The Study of Popular Culture by Academia in the United States
By: John Curtis
16 November 2000
So why is a collection of realia and printed works about
_Doctor Who_, an English television series that hasn't been on
the air in over a decade, important enough to warrant a display
in an academic library? Why would academics concern themselves
with popular culture research? That is what this brief paper
sets out to explain.
Popular Culture Defined
The Oxford English Dictionary defines popular culture as
"culture based on popular taste and disseminated widely and
usually on a commercialized basis." The artifacts of popular
culture would include literature and realia relating to film,
television, radio, music, genre fiction, and comics. Genre
fiction includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery,
westerns, and romance.
The Importance of the Academic Study of Popular Culture
The academic study of popular culture, at its most basic
level, can tell us how those aspects of culture that have the
most impact on a majority of the population, influence our basic
beliefs and values. Academics that study popular culture
carefully examine the relationships between art, mass media,
commerce, and society. The study of popular culture can have
an important impact on research done in other fields as varied
as history, sociology, anthropology, political science,
communications, journalism, English, art, music, and engineering.
The History of the Study of Popular Culture
The formalized study of popular culture by academia in the
U.S. can trace its roots back to the late 1960s and the work of
Dr. Ray Browne of the Department of English at Bowling Green
State University in Ohio. In 1967, Dr. Browne founded the first
academic journal devoted exclusively to the study of popular
culture, the quarterly _Journal of Popular Culture_ (Bowling
Green (OH): Popular Press). As of this writing, the journal
enjoys a circulation of approximately 3500 copies per issue,
is held by at least 1335 libraries worldwide, and is also
available in full-text form in a number of online research
databases such as Humanities Abstracts and Periodical Abstracts.
In 1969, Dr. Browne founded the first scholarly association
devoted exclusively to the study of popular culture, The Popular
Culture Association, headquartered initially at Bowling Green
State University, but now operating out of Syracuse
University in New York. The Association can be found on the
Web at http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~pcaaca/ .
In 1973, Dr. Browne founded the first department at an
academic institution in the U.S. devoted exclusively to the
study of popular culture, the Department of Popular Culture at
Bowling Green State University. Simultaneously, the Department
sponsored the first academic degree program in the U.S. devoted
exclusively to the study of popular culture, an M.A. in Popular
Culture. In 1974, the Department also began sponsoring a B.A.
in Popular Culture. In 1977, the Department contributed to the
creation of an American Culture Ph.D. program. In 1987, popular
culture became an area of concentration in that Ph.D. program.
As of this writing, Bowling Green State University is the only
academic institution in the U.S. with a graduate degree in the
study of popular culture. The only other degree offered in
the U.S. that is devoted exclusively to the study of popular
culture is a B.A. in Popular Culture at Suffolk University in
The Literature of Popular Culture Research
Dr. Browne wrote a book entitled _Against Academia: the
history of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture
Association and the Popular Culture movement, 1967-1988_ (Bowling
Green (OH) : Popular Press, 1989). It is a chronicle of his
uphill battle to convince the stodgy academic world of the vital
importance of studying popular culture.
Faculty of the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling
Green State University have produced the definitive textbooks
for introductory classes on popular culture taught at the
undergraduate level. Jack Nachbar and Kevin Lause published
_Popular Culture: An Introductory Text_ (Bowling Green (OH) :
Popular Press, 1992). Christopher Geist and Jack Nachbar
published _The Popular Culture Reader_ (Bowling Green (OH) :
Popular Press, 1983).
Popular Culture Collections
In support of the popular culture research being conducted
at Bowling Green State University, a Popular Culture Library was
established there in 1969. It had humble beginnings with a two
person staff and a miniscule budget. It has since evolved into
the largest and most comprehensive research facility of its kind
in the U.S. The collection, which is housed on the fourth
floor of the Jerome Library, contains 130,000 books, 122
periodical subscriptions, and an extensive collection of
realia. Staff collected much of the literature and realia over
the years from secondhand shops, garage sales, and estate
auctions. Donations were also solicited from alumni, members of
the Popular Culture Association, and the general public. Early
in their history, the Popular Culture Library was looked down
upon by the University's main library. The traditional
librarians considered the collection to be full of junk that
should be discarded. By 1989, Rush G. Miller, the Dean of
Libraries at Bowling Green State University, was calling the
Popular Culture Library "our most outstanding collection."
A degree in Popular Culture can prepare graduates for work
in a number of fields. Graduates of the Bowling Green degree
programs have gone on to work in all of the various mass media
industries (film, television and radio), have become curators of
museums, and have become Student Program Directors at colleges
and universities. It is not surprising that the owner of
the collection of realia and printed works in the _Doctor Who_
"Time and Space on Television" display for which this paper was
written, is himself employed as an Assistant Student Program
Research is also conducted by those scholars at academic
institutions which do not feature a formal popular culture
studies department. Some research is even done by individuals
employed in the private sector. Training in history,
librarianship, and other related fields enables many employees
of the private sector to make equally significant contributions
to the field of popular culture research.
I'd like to thank the owner of the collection of realia and
printed works in this display, Nick Seidler, and the host
institution, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, for asking me
to prepare this paper for inclusion in the display. Mr.
Seidler's collection is undoubtedly one of the finest of its
kind, and I encourage him to eventually donate the collection to
an academic collection where it would prove of great value to
academics devoted to the study of popular culture.
John T. Curtis is a faculty librarian at Baldwin-Wallace
College's Ritter Library in Berea, Ohio. His BA is from Oberlin
College (1984), and he holds a Master of Library and Information
Science Degree (1992), and a Certificate of Advanced Study
(1999), both from Kent State University. His academic honors
include being inducted into Beta Phi Mu, the International
Library Science Honor Society (1992) and being a Junior Fellow
at the Library of Congress (1992).
Regarding his interest in the study of _Doctor Who_ as a
television series, John writes:
I saw my first episode of _Doctor Who_ when the Tom Baker
serials were first being run on U.S. PBS stations in the later
part of the 1970s. I became an avid collector of _Doctor Who_
memorabilia beginning in 1988. My collection of commercially
released merchandise currently consists of 619 books, 644
magazines, 111 videos, and 32 audios. I also have a collection
of video and audio dubs of all 696 episodes, and an additional
large collection of related dubs.
I met Nick Seidler, the owner of the collection on display,
at a convention in Chicago in 1990. We were both waiting in
line preparing to 'assault' the merchandise dealers room, when I
noticed the U.S. military 2nd Lieutenant bar pinned to the
military map case he was carrying (he was in the U.S. Army
Reserve). As I was, at that time, serving active duty
as an Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Air Force, I struck up
conversation. We've been close friends ever since.
Nick founded the Earthbound TimeLords (aka EBTL) in
Milwaukee in 1985. Though I lived in Ohio, I became something
of a member myself as we communicated regularly by email,
snailmail and telephone. In 1997 we co-founded the Web-based
presence for the EBTL as a vehicle for pursuing and promoting a
more scholarly approach to research into the series.
In April 1999, the EBTL took over the _Doctor Who_ Scripts
Project, which was initiated in 1995 by Behind the Sofa: The
Bristol University _Doctor Who_ Society (aka BTS). The EBTL has
since completed the work of transcribing the audio recordings of
all of the 109 episodes that no longer exist on video.
1) _Oxford English Dictionary_, on the World Wide Web
(date-16 November 2000) at: http://dictionary.oed.com
2) _Undergraduate Studies In Popular Culture_, on the World Wide
Web (date-16 November 2000) at:
3) _Mission Statement for Popular Culture at BGSU_, on the World
Wide Web (date-14 November 2000) at:
4) _Undergraduate Studies In Popular Culture_.
5) _Mission Statement for Popular Culture at BGSU_.
6) Katz, Bill and Linda Sternberg Katz, _Magazines For
Libraries_, New Providence (NJ) : Bowker, 2000: 469.
7) _Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) Database_, via telnet
(date-14 November 2000) at: telnet://188.8.131.52
8) _Mission Statement for Popular Culture at BGSU_.
9) _Popular Culture and American Culture Association_, on the
World Wide Web (date-14 November 2000) at:
10) _Mission Statement for Popular Culture at BGSU_.
11) _The College Blue Book: Degrees Offered by College and
Subject_, New York (NY) : Macmillan, 1999: 955.
12) _Mission Statement for Popular Culture at BGSU_.
14) Weinstein, Fannie, "At Bowling Green State University. PC
stands for popular culture." _American Libraries_, v20 n6
(June 1989): 578-80.
15) _BGSU Popular Culture Library_, on the World Wide Web
(date-14 November 2000) at:
16) _American Library Directory 2000-2001_, New Providence
(NJ) : R.R. Bowker, 2000:1420
18) _Undergraduate Studies In Popular Culture_.
'Time and Space On Television' -
A Display of Realia Related to the
_Doctor Who_ Television Series
A display located at:
Milwaukee School of Engineering
Walter Schroeder Library
November 23, 2000 - February 01, 2001
Realia owned by:
Display sponsored by:
Wolves of Fenric
Milwaukee School of Engineering MAGE Club
Milwaukee School of Engineering Walter Schroeder Library
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Last Updated November 29, 2000