Scott Poole on Monsters
Date: October 24th, 2011

What do monsters tell us about ourselves — our fears, anxieties and history in general?  W. Scott Poole, professor of history at the College of Charleston, dives into this somewhat disturbing question and reveals a darker side to American history via his book Monsters in America (Baylor University Press).  We start by examining why monsters are fascinating to us and whether or not they shed light into the darkened corners of history.  Tony asks whether or not this is a universal phenomenon and whether the negative aspects of American history can be highlighted too much as sometimes the notion of American innocence can, leading to an interesting discussion of the role of the historian as a particularist and what America’s place in history really is.  We then take a non-chronological tour of the world of American monsters, starting with Tony’s favorite genre, alien invaders and radioactive lizards o the 1950s-60s.  Scott talks about the anxiety over nuclear annihilation and the external (and internal) threat of communism that defined the era.  We then note another new trend in horror stories that emerged at this time and continued to the present day — what Prof. Poole calls “deviant bodies,” refering to the “true crime” stories of serial killers.  We then rewind the clock to our colonial beginnings and talk about witches, frontier monsters and sea serpents, including a surprising discussion of why Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick qualifies as a horror story.  The role of slavery in generating monstrous imagery is also examined.  We then take a journey into Gothic America, from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow to more recent incarnations.  America’s interesting anxiety about science then becomes our focus looking at the world of Frankenstein through recent movies such as Contagion and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Scott finishes with some observations about the wide variety of contemporary monsters, including strains of the things that appeared in the past with a strong dose of zombies, and what that may all mean for what fears lurk in the back of our minds today. Recorded: October 7, 2011.


Scott Poole’s website at College of Charleston.

Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting, by Scott Poole.

Monsters in America official website (complete with cool flash animation).  WARNING: Potentially disturbing imagery.

Scott Poole at


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4 Responses to “Scott Poole on Monsters”

  1. […] Institute for Studies of Religion for their regular podcast series, Research on Religion (listen here). It’s a great interview, but we’ll let the research folks speak for themselves: What […]

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