Professor Puts Twilight in Historical Context

    Twilight History
  Professor Nancy Reagin’s Twilight and History includes a chapter written by two of her former students.

History Professor Nancy Reagin finds fan culture – from Sherlockians to Trek fans to the Twilight-obsessed -- fascinating. She spent her 2007 sabbatical researching and beginning to write what will become her third monograph: Getting A Life: Early Fandoms In Late 19th and 20th Century Europe and America.Ä‚‚ She’s also guestediting the March 2011 special historical edition of the media studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures, which will include articles on the history of varied fan communities. When a friend at Wiley & Sons heard about her scholarly research, he asked her to edit several books on history and pop culture starting with Twilight and History, which was just published, and a second volume, Harry Potter and History, which will be out in 2011.

“I wanted to do something that was a little bit more upbeat,” explained Reagin, whose previous research focused on modern German history, gender and sexuality, nationalism and national identity, and whose last book focused on the role played by Nazi women in occupied Poland during WWII. Dr. Reagin is the former chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, having overseen the launch of the major in that department.

Each chapter of Twilight and History explores the history of one of the Twilight saga characters or some other aspect of the story world, analyzing it against the backdrop of real history.

The book includes a chapter written by two of Dr. Reagin’s former students, Grace and Laura Loiacono, who are also writing a chapter for Harry Potter and History. Spoiler Alert: Their chapter was about Alice, the character who was incarcerated in an insane asylum in 1920s, so they researched and wrote about what it would be like to be incarcerated in the asylum.

“I love the Twilight series and was interested in deeply exploring the various historical aspects of one of my favorite characters, Alice,” said Grace, who graduated in 2007 with a dual major in History and Women and Gender Studies and recently completed a Master’s of Library and Information Science from the Pratt Institute. She is currently looking for employment as a Young Adult Librarian or in the publishing industry as a publicist or an editor. “I learned how to connect historical fact with one of my favorite YA fiction series. I also learned quite a bit about the writing and editing process. This project has taught me how to look deeper into a work of fiction that I might otherwise only have skimmed the surface. As a future librarian, that is a necessary talent. Working with Dr. Reagin was an amazing experience. She allowed us to explore our topic freely but was always there with helpful advice and editing tips when we needed them.”

Her sister Laura graduated in 2009 with a dual major in English and History and a minor in Women’s Studies. She is currently attending graduate school for English literature and will eventually complete a degree in Education. She hopes to become a teacher.

“As a future teacher, I will be better able to guide students to place characters into a historical context and to see the parallels authors draw in their work,” Laura said.

Finding those historical parallels isn’t difficult for professors or students.

“Authors often take pieces of actual history and use them as building blocks for an imaginary world,” Dr. Reagin explained. For example, this spring she screened clips from the film Kingdom of Heaven during a discussion of the Second Crusade. “Students are watching these battle scenes and all they can think of is Lord of the Rings, because the battle at Helms Deep in The Two Towers, since Tolkien does use medieval military technology and tactics.”

And there’s clearly a market for these books, Dr. Reagin explained. “Fans will run through the whole series. You see all of the movies or read all of the books and then you wish there was more,” she said. “You want to dive into the characters’ backgrounds.” Dr. Reagin may become the editor of a new History and Pop Culture series, which could eventually include books on the history within and behind many popular movies, TV shows, and novels. Dr. Reagin intends to incorporate works by students and alumni/ae, particularly those who are interested in a particular pop culture series and those in the Publishing program, into the future books as well.

“That way, some of our students could build their resumes with editorial or publication credits with a major trade press. I’m very excited about not only this volume, but also the series as a whole,” she said.

Read more about Nancy Reagin on her personal website.