Fandom-Related Collections at the University of Iowa
Science fiction fandom has been a vibrant subculture, with its own particular jargon, rituals, and relationships to mainstream culture, since at least the late 1920s. It emerged as a semi-organized community of like-minded individuals as a response to the rise of professional science fiction magazines. Hugo Gernsback published the first of these, Amazing Stories, in 1926, and fans responded with enthusiasm (sometimes critical enthusiasm) to the new stories by writing letters of comment to the magazine. Eventually, fans used these letters to begin making contact with each other; this led to the creation of both formal and informal fannish organizations, where SF fans - who often felt marginalized by the greater culture for their particular interests - could meet, socialize and talk about science fiction. The first fan-produced magazine, The Comet, was published in May 1930 and represented the start of a long and continuing tradition of science fiction fanzines - amateur publications that fans use as vehicles of personal and cultural expression and interest.
One of the more notable and important features of science fiction fandom has been the periodic gathering of fans at conventions. Conventions are events at which fans meet en masse to hear relevant speakers, speak at panels on different SF-related topics dress in various costumes, watch examples of SF movies or television shows, and participate in numerous other social events. Science fiction conventions began in the United States in the mid-1930s, and achieved a large and international following the institution of the first World Science Fiction Convention, held in New York City in 1939. Conventions continue to be a central feature of fandom, and are not limited to science fiction. Other genre fandoms, such as comic books, mystery novels and films, and animation, also hold conventions, create zines and other publications, and organize into distinct social communities.
SF fandom began with the emergence of popular science fiction literature in the early 20th century, but it quickly expanded beyond an interest in print works only. Broadcast media has always been a vital component of fannish concern, and the world of SF fandom experienced a major upsurge of interest with the television debut of Star Trek in 1966. [The first real media-centered fandom, however, might be said to have begun soon before this event, with the launching of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television program, which quickly developed a group of devoted followers.] Since that time Star Trek and its multiple spinoff shows and movie sequels have become the source of a lively, independent fandom, sometimes associated with general SF fandom and sometimes not. The same sort of fannish phenomenon has occurred with a number of other media properties, including, to name just a few, the Star Wars movie series, the British SF television shows Doctor Who and Blake's 7, and the TV shows created and written by Joss Whedon (i.e. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse). And, although the explosion of genre-related broadcast media has greatly swelled the ranks of fandom (and oftimes divided it), there still remain large audiences of fans that concern themselves more with literary works than with movies and television shows.
A few collections listed here are not specifically fan-oriented, but contain material relevant to the growth and development of genre fandom. The Norman Felton Papers document the creation of the cult series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.and include fannish material relating to that show. The Papers of Nicholas Meyer contain materials relating to Meyer's direction of the films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, including his negotiations during the making of the former with fans to get them placed in cameos.
Fandom represents an important American (and, indeed, international) cultural phenomenon, one that encompasses the beliefs, concerns, dreams and fantasies of a culturally influential and distinct social community. Archiving the productions of fan culture - zines, convention materials, literary productions such as stories of fan fiction, and so on - means the preservation of the historical record of this subculture and its adherents. Special Collections at the University of Iowa is committed to documenting the history and development of fandom and fannish communities.
The Fan Culture Preservation Project:
Special Collections is currently involved in a major cooperative effort with the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) to preserve zines and other artifacts of fan culture. Through the efforts of OTW, an nonprofit fan-run organization that believes in and promotes the value of fannish works of creativity, Special Collections will be receiving donations of fannish materials from their creators and collators and making them available to future generations of researchers and other interested parties.