musical genre.

[3.9] More broadly, the global history of recorded popular music and its fans exemplifies the complexities of fan identification across racial, as well as national, boundaries. For example, rock music famously developed out of African-American forms rooted in the rural southern United States, but developed in the context of the African-American migration to the cities of the north. The cold war–era extension of US culture globally, through radio as well as tourism and, crucially, US military involvement around the world, created music fans who grew to understand the roots of this music in the southern United States. Such famous fans as British rockers from Mick Jagger through Elvis Costello ended up searching Memphis or New Orleans for "authentic" older African-American musicians with whom they could make music (sometimes while criticizing similar efforts by white US musicians as "inauthentic"). These wealthy white English men temporarily imagined themselves as working-class African Americans, an act full of cultural contradictions and political possibilities for music fans in the United Kingdom, the United States, and around the world.

[3.10] Cross-ethnic and cross-racial identification was not limited to music fans: in Germany, enthusiastic fans of Karl May and other German western novelists sometimes formed "cowboy and Indian" clubs, researching and crafting their own costumes and artifacts in order to reproduce the material culture of an (imagined) American West. Like the British rockers, German "cowboys and Indians" throughout the 20th century (under quite varied political regimes) went to enormous lengths to create an "authentic" experience, immersing themselves in ethnological collections and (when they could) getting advice or even training from Native Americans. The political possibilities, ironies, and contradictions were profound in this case, too, as (astonishingly, from some points of view) German "Indians" frequently saw themselves as possessing hard-earned cross-ethnic authenticity, which they could use in varied ways to challenge German political authorities (Reagin 2009a; Borries 2008).

[3.11] By 1900, large and enthusiastic audiences had developed for all these new forms of mass media and popular culture, and the preconditions were there for the emergence of organized fan communities, as the most deeply engaged fans began to seek each other out. Literary fandoms, like early science fiction fan groups and the fandom that organized around Sherlock Holmes stories, are probably among the best known today, but fan communities coalesced around other interests as well during the early 20th century, including music, dance, and sports. Literary fandoms' histories are probably the most interesting to those who seek to understand the origins and history of fan fiction, but academic historians do not restrict their interests only to literary fandoms. There were and are a huge variety of fandoms whose transformative engagement with their objects of fannishness does not take the form of writing fiction or making visual art, but which have contested ownership of the canon and formed vibrant and mutually supportive communities around a variety of art forms and sports.

[3.12] It is at the point where individual enthusiasts become organized groups capable of participating in historical change that historians—even those who are not themselves fans and who previously paid little attention to audience reactions—should begin to pay some attention to fan communities.

4. What does studying the history of fans offer historians?

[4.1] Spock: Captain, I never will understand humans. How could a [historian] as brilliant, a mind as logical as John Gill's, have made such a fatal error?

Kirk: He drew the wrong conclusion from history.

Star Trek, episode 2.21, "Patterns of Force"

[4.2] The historical study of mass media has been curiously atomized, in three ways. First, historians of modern media often write as though the particular phenomenon they study is limited to a single nation and a brief time period, even though ethnomusicologists, archeologists, art historians, anthropologists, and other scholars have repeatedly demonstrated how human cultural practices and material goods—including stories, sounds, and images—travel across centuries and between continents (note 7). For example, histories of cinema in Mexico generally ignore movies shown in Mexico but not made in Mexico, even though those frequently were the most popular movies in the country (note 8). Second, the ordinary practice of media historians has been to pick a single form of media and stick with it, even though literary critics, cinema studies specialists, art historians, and many other scholars have repeatedly demonstrated how ideas, imagery, sounds, and narratives are shared among many forms of media. Third, historians have tended to analyze audiences and consumers as though they exemplified historical processes unrelated to media. Thus buyers of pornographic lithographs in revolutionary Paris could be understood as politically engaged citizens mocking or protesting the decadent aristocracy, while 19th-century New York theatergoers throwing rotten vegetables at an unpopular actor and his fans could be seen as enacting rituals of popular nationalism (Hunt 1996; Levine 1990).

[4.3] Historians have worked this way for good reasons: limiting our topics enables us to deal with the vast quantity of documentary evidence generated by mass media and popular culture, and interpreting cultural events as political actions helps us show readers that these events have historical significance. These analyses were groundbreaking and persuasive, but they can also sometimes obscure the understandings that audiences, consumers, and fans had of themselves: they make it easier to see such phenomena as the growth of revolutionary sentiment in Paris or the rise to consciousness of the New York City working class, but harder to understand groups of fans as communities in themselves with their own histories, and as participants in their own right in larger historical processes.

[4.4] Historians have delimited their studies of media in these ways because we are always limited by the sources we use, and we usually try to insert our research into those metanarratives that already exist in our fields. In addition, it can be difficult to uncover what audience members or fans themselves thought, while many sources document the ideas, emotions, and intentions of the producers of commercial entertainments. So historians have tended to concentrate on the topics for which the richest veins of evidence exist. Some of the existing historical scholarship on media and its audience is nonetheless wonderfully well researched, subtle in its interpretations, and profound in its implications. The history of music reception offers a particularly rich body of examples, including the reception of American jazz in interwar Europe, the history of swing music fans in the Soviet Union, and the rock-and-roll fans in both East and West Germany who took their inspiration from James Dean (note 9). But if historians were to study mass media and popular culture more holistically, and try to understand fans on their own terms, there is more we might gain.

[4.5] Walter Benjamin's 1935 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" describes what is at stake for historians and social critics as we try to make sense of a media-saturated world (Benjamin 2006). Benjamin wrote at a historical moment when silent film had achieved massive global popularity, while modernist music and painting—which used an aesthetic and ideology similar to those of the movies Benjamin admired—had not. He offered a hopeful and historically minded account of why this might be so. Benjamin wrote that, in an accelerating process that began in the early 18th century, new technologies such as lithography combined with the industrialization of papermaking and printing to make it possible for nearly anyone (at least in Europe) to buy persuasive copies of artworks. In response, European elites had invented the idea of the "original" artwork, from which a magical "aura" of authority could never be removed or transferred. As photography, color printing, and sound recording made copies ever more perfect—ushering in the era that Benjamin referred to as "the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"—the authority of the original artwork "withered." Avant-garde paintings, which retained their status as valuable, unique objects with an aura of authenticity and authority, failed to impress the masses; meanwhile, Charlie Chaplin's movies (which even at the time could be viewed as high art, but which, like all film, lacked the aura of the unique and uniquely valuable object) achieved wild popularity even though they were no easier to understand than Picasso's paintings.

[4.6] This withering worried Benjamin, who respected the revolutionary intentions of some of the European avant-garde, but it also encouraged him. Chaplin's fans, he observed, might be seen as participating in dismantling a whole structure of ideas about property and power. That such participation would be a collective affair—undertaken by groups of enthusiasts—would naturally flow from the fact that, as Benjamin noted, mechanically reproduced mass commercial art was usually experienced in groups. Now large numbers of people shared similar experiences: they saw the identical film at the same time (or nearly), or danced to the same piece of popular music, or attended the same sporting matches, or read the same installments of a story that was being published serially in a popular magazine or newspaper.

[4.7] And that is why it makes sense for historians to study fan communities in themselves, as well as seeing fans as representative of other kinds of historical processes: the story of the changing relationship between fans and the objects and narratives they love helps to explain certain aspects of the modern world. Twentieth-century elites promulgated a large but limited set of entertainments, including apocalyptic movies, love songs on the radio, TV cop shows, and cheap paperback thrillers. And fans took those stories and made something else out of them. As they did so, intentionally or unintentionally they were also pushing back against the boundaries of their times, the constraints imposed by gender, race, class, culture, or politics: the articles in this special issue include several good case studies of such interactions. Intentionally or unintentionally, fans were building alternative societies to the ones they lived in. This has important implications for the study of other kinds of historical transformations and processes. For example, the articles in this volume touch on the involvement of fan communities in the rise of the New Woman in the 1920s, the renewed idealization of domesticity after World War II, and the politics of the cold war in Europe and the United States, as well as discussing how these broader changes affected fans of particular forms of popular culture. But fandoms matter in themselves, for their own sakes, as well.

[4.8] Disorganized groups of fans become visible to historians by the mid- to late 19th century, writing to favorite authors, cheering on performances of works by favorite composers, and collecting things. During the serialization of Charles Dickens's Bleak House in 1853, for example, the Illustrated London News observed that "'What do you think of Bleak House?' is a question which everybody has heard propounded…[which] formed for its own season, as regular a portion of miscellaneous chat as 'How are you?'" (quoted in Hayward 1997, 31). By the late 19th century, fans were protesting developments they disliked, and sometimes letting the author know in no uncertain terms: when Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes (whom he'd grown tired of writing) in 1893, pleading and abusive letters arrived at his publishers by the sackload, and fans badgered him for years to bring Holmes back (Booth 1997, 190).

[4.9] Networks of organized groups of fans first appeared in Europe and the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, exchanging letters and then forming clubs with complicated rules and—luckily for historians—detailed record-keeping. These groups were at first composed, by and large, of elite men. Spectator sports were a lowbrow pastime, but the first organized groups of sports fans were composed of local elites, as C. L. R. James recorded in his memoir of cricket in colonial and postcolonial Trinidad, Beyond a Boundary (1963). This had changed by the mid-20th century. Movies and recorded music attracted fans from many class locations—and from many geographical locations, as these were portable (and exportable) fandoms.

[4.10] Technological change in the 20th century shaped fan history—or, to put it better, fans were quicker than most groups of people to make creative intellectual use of new technologies. Over the course of the century, forms of mass media multiplied, media became ever more ubiquitous, costs declined, and, globally, literacy rates increased enough to make it possible for many more people to read comic books and follow movie subtitles. New technologies made it simpler for ordinary people to produce, edit, and distribute their own media narratives. Long before the Internet, fans used hobbyist photographic setups, telephones, film cameras, tape recorders, mimeograph machines, home movie cameras, industrial staplers, and other innovations to organize themselves and to make and distribute their own creative transformations of the media they loved (note 10). The advent of relatively cheap leisure travel and the infrastructure that supported it—and even the global dislocations of the world wars—set fans into motion on a broader scale after 1945, making it possible for them to meet more often in person, and even undertake fan pilgrimages, as well as corresponding by mail.

[4.11] Obviously none of this was a simple or linear process, nor did it take place in the same way in rich parts of the world as it did in poor ones. And we are talking here about, at first, only very small groups of people, widely dispersed. But around the world, throughout the 20th century and into the present day, people organized themselves to struggle to participate in mass media narratives, putting impressive amounts of energy and thought into increasing their control over their chosen hobbies—although these entertainments might be legally owned by foreign corporations, like Hollywood studios—and thus making more pleasure available to themselves and each other in their daily lives.

5. What academic history has to offer fan studies

[5.1] "Now," said Holmes, when the rejoicing lackey had disappeared, "having secured the future, we can afford to be more lenient with the past."

—A. Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Priory School"

[5.2] Much scholarship in fan studies has emphasized the importance of a single historical change: the advent of the Internet within some fandoms, starting in the early 1990s. But awareness of this recent history has not always resulted in an appreciation of the significance of other, much earlier social and economic developments for earlier fan communities and for popular culture as a whole (note 11). And while fan studies usually acknowledges the existence of science fiction fandom before the 1960s, other early literary fandoms are seldom mentioned (note 12). Moreover, fan studies has often—for understandable reasons—focused on fan communities that did specific kinds of transformative creative work. This sometimes narrow focus has led scholars to ignore well-organized fan communities that indeed contested cultural authority, especially if these originated outside of the United States and Western Europe.

[5.3] As a result, the novelty of modern fan communities is often overestimated in research that sometimes seems to assume that fandom began with Star Trek. The ways in which fans formed appreciative and mutually encouraging audiences for one another's creativity, the fact that fans often contended with the producers of commercial mass culture or copyright holders over the "moral ownership" of a particular canon, and the tendency of fans to offer their own interpretations and critiques of their objects of fandom: these patterns all were well established in a variety of fandoms well before World War II, as the articles in this issue, as well as other recent work on the history of fan communities, demonstrate.

[5.4] A more nuanced appreciation of the history of fan communities also offers the benefit of disrupting and usefully complicating what has been a simplified shared historical narrative within fan discussions. Many media fans trace the origins of their fandoms to groups organized around TV shows of the 1960s, like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek. These groups formed during the late 1960s and 1970s—some of their members had been active earlier in science fiction fandom—and much of their efforts went toward zine publication during this initial period. The watershed moment in their history—which inaugurated the Second Age of fandom—came with their transition to the Internet in the early 1990s (note 13). Fans' accounts and fan studies scholarship, then, have reinforced each other in acknowledging only these two time periods. While we agree that these two developments were important, they do not constitute a complete history. If we fail to develop a more complex, careful, and detailed understanding of the past, we risk misinterpreting the present and underestimating the ways that fans have shaped the world.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] [Hermione] sighed, turning back to the books. "You know, I think I will take Hogwarts, A History. Even if we're not going back there [to Hogwarts, their magical boarding school], I don't think I'd feel right if I didn't have it with—"

—J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

[6.2] Research on the history of fans and the communities they built will be fruitful and interesting for many audiences. It will help fans to place their own groups' histories within a much broader historical framework, and will make clear the parallels with fandoms in other times and places, as well as the ways in which their own communities might be unique. It will help historians to appreciate the cultural phenomena they study more broadly, tracing the evolution of particular forms of entertainment across varying media forms, and better understanding fans without forcing them into ill-fitting interpretive frameworks. And it will usefully complicate the somewhat simplified historical narrative that often predominates in fan studies, as well as bringing to the fore the ways that global migration, cultural exchanges, and broader social change influenced the playing field upon which fandoms operated.

[6.3] Two of the articles in this special issue highlight this sort of cultural exchange in fine-grained case studies, showing how fans reinterpreted popular culture from abroad within their own social and historical contexts, claiming it as their own. Julia Sneeringer's research on early German rock-and-roll fans in Hamburg discusses how they repurposed commercial forms of entertainment offered to them, forming cross-class and transnational forms of generational solidarity in the process. Sneeringer's study is firmly situated within the context of cold war–era West Germany, as well, and shows how fans' actions are best understood when analyzed against their particular historical backdrops. Lisa Stead's study of female British fans of silent movies shows how they tried to engage in similar negotiations and alliances with those who produced or promoted the movies that they loved; these movie enthusiasts appreciated American models of gender and style, while still celebrating specifically English actresses whose performances and personal presentation they identified with more closely. Stead analyzes this fandom within the larger transnational history of the rise of the "New Woman." Both Stead and Sneeringer show how local fans attempted to "talk back" to local cultural authorities, defending their tastes and choices and asserting a sort of moral ownership of their objects of fandom (movies and music, respectively).

[6.4] The article by Courtney Bates offers us a historical framework for fans' interactions with both the copyright holders and each other. Bates's work examines the fan letters sent to American author Willa Cather, making it clear that fan letters from this period need to be analyzed against other modes of reading and responding to texts that were popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fan letters, she argues, became an attractive option for many readers because they assumed repeated readings and emotional responses to the text, and they ultimately developed into their own genre.

[6.5] Finally, two of these articles focus on ways that changes and continuities in gender have informed fans' experiences, and how fans' actions have responded to—and even challenged—gender ideologies. Stead's article argues that choosing a favorite movie star, as well as the nature and intensity of a fan's engagement with her favorite, was a way for some English women to chose among newer and older models of who an Englishwoman might be. John Williams and Stacey Pope use oral histories to examine the experiences of a group—female soccer fans in postwar England—who were almost erased in later work on English sports fans. In their article, we see some female fans making a claim to male prerogatives, while others used their activities as fans to reinforce their status as feminine caregivers. Both these articles belong to a strand of historiography that views women (and non-gender-compliant men) as surviving in patriarchal societies by building communities, reinventing themselves, and finding private escapes as readers and fans (see Russo 1987; Smith-Rosenberg 1975; Radway 1991; Laqueur 2004).

[6.6] These articles hint at what a research agenda that included historically grounded, fine-grained studies of transformative works and cultures might bring both to fan studies and to the history of popular culture. Such research might help fan studies to expand its focus beyond late 20th-century fandoms in the English-speaking world—where fans produced primarily literary transformative works—to examine fandoms in other linguistic and cultural contexts. Historically grounded case studies would also reveal the interactions among fandoms, since ideas, entertainments, and pastimes crossed national boundaries and were incorporated into the lives of people who often pursued more than one hobby or enthusiasm (note 14). Research conducted along those lines could also contribute greatly to our knowledge about the interactions between fan communities and what is called "Americanization" in some national histories and "cultural imperialism" in others: the importation and reworking of material goods, narratives, imagery, ideology, and other aspects of life and thought that originated in the United States.

[6.7] Political struggles around popular culture and mass media characterized the cold war era. Some scholars and political activists feared that television, rock and roll, and especially comic books would corrupt impressionable youth, turning them into—depending on the political orientation of the person doing the worrying—capitalist automatons or morally weak communists (note 15). Meanwhile, many governments tried to strengthen national cultures by banning some forms of imported media and funding locally made equivalents.

[6.8] Some fan communities engaged in these cold war–era battles by developing passionate attachments to hard-to-get material goods from far away—sometimes from the "other side" of the Iron Curtain—and others by showing wholehearted support for local sports teams or movie idols. Such support sometimes took complicated and ambiguous forms. In East Germany, passionate fans of Karl May's westerns convinced East German Communist authorities to allow them to dress up and do role-play as Native Americans by arguing that "Indians" were oppressed indigenous peoples, and that cowboys were upstanding members of the American rural proletariat; East German officials were frustrated by the US-centric nature of this fandom, but generally allowed members of the community to create costumes and do role play nonetheless.

[6.9] In the United States, controversies among science fiction fans reflected cold war politics as well, particularly around the morality of and policy for the use of nuclear weapons, and paralleled the rise of the libertarian branch of the right wing in US politics. The popularity of Robert Heinlein and other libertarian science fiction writers during the 1950s is yet another example of how fan communities are always products of a particular time and place. As the cold war deescalated in the early 1970s, changing fannish identities intersected with the rise of identity politics in the United States. The controversies surrounding the increased visibility of female and gay and lesbian fans in science fiction was an early example of this trend; by the middle of the decade, tensions around racialized identities were all too visible in the split between fans of disco and fans of heavy metal music. In all these cases, communities of fans should be understood in the context of the cold war, to help us both understand fans better and make better sense out of the cold war.

[6.10] And of course many other lines of inquiry suggest themselves as we start thinking historically about audiences, fans, fan works, and fan communities. We expect that interactions among historians, other scholars, and fans (and those who fall into more than one category) will inspire research that uncovers new sorts of evidence and helps us to ask new questions of those sources. We're confident that this work will offer fans a broader context for their own communities and can demonstrate that fan communities have always contributed to cultural and social change. Participatory culture is, in fact, a deeply rooted phenomenon—more than today's fans might realize—and historically grounded research can uncover how fans' participation helped shape the world we live in.

7. Notes

1. There have been several historical studies of fan communities and activities published in other contexts; the works cited in this introduction, we hope, will serve as a guide to some of the most interesting of these.

2. Exemplary insider histories of particular fandoms include Heinemann (2000), Nieminski and Lellenberg (1989), Lellenberg (1990), Moskowitz (1974), Pohl (1978), and Verba (1996).

3. See the Web site of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society at http://www.discoverlaura.org/visit.html.

4. One of many examples is the substantial historical wiki built by Karl May fans at http://karlmay.agerth.de/wiki/index.php/Hauptseite. The Organization for Transformative Works has even built a wiki that seeks to preserve the history of a variety of fandoms, although this wiki excludes history of the canon itself and is generally focused on fandoms that center on "transformative works," which can be a problematic limitation. See http://fanlore.org/wiki/Main_Page.

5. J. R. R. Tolkien, though English, exemplified a way of thinking that was not uncommon among intellectuals in Canada and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: a valorization of an imagined rural past combined with intense alienation from the industrialized urban present. Jackson Lears named this discourse "antimodernism" in No Place of Grace (1994, 194). See also McKay (2009). For a discussion of how this rejection of modernism and an ironic, playful embrace of a historically nostalgic world worked among Sherlockians, see Saler (2003).

6. There is a rich body of work on sports fans, although most of it has been done by sociologists, anthropologists, ethnologists, or cultural studies scholars and is thus usually focused on fairly recent developments. See Levi (2008), Magazine (2007), Archetti (1999), and Sandvoss (2003). For US baseball fans, see Dewey (2004), Seymour and Seymour (1989), and Tygiel (2001).

7. A good example of a study of the diffusion of one musical trend across cultures is Klein (2007). Since almost all of the work on transnational cultural exchanges has been done by anthropologists, ethnologists, and literary critics, it often focuses on recent events and does not put them into the context of social and economic changes in the early 20th century.

8. As one instance out of hundreds of this phenomenon, consider Emilio García Riera's magisterial Breve historia del cine mexicano (1999). In part, this is explained by the fact that, like all historians, cultural historians are sometimes so preoccupied with mastering the historiography and sources for one time and place that they feel unable to broaden their focus (and readings). But when addressing a topic like the history of fans and popular reception, which must be aware of global cultural exchanges, diffusion, and reworkings of transnational narratives, a limited focus can produce particularly uneven results.

9. Historical research on how fans used popular music (often originating in the United States) as a vehicle for rejection of constraints of gender and class, and of social and political norms in a broad sense, has been quite fruitful. Among many examples, see Poiger (2000), McDonough (2001), Starr (2004), Fenemore (2007), Modern Girl around the World Research Group (2008), Zolov (1999), McAnn (2004), and Dunn (2000).

10. See, for example, the self-descriptions of science fiction fans in Broyles (1961), which included information on what sorts of tape recorders some fans possessed, included presumably for the purposes of noting what sorts of tapes they could make (or receive) for filk or con reportage. Sherlockian enthusiasts began to make their own radio shows and phonograph recordings, and by the 1980s had moved on to making video retellings of favorite stories; Karl May fans in Nazi Germany were also filming short sequences of their favorite scenes in his westerns (see Reagin 2009a, 2009b).

11. As with all such generalizations, there are some excellent exceptions to this rule: see Fuller (1996), Kuhn (2002), Cavicchi (2007), and Hayward (1997).

12. An exception here is the work of Rebecca Pearson (1997, 2007); see also Brooker (2005). None of these is historically focused, but all offer excellent insights into literary fandoms that focus on older literary canons.

13. This periodization is used, for example, in Coppa (2006). While Coppa's essay offers a brief but accurate narrative (and is, after all, a short account of the recent history of only one branch of fandom), it is difficult to find work that goes beyond this periodization when discussing the broader history of fandoms.

14. For a typical example of how individuals might combine more than one fandom in their lives, see the epilogue to Flanery (1981), in which the author discusses how she and a friend produced SF zines and attended conventions together—but also belonged to a bowling league.

15. For campaigns against comic books and rock music around the world, see Beaty (2005), Barker (1992), Hadju (2009), Dorfman and Mattelart (1976), Poiger (2000), Rubenstein (1998), and Zolov (1999).

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