Interview: Laura Hale of FanHistory.com

Posted by Michael Pinto on May 10, 2008 in Fandom |

Laura Hale of FanHistory.com

Introduction: I first discovered Fan History back in 2007 when long time Anime fan Steve Pearl passed away. To me Steve was a real hero in the anime scene, yet when I did a search I found very little about his contribution to the field. So I was very happy to find his entry at fanhistory.com. The website is still in an early phase yet they have a wealth of information on fandom. As pulisher of fanboy.com I encourage everyone to contribute to helping this amazing resource grow. And without further ado here is my interview with Laura Hale who started the site:

For folks not familiar with fanhistory.com (and wikis in general) can you give us an introduction to your project?

Where to start? Fan History is a fandom run project dedicated to doing a couple of things.

First, it is about sharing the history of fandom. It explains what was going in specific fandoms, in regards to specific topics in fandom, gives an idea as to who some of the big name fans are, shares some of the historical activities that took place in a fandom and continue to take place in fandom, and where to find fandom.

Second, and complimenting the first, Fan History is about creating a directory of people in fandom. The directory information contains a history of a person’s involvement in fandom, what fandoms people are involved with, any fanworks they’ve created and links back to their sites or blogs.

Fan History is a project in wiki format. A wiki allows anyone to edit the content. In the case of Fan History, it means that anyone can help contribute to project, adding information on the history of fandom.


What in your personal background made you interested in history of fandom? Who is the team behind your project and how did you get together?

I got into fandom in 1996. I had a few fabulous people who taught me about fandom, the social rules, etiquette, history, the terminology that was used, etc. Most of those people came out of the Star Trek and Babylon 5 fandoms. In 2000, I was involved with FanFiction.Net, and created a project called Writers University on the site. I created it back then because I wanted to share with others what others had shared with me. It made my transition into fandom easier having those mentors and having that historical background.

Writers University left FanFiction.Net and the a history section went with it to a few different urls. In May 2006, because I wanted to expand on and consolidate the knowledge of fandom history that had been sitting around my hard drive, and because Wikipedia deleted the Diane Marchant article, the content I had moved to FanHistory.Com. The decision was made to use a wiki format because I wanted to get more people involved in telling the history of fandom because for a few years, the only person writing history inside media fandom telling the history of media fandom was me. So it began as a one person show. It has since expanded beyond that.

Fan History currently has about seven active moderators. Jae has been with Fan History for a long time. She’s a member of 4Chan, Digimon fandom, and anime fandom in general. Most of her fandom experience has been on-line. Sidewinder is another Fan History admin. She’s old school media fandom and music fandom with her experiences going back to the early 1990s, when she was in the Duran Duran, Star Wars, and A-Team fandom amongst others. Hector and ScrewTheDaisies are other administrators. Both are members of bandom, and have been involved in fandom for about five years. Both are active participants on RockFic.

ScrewTheDaisies is also the founder of FanWorksFinder. LadyMacBeth is our fifth moderator. She’s been in fandom for about ten years. Most of her time has been spent in anime fandoms like Dragon Ball Z. When not helping out with Fan History, she’s also a moderator at MediaMiner.Org. SLWatson is our newest active moderator. She’s another fandom dinosaur, having been involved in fandom for over ten years. She, like me, comes out of the Star Trek fandom and was involved with FanFiction.Net in the early 2000s. MaceEcam anoter administrator and is a member of the Kim Possible fandom. Mace has been involved with a number of popular Kim Possible fan fiction projects on FanFiction.Net and elsewhere in his fandom.

We also have some tech assistance from Joshua Chattan and Emufarmers. Emufarmers became involved because he commented on a help request on MediaWiki’s support section and Joshua through a friendship developed on fanthropology.

The people involved with the project either became involved because of our contact in the fan fiction archiving community or because they were contributors to the wiki who made helpful edits, stuck around and wanted to be involved with the project on another level.

What made you want to do your own project as opposed to being a part of Wikipedia.org?

This one is rather simple: Notability requirements, and original research.

Wikipedia requires articles to be notable. And that’s really subjective. Fandom Wank is really influential in certain parts of fandom but the article has been voted for deletion because it wasn’t notable. Cassandra Claire and Diane Marchant have had articles about them deleted. They might not be notable in a larger sense but they’ve had a big impact on their corner of fandom.

Beyond that, history is often told through the experiences of smaller groups and little name fans, by observing trends of what these little fans are doing. That connects to original research: You need to watch those fans, research them and document what they’re doing. Wikipedia discourages original research. You can’t watch on and report those trends like that.
I wanted a project which would encourage that would encourage original research with out notability requirements. It would better serve the history than Wikipedia could.

Is the project focused on a certain area of fandom (like comic books) or is it open up to any subject matter?

The project is not really focused on any particular type of fandom. It has sections for actors, anime and manga, books, cartoons, comic books, music, politics, science fiction, sports, television and video games. It doesn’t really focus on activities that read like fandom, like toy collecting, except as they pertain to other fandoms covered by the wiki.

What are some of the more obscure or interesting articles that you have at fanhistory.com that people should know about?

There is a lot of obscure information tucked away on Fan History just because obscure information helps build a big picture.

The articles that I think people should look at:

* Orphan Works: Gives an idea as to how rumors are transferred through fandom and how people respond to them. It also highlights how fans are really concerned about their rights regarding the materials they create.

* Plagiarism : Shows how plagiarism has been a historical problem in fandom, defines plagiarism in the context of fan fiction and explains how fans have reacted to plagiarism in their communities.

* CSI: The CSI fandom. This is probably one of the best fandom specific articles. It highlights positive and negative fandom activities and shows how fractured fandom can really be, with all the various communities out there. Batman, Dr. Who and The Police are three other good fandom articles worth taking a look at.

* Meyshi: The story of Meyshi, a fan fiction author who sent people who MSTed her stories DMCA take down notices. It is a good example of fans behaving badly.

What are the most popular articles on fanhistory.com and which genres get the most interest?

The most popular pages:

1. Cassandra Claire

2. Harry Potter

3. FanFiction.Net

4. Digimon

5. Harry/Hermione

The areas that tend to get the most interest tend to be anime, old school media fandoms, controversial topics and fan fiction archive histories.

We live in a celebrity driven culture, so in your opinion what are the qualities that make a humble fanboy or fangurl notable?

Couple of qualities. First, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and shamelessly promote yourself. Second, provide people with what they want in terms of content. Third, be controversial. Fourth, keep doing that again and again. The fans who really get to be known across fandom are the ones that can do that. That’s the way to get notable and known.

The other way to get notable is to create a quality product that fandom will consume and use. The downside to this is that, unless you’re vocally making yourself the front person for that product, selling the product as an extension of yourself, you might not gain personal notability. The best example of this is FanFiction.Net: Most people know it and use it. They don’t necessarily know Xing Li, nor how notable and influential he has been in reshaping fandom since 1998. Root at MediaMiner.Org, a large anime fan fiction site, is pretty similar in how he’s shaped things in his corner of fandom. He’s rather hands off with the site but he created the framework for a large and active anime fandom community to form around it. Justin Sevakis at AnimeNewsNetwork is another example of a fan more known for his product than his name inside of fandom.

Are there examples of individual fans that we should know about but don’t?

I come out of a fan fiction and media fandom background so these are mostly from that direction. A few that come to mind: Xing Li, the founder of FanFiction.Net. Diane Marchant, published the first Star Trek slash. Paula Smith, kick started the feedback debate in media fandom back in the 1970s. Stephen Ratliff, Star Trek fan who did a lot to help Usenet wise. Kielle, the founder of CFan really helped to develop parts of the comics community on-line and helped bridge the gap between parts of media fandom and comic book fandom. Dev (and Mystery, Gibby, Coolbyrne) from YourTaxDollarsAtWork, who have been involved with a number of CSI fandom fan advocacy projects, dealt with TPTB to in order to keep their forums running and given an great example of how to run a large community, be part of that community and navigate the politics of fandom that should be a model for other fans.

I see that there are many pages for individual fans, do you encourage folks to setup their own page?

Fan History created a bot to help create pages for individuals as administrators had been doing it manually and it was really time consuming. We’d also been criticized for cherry picking who we included and who we didn’t. The solution we came up with helped to negate some of that criticism.

So yeah, we encourage people to set up their own pages, write their own histories, write the histories of other individuals because it is through the stories of individuals in fandom that you get a big picture of what is going on. Everyone’s history matters.

How can fans better document their own history?

The most important thing is to first realize that you need to document and to make your voice heard when you see documentation being done. In my experience with Fan History, that is the biggest problem. People don’t see the need to document their history, to tell their own history. They will let others do it instead and complain about how it is being done. So if you see a project, be it Fan History, a LiveJournal community dedicated to the history of your fandom, Wikipedia, FanAc.Org, the Organization for Transformative Works, ask the people involved how you can get involved.

What can fanboys and fangurls do if they would like to contribute to the project?

Edit. Edit. And edit. And when they’re done, ask other people to contribute. Fan History is only as good as those who help contribute to it make it. The more people who are involved in editing articles, the fewer factual errors there will be and the more complete the history will be.





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