Chic To Be Geek

How sci-fi conventions, Star Trek, and a deep love of history paid off for Dyson professor Nancy Reagin. Learn about how her recent publications have shed a historical light on today’s pop culture.

“Like sports fans and music fans, literary fan groups love to discuss and parse out books that they care about, and I’ve always enjoyed dissecting my favorite science fiction series with other science fiction devotees,” says Nancy Reagin, PhD, professor of history and women’s and gender studies within the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. Self-described as a life-long fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, Reagin began attending sci-fi conventions when she was a teenager.

As a student and lover of history, Reagin has always been fascinated by the incorporation of history into the dreamed up, imaginary worlds of series like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even Twilight. “Science fiction often plays with history, since the stories often involve time travel or discuss how things might have turned out differently if something in the past had been changed,” Reagin says. “And many characters and themes are often deliberately based on historical examples: the Trade Federation in Star Wars is similar to the British East India Company and Voldemort and the Death Eaters in Harry Potter were modeled on the Nazis, according to J.K. Rowling.”

Reagin published several books on modern German history after earning her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, but in recent years she’s begun to translate her love of history and literature into several popular history anthologies that have been enjoyed by scholars and non-scholars alike.

In 2009, Eric Nelson, a Pace alumnus and executive editor at Wiley & Sons, asked Reagin to help develop a series focused on history and pop culture. “I knew that the series would be a lot of fun to pull together,” she says. “It was easy to recruit historians who were also fans to use their expertise to analyze various series.”

Since then, Reagin has worked to produce Twilight and History, which was published in 2010 and translated into six languages, and Harry Potter and History, which was released this past June. Currently, Reagin is working on  Star Trek and History, which will be on the market in summer 2012. She is also collaborating with Janice Liedl, PhD, a historian from Laurentian University, on The Hobbit and History, due out in 2013.

Also on Reagin’s docket this year is a collaboration with Lucasfilm and Star Wars creator George Lucas. When representatives from Lucasfilm approached Wiley & Sons to create a volume dedicated to the history in Star Wars, the publishing house knew that Reagin was the person for the job. Working with  Liedl, Reagin plans on examining the historical influences in the Star Wars dynasty.

“To work with Lucasfilm on this is an amazing opportunity. I never imagined—when I saw the first Star Wars movie at the age of 17—that I’d be editing a scholarly volume on this in collaboration with George Lucas!” she said.

But it isn’t just the pros that are getting in on the action. Reagin has actively recruited some of her students at Pace to contribute to the volumes she’s worked on.  “I realized early on that this series was also a possible vehicle for publishing work by some of my best students,” she says. “I wanted to offer some of my students the opportunity for their work to appear in collections that contained chapters by senior historians and which were published by a good trade press.”