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

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, ...

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

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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.

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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

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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)

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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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



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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Bloody Chords of Memory

1. Monstrous Beginnings
2. Goth Americana
3. Weird Science
4. Alien Invasions
5. Deviant Bodies
6. Haunted Houses
7. Undead Americans

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