Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting

Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting

by W. Scott Poole
     
 

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Salem witches, frontier wilderness beasts, freak show oddities, alien invasions, Freddie Krueger. From our colonial past to the present, the monster in all its various forms has been a staple of American culture. A masterful survey of our grim and often disturbing past, Monsters in America uniquely brings together history and culture studies to expose the

Overview

Salem witches, frontier wilderness beasts, freak show oddities, alien invasions, Freddie Krueger. From our colonial past to the present, the monster in all its various forms has been a staple of American culture. A masterful survey of our grim and often disturbing past, Monsters in America uniquely brings together history and culture studies to expose the dark obsessions that have helped create our national identity.

Monsters are not just fears of the individual psyche, historian Scott Poole explains, but are concoctions of the public imagination, reactions to cultural influences, social change, and historical events. Conflicting anxieties about race, class, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, science, and politics manifest as haunting beings among the populace. From Victorian-era mad scientists to modern-day serial killers, new monsters appear as American society evolves, paralleling fluctuating challenges to the cultural status quo. Consulting newspaper accounts, archival materials, personal papers, comic books, films, and oral histories, Poole adroitly illustrates how the creation of the monstrous "other" not only reflects society's fears but shapes actual historical behavior and becomes a cultural reminder of inhuman acts.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From 19th century sea serpents to our current obsession with vampires and zombies, history professor Poole (Satan in America) plots America’s past through its fears in this intriguing though not always convincing or original sociocultural history. Poole abstains from offering a single definition of “monster,” allowing various meanings to develop in historical context, as with the alleged sea beast that terrorized Gloucester, Mass., in 1817 or the shape-shifting spirit Deer Woman, described in Sallie Southweall Cotton’s 1901 poem “The White Doe.” Poole is best when focusing on the social impact of those considered monsters, many of the human variety—such as the subjects of racial intolerance and the perception of African-Americans, particularly male, as “monstrous beasts” who had to be destroyed at any cost, often by thousand-person lynch mobs. The 20th century is dealt with as a predictable series of film genres—WWII monster films, body snatchers, deranged serial killers, and a return to vampires of all shapes and sizes. But given Poole’s argument that “he monster has its tentacles wrapped around the foundations of American history,” his loose definition of “monster” shows its weakness: while studying fantasy monsters can illuminate real fears, they don’t equate with the demonization of actual humans of certain races or classes. 24 b&w illus. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"... one of the best reads of the year."
--Dave Canfield, Fangoria

"From 19th century sea serpents to our current obsession with vampires and zombies, ... Poole plots America's past through its fears in this intriguing ...sociocultural history."
--Publishers Weekly

"Poole ... has set the bar ridiculously high for any future research exploring the locus of historical and cultural studies, particularly as it pertains to the horrific. ... Monsters In America challenges, enlightens, and, quite honestly, frightens in its prescient view of American history, as well as the seeming ubiquity of the monsters of our past and probable future."
--The Crawlspace

"A well informed, thoughtful, and indeed frightening angle of vision to a persistent and compelling American desire to be entertained by the grotesque and the horrific."
--Gary Laderman, Professor of American Religious History and Cultures, Emory University

"Poole brings to life American horror stories by framing them within folk belief, religion, and popular culture, broadly unraveling the idea of the monster. Thanks to Poole's insights we see the ubiquity of the monster lurking in and around us."
--John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Fangoria - Dave Canfield

... one of the best reads of the year.

The Crawlspace

Poole... has set the bar ridiculously high for any future research exploring the locus of historical and cultural studies, particularly as it pertains to the horrific.... Monsters In America challenges, enlightens, and, quite honestly, frightens in its prescient view of American history, as well as the seeming ubiquity of the monsters of our past and probable future.

American Studies - Nicole K. Konopka

Monsters in America is an important contribution, and it will be enjoyed by literary and cultural historians alike.

Slug - Amanda Rock

A captivating read...

American Historical Review - Elizabeth Young

Monsters in America is lively and entertaining throughout. The book's unusual range is one of its contributions; its freshness of juxtaposition is another.

Pop Theology - J. Ryan Parker

Numerous scholars explore the cultural and political implications of monster and horror films for the times from which they emerge.... Few scholars connect such implications across broader expanses of time to reveal how intrinsically monsters and the horrific have been bound up in the history of America. Even fewer scholars do so as adeptly and as entertainingly as W. Scott Poole.

Jenn's Bookshelves

... incredibly rewarding and fulfilling reading.... Monsters in America has without a doubt earned a spot on my favorite books of 2011. Highly recommended.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781602583146
Publisher:
Baylor University Press
Publication date:
10/15/2011
Pages:
295
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

"The American past reads like something of a horror movie, maybe even a low-budget slasher. American history comes at us dripping with gore, victims lying scattered on the ground, eldritch moonlight revealing creeping horrors you never learned from your eighth grade history textbook. The history of the United States offers a chamber of horrors, with clergy transforming the Native American other into demonic beings, mad scientists turning state-funded laboratories into torture chambers, and the photographic revolution of the Victorian era turning toward a morbid fascination with the bodies of the dead and the creation of the category of 'gore.' History is horror."

—excerpted from the Introduction



What People are saying about this

Jonathan Maberry

With Monsters in America, W. Scott Poole has given us a guidebook for a journey into nightmare territory. Insightful and brilliant!

J. Gordon Melton

An unexpected guilty pleasure! Poole invites us into an important and enlightening, if disturbing, conversation about the very real monsters that inhabit the dark spaces of America's past.

Greg Garrett

Monsters in America does a bang-up job of demonstrating how our culture helps us achieve some sort of understanding about our world and our lives. Poole's examples are well-chosen and well-explicated. It is a frightening world we live in, yet the horrific things in our literature and culture play a vital part in helping us reach some understanding, and even some peace about them.

John W. Morehead

Poole's connection of the monster to American history is a kind of Creature Features meets American cultural history. Here we not only meet such monsters but also discover America's cultural monstrosity.

Gary Laderman

A well informed, thoughtful, and indeed frightening angle of vision to a persistent and compelling American desire to be entertained by the grotesque and the horrific.

John David Smith

Poole brings to life American horror stories by framing them within folk belief, religion, and popular culture, broadly unraveling the idea of the monster. Thanks to Poole's insights we see the ubiquity of the monster lurking in and around us.

Meet the Author

W. Scott Poole is Associate Professor of History, Department of History, College of Charleston. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

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