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Visualizing Star Trek Fandom Through Letters

Intro:

This spatial study is an attempt to demonstrate how Star Trek fanzines connected the fandom. The dataset used is derived from fanletters sent in to two Star Trek fanzines: Spockanalia (issues #1-5) and T-Negative (issues #1-20). The purpose of this study is to emphasize how fanzines helped create a highly connected fandom in the pre-internet era, and also to form a body of primary source documents for further scholrly inquiry.

Despite fanzines predating the Trekkies, it was within Star Trek fandom that the concept of a fanzine really thrived and gained traction beyond the insular science fiction fandom of the time. In a time before the internet and social media, fanzines allowed for the sharing of art and ideas across countries, oceans, and timezones. Thanks to fanzines, fans could share ideas across a far wider range than telephones or letters could handle.

Of even greater importance is fanzines were not simply regular publications containing art, stories, and articles; they were also a means of communication between fans on a large scale. Through fanzines fans could engage with other fans on more than a 1:1 ratio and over long distances. Any fan that read the fanzines, or sent in articles and stories effectively participated in interactions with other fans, but it is through the fanletters that fans most directly engaged with other members of the fandom.

Trekkies sent in fanletters to zines for just about any reason, be it to share a new credit for a Star Trek actor or ask a question, to advertise their own fanzine or share a story. Most often, however, fanletters were used to critique and discuss the art, articles, stories, and ideas published by other fans in these fanzines. It was quite common for a fanletter to critique an article, or counter with a new theory, and then have the article’s author respond in a later fanzine. This back-and-forth discourse was public and other fans could even chime in with their own thoughts through their own fanletters. 

Fanzines were all about open communication and contribution; the sharing of one’s ideas and creative endeavors. The dialogues within these fanzines helped the Star Trek fandom develop and increase in sophistication over the course of a decade after the end of Star Trek: The Original Series. Fanzines helped keep fans engaged and passionate about the series, even if there were no other local fans or conventions to attend, and kept the discourse about various topics in the fandom active for years.

Though two fanzines are but an infinitesimal view of the body of Star Trek fanzines as a whole, Spockanalia and T-Negative are nevertheless two of the most influential fanzines published during the early years of Star Trek fandom, and thus are appropriate foci for this spatial study. 

(Feature Map, made in Google Fusion Tables)

(Heat Map, made in Google Fusion Tables)

 

Google MyMaps

(More detailed Feature Map with complete scans of Fan Letters)

 

Map Methodology & Analysis:

This spatial study was created utilizing two Google applications: Fusion Tables and MyMaps. The base data set of Year, Fanzine, Fanzine Issue, Letter Author, Author Location, and Letter Content was compiled in a Google Fusion Table. From this data two fusion maps were created, a feature map showing all 85 points of data, and a heatmap, indicating where the greatest density of contributing fans were located. Google Fusion Tables is however, an experimental and limited application, so this data was then compiled in a second map in Google MyMaps. MyMaps is more versatile, in most ways, and allowed for the creation of links between points on the map, to emphasize how fanzines created a communication network between fans. This map also features scans of these fanletters, so their contents may be read in their entirety.

Those who look at both of these maps will notice a large discrepancy in the datasets. The Fusion Table maps has 85 entries, while the MyMaps has only 72. This is due to the fact that there were 13 fanletters recorded that do not have author locations. I wanted to included them as best I could for their contents. The Fusion Table maps plotted these “???” locations as a spot in the Atlantic Ocean (visible on the Heatmap), but MyMaps could not attach any geolocation to these points, and so they were removed from that map.

These locationless fan letters exist for two possible reasons: removal during reprinting, or the address being omitted due to the status of the individual within the fandom. Oftentimes addresses of fanletters were removed in a reprinted fanzine edition, since these addresses could easily be out-of-date. Addresses could also be removed if the fan writing the letter was of high status, or well-known by the editor.

This is an unfortunate decision which results in their omission from the MyMaps, and the omission of the scans of their letters.  

Despite the limitations of these maps, they clearly indicate the high level of participation within the Star Trek Fandom during the late 1960s to mid-1970s. The heatmap in particular reveals the areas in which participating fans were concentrated, specifically in the Los Angeles area of California, and around New York City. This is likely due to these two areas being highly populated, but also were important locations for Star Trek. The series was filmed in Hollywood, and NBC headquarters were located in New York City. It seems reasonable that these two locations would therefore have higher concentrations of highly engaged fans. The lack of fan letters from other areas could have several explanations. The most likely is that Star Trek may not have had much of a fanbase in these areas, especially if Star Trek was not shown on local networks after its syndication. Even though these fanletters indicated a high level of participation, these fanzines only date to 1973, which is very early in the existence of Star Trek Fandom. 

 

Improvements:

The creation of these two spatial datasets and maps was an interesting endeavor, one which I personally enjoyed. However, there are various improvements I would like to make. Most importantly, I would like to include all 35 issues of T-Negative, instead of just issues 1-20. This was entirely due to time limitations. It would also benefit the project to find a better means of creating connecting lines between points. A map-making system that could host images within itself, instead of needing the use of Google Drive, would also streamline the map’s functionality.

A future iteration of these maps would ideally also include links to the articles, stories, and images which are referred to in these fanletters, for a more complete context. Furthermore, it would be fully digitized with text analysis, so visitors could manipulate the datasets on their own and see more detailed connections.

 

Credits:

Spockanalia was created by Debra and Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford. T-Negative was created by Ruth Berman. All contents within these fanzines belong to their respective owners.