The Study of Popular Culture by Academia in the United States

By: John Curtis
16 November 2000


Introduction

     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[1]."  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.[2]  Academics that study popular culture 
carefully examine the relationships between art, mass media, 
commerce, and society.[3]  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.[4]  


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).[5]  As of this writing, the journal 
enjoys a circulation of approximately 3500 copies per issue[6], 
is held by at least 1335 libraries worldwide[7], 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[8], but now operating out of Syracuse 
University in New York.[9]  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.[10]  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 
Massachusetts.[11]  


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.[12]  
     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).[13]  


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.[14]  The collection, which is housed on the fourth 
floor of the Jerome Library[15], contains 130,000 books, 122 
periodical subscriptions[16], 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."[17]    


Career Opportunities

     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[18].  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 
Director.
     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.


Summary

     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.
	
---------------------------------------------------------------

Endnotes

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:
http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/popc/undergrad.html

3) _Mission Statement for Popular Culture at BGSU_, on the World
Wide Web (date-14 November 2000) at: 
http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/popc/mission.html

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://132.174.11.7

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:
http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~pcaaca/pop.html#history 

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_.

13) Ibid.

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:
http://www.bgsu.edu/colleges/library/pcl/pcl.html

16) _American Library Directory 2000-2001_, New Providence 
(NJ) : R.R. Bowker, 2000:1420

17) Weinstein.

18) _Undergraduate Studies In Popular Culture_.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Prepared for:
'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:
Nick Seidler

Display sponsored by:
Earthbound Timelords 
(http://www.bw.edu/~jcurtis)
Wolves of Fenric 
(http://www.wolvesoffenric.freeserve.co.uk/)
Milwaukee School of Engineering MAGE Club 
(http://www.msoe.edu/st_orgs/gaming/)
Milwaukee School of Engineering Walter Schroeder Library
(http://www.msoe.edu/library/)

---------------------------------------------------------------


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Last Updated November 29, 2000