Selected Studies of Star Trek

Star Trek turns 50 this year, so what better way to celebrate then to dig into some critical analysis of it? A lot of academic and popular commentaries have been published on the topic, so I’m rounding up some of them here. This is by no means a comprehensive list – more of a taste of the kinds of material out there.

The Star Trek universe is enormous, so, for the purposes of this post, I have some limitations on what I will cover here. This post is focused on secondary sources about Star Trek and its influence on cultural, social, and scientific issues; this includes documents that span a range of subject areas from law to feminism, and would be appropriate for college students to use for a class paper or for personal interest.

What is not covered in this post: fan fiction, research on Star Trek or other fandoms (that’s a whole other post), Star Trek novels, information about the cast and crew of any of the series, conventions, tributes, photo books, collectibles, and games. Much of this isn’t considered part of the canon, and it is much less likely (aside from the study of fandom) to be of wider interest.

There are a couple of resources that have already collected extensive bibliographic information on scholarly studies of Star Trek:

Geraghty, L. (2002). Reading on the frontier: A Star Trek bibliography. Extrapolation, 43(3), 288-313. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3828/extr.2002.43.3.06

While this bibliography is not annotated and is almost 15 years old, there are still hundreds of sources cited here. Geraghty has also been so thorough as to add chapters that come from books that may not deal exclusively with Star Trek, and also articles that may only touch on Star Trek peripherally. The bibliography is broken down by type of source: books, articles, and dissertations. Anyone wishing to do further research on Star Trek would be well served by looking at this document.

Robey, S. (2012, August). The complete Starfleet Library: Analysis and criticism [website]. https://web.archive.org/web/20120819210734/http://www.well.com/~sjroby/lcars/critindex.html

This is defunct now, and mostly contained information related to Star Trek novels, but the page linked above does have a list of critical works on Star Trek. The list is not in any apparent order, but there are many entries and it is a little more current than Geraghty’s bibliography. The entries for each work are not in any approved publication format like APA, but the contents of the book are listed, as well as basic information about the book (name of author, title, how many pages).

I’ve grouped the entries into three topic areas – Humanities, Law and Politics, and Science.

Abbreviations used: TOS=”The Original Series”; TAS=”The Animated Series”; THNG=”The Next Generation; “DS9=”Deep Space Nine”; VGR=”Voyager”; ENT=”Enterprise”; MOV=”Star Trek movies”

Humanities

ethicsBarad, J. & Robertson, E. (2001). The Ethics of Star Trek. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, MOV
Subjects covered: Ethics, philosophy, morality, cultural relativism, Christianity, duty, responsibility

This book explores the ethical context of Star Trek. It examines Star Trek in contrast to classical thought, Christianity, and the concepts of duty. The authors—one a professor with a Ph.D. in philosophy and the other a pop culture specialist—examine whether the ethical principles remain the same across all series, how those principles relate to the issues we face in reality, and what philosophers such as Aristotle may have thought of some of the conflicts in Star Trek. In addition to more general analysis looking at trends across the series, the author also frequently examines the ethical issues presented in particular episodes.

This is just one of many books on Star Trek that are designed for a general audience more than a scholarly audience, but that does not mean it is short on breadth and depth of content. The book clearly chooses to forego dense scholarship in favor of reaching a wider audience. Concepts in ethics and philosophy are clearly explained. Also, the authors do not automatically assume the readers are intimately familiar with every single detail of the Star Trek universe; they take the time to give enough background that even newcomers to Star Trek will be able to follow the discussion.

musicBarham, J.  (2008).  Scoring incredible futures: Science-fiction screen music, and “postmodern” as romantic epiphany.   The Musical Quarterly, 91(3-4), 240-274.doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdp001
Series covered: VGR
Subjects covered: Music, romanticism

The author of this article is a lecturer in music at the University of Surrey, and he is also an expert on Mahler’s works having written a book of scholarship on Mahler. This article examines the use and representation of music in science fiction, with an emphasis and utopian and dystopian science fiction. A large part of this article discusses music from science fiction shows and films that are outside the Star Trek corpus. Nonetheless, it is unique in that it seems to be the only article written on any of Star Trek’s musical choices and what those might mean. The series that is focused on in this article is VGR, specifically an episode in which the music of Mahler is used. What is particularly interesting is that the music used in VGR is seen as a compelling take on the 19th century musical ethos. As it is noted in other works represented in this bibliography, Star Trek (especially TNG) hews closely to 19th century humanism, so examination of this article may complement those other works well.

philos.jpgEberl, J.T. & Decker, K.S.(Eds.). (2008).  Star Trek and philosophy: The wrath of Kant.  New York, NY: Open Court.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, ENT, MOV
Subjects covered: Philosophy, morality, metaphysics, religion, social values

The 18 essays in this collection tackle issues of metaphysics, ethics, culture, logic, epistemology, politics, and language. The essays are grouped into four sections: Major Philosophical Themes, Federation Ethics, Social and Religious Values of the Future, and Metaphysical Conundrums from A to E. The essays in the collection seem to keep in mind that Star Trek has become more than just a television show, and has become a force for change in the way we live our lives. And the point of view of the editors is that Star Trek is a way of preparing us how to think about a variety of ethical issues.

Both of the editors are professors of philosophy. They have also co-edited another volume about philosophy and Star Wars. With the wide variety of topics covered in this collection, students should be able to find one essay to help further their research. Many of these essays would pair well with other essays and books represented in this post.

strategiesFerguson, K.E.  (2002).  This species which is not one: Identity practices in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.   Strategies: Journal of Theory, Culture & Politics, 15(2), 181-195. doi:10.1080/1040213022000013894
Series covered: DS9
Subjects covered: Identity, race

Ferguson examines the issues of sex and gender identities and how those fit within a livable life, as she calls it. She argues that the space station, Deep Space Nine, is a heterotopia, which has the potential to be a disruptive space. The station is home to people who may otherwise be classified as misfits—the odd people out in other settings. She also argues that there are interesting dynamics on the station because of it being located between the known and the unknown—on the border. She proceeds to discuss the Trill, which are beings that are symbiants with other beings. She examines the identity issues that the Trill face. As there are fewer examinations of DS9 than of TOS and TNG, this article is essential for those looking into the deeper meanings and themes in DS9.

geraghtyGeraghty, L.  (2007).  Living with Star Trek: American culture and the Star Trek universe.   New York, NY: I.P. Tauris.
Series covered: DS9
Subjects covered: Culture, social justice, myth

Geraghty is somewhat of an expert in Star Trek. He has made it the subject of much of his academic work, including his dissertation. In this work, he looks at how Star Trek fits into and has affected American culture. He does examine some fan behavior and psychology in this book, but he seems mostly focused on how Star Trek tackles difficult social problems and proposes to fix them. He also explores topics such as the relationship between Star Trek and Puritanism, and how Star Trek employs myth.

Geraghty has clearly dedicated much of his academic life to this topic, and it shows. He has a depth of knowledge that is sometimes lacking in other work about Star Trek. Students will find his work authoritative, useful, and approachable

enter_zonesHarrison, T., Projansky, S., Ono, K.A., & Helford, E.R.  (Eds.). (1996).  Enterprise zones: Critical positions on Star Trek.   Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9
Subjects covered: Gender, race, sexuality, imperialism

This collection contains academic essays on a variety of topics including gender, imperialism, sexuality, humanism, and identity. Unlike other collections of essays, this collection lacks an overarching theme. Some of the articles are very technical, others are more approachable. The collection focuses mostly on TOS and TNG. The authors are not afraid to challenge and probe the inconsistencies they find in the Star Trek universe, but instead they view them as opportunities to examine possible anxieties in the text. Some of the essays seem to reach a little too far to make their conclusions, but students should see those essays as opportunities for article reviews and discussion in their own papers.

religionsKraemer, R.S., Cassidy, W., & Schwartz, S.L. . (2001).  Religions of Star Trek. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, MOV
Subjects covered: Religion, myth, ritual, death

All of the authors of this book are professors at various universities where they each teach religion. In the preface, they note that they found Star Trek useful when teaching religious studies courses. Their focus in this book is on the treatment of religion in the television series and movies and not how Star Trek fandom can be viewed as a sort of religion (The next book in this annotated bibliography discusses this topic a bit). The books explores such issues as whether or not God is in the universe, evil, ritual, what happens after death, and the representation of religious figures such as priests and prophets in Star Trek. There are some instances where the authors gloss over a point or misread something, and it is unclear whether this might be because of a lack of intimate knowledge of Star Trek. It is interesting to contrast some of the discussion in this work with the essays in the following work. Taken together, the two books provide a broad range of opinions on religion in Star Trek.

sacredPorter, J.E. & McLaren, D.L. (Eds.).  (1999).  Star Trek and sacred ground: Explorations of Star Trek, religoin, and American culture.  State University of New York Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, MOV
Subjects covered: Religion, culture, myth, ritual, fandom

This book looks at many aspects of religion in Star Trek, including how fandom can be seen as a religious activity itself. Other topics covered in this collection include the biblical interpretation of Star Trek, religion and science in Star Trek, New Age spirituality, and sacrifice. This collection came a couple years before Kraemer’s book about Star Trek and religion, and seems to cover more scholarly ground than that book. The variety in this collection will serve students well if they are interested in the portrayal of religion.

Meaning_ST.jpgRichards, T. (1997).  The meaning of Star Trek: An excursion into the myth and marvel of the Star Trek universe.   New York, NY: Doubleday.
Series covered: TOS, TNG
Subjects covered: Myth, culture, social issues

Richards takes the long view in this book that seeks to explore how Star Trek fits into our culture. In the Introduction, he argues that no work has been done to explore this issue. His aim is interpretive rather than descriptive. He examines the larger themes and issues in Star Trek rather than focusing on individual episodes. Richards seeks to analyze Star Trek on its own terms instead of brining other critical theories to bear. The book is broken down into four sections: Contact and Conflict, Character and Identity, Story and Myth, and The Sense of Wonder.

Richards is a former literature professor at Harvard University and a Guggenheim fellow. Even with this highly academic background, he presents a book that is very readable and accessible to people of all levels. For students who are trying to understand the bigger themes of Star Trek, this is a good work to look at.

Law and Politics

lawChaires, R. & Chilton, B. (2003). Star Trek: Visions of law and justice. Dallas, TX: Adios Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Law, legal systems, social justice

This collection of essays examines how law and legal systems are viewed and constructed in the Star Trek universe, as well as how justice is perceived and realized. The collection is heavily focused on social justice issues such as race and equality. The book is organized in three sections—Star Trek and Law, Star Trek and Justice, and Star Trek and the Future. In addition to articles on law and justice, there is an essay on using Star Trek as a teaching tool and one about legal reasoning and information technology.

This collection was put together by two scholars—Chaires has a JD and a Ph.D, and Chilton carries a JD, Ph.D, and an MLS—and all of the contributors are scholars in a variety of fields. As this is the only collection about law in Star Trek, it is a good source when examining this topic. It is also a good book to look at in combination with Barad’s The Ethics of Star Trek.

weldesNeumann, I.B.  (2001). “Grab a phaser, ambassador”: Diplomacy in Star Trek.   Millenium – Journal of International Studies, 30(3), 603-624. doi: 10.1177/03058298010300031501
Series covered: VGR
Subjects covered: Foreign relations, diplomacy, Prime Directive

Neumann examines the nexus between the kind of diplomacy portrayed in Star Trek to the kind practiced in America. Neumann argues that sometimes we must examine “re-presentations” of the world because some issues do not present directly. Star Trek is such a re-presentation. Neumann spends several pages discussing how Star Trek was produced, largely in service of the argument that it is valid to examine Star Trek critically. He then discusses the historical representations of diplomacy in America, from Benjamin Franklin to the United Nations. Neumann looks at how the Prime Directive is used as part of Starfleet’s diplomacy, and argues that the Borg are post-diplomatic. This is one of the most detailed explorations of diplomacy in Star Trek and would be particularly useful to students.

ualrPeltz, R.J. (2003). On a wagon train to Afghanisan: Limitations on Star Trek’s prime directive. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, 25, 635-664. Retrieved from http://ualr.edu/lawreview/
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Foreign relations, diplomacy, non-interference, Prime Directive

Pelz examines one of Star Trek’s core principles—the Prime Directive, which is a policy of non-interference. Pelz argues that the Prime Directive is not only a creation that was influenced by the Vietnam conflict in the real world, but how the Prime Directive has also influenced real impact in our culture. He also discusses how it evolved from something inviolable to more of a complicated best hope or aspiration. Pelz notes that the Prime Directive comes out of a world that is very utopian in nature and that the principle shouldn’t prevent U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

The author is an Associate Professor of Law at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Many of the articles on law, politics, and foreign relations that relate to Star Trek deal with its relation to Vietnam or Clinton-era diplomacy; this is the only one that looks at the Prime Directive in context with the modern conflicts in the Middle East.

Science

bioAndreadis, A. (1999).  To seek out new life: The biology of Star Trek.   New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Biology, exobiology, sociology, psychology

This book examines Star Trek’s approach to human and non-human biology and other issues such as whether some of the medical technology is possible. Andreadis does not restrict herself strictly to biology and life science, but discusses the social and psychological implications for the discovery of alien life and the meaning of interacting with it. She also looks at the issue of artificial life—both androids like Data (TNG) and life on the holodeck.

Andreadis is a researcher and biologist who is currently a professor of Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Her area of research is abnormal brain development. She is also involved in the 100 Year Starship Study, which is backed by DARPA, and has the goal of developing a model for investment into the variety of disciplines that would need to be involved to make long-distance space travel a reality.

nasaBatchelor, D.A.  (2009, May 5).  The science of Star Trek.  NASA website.  Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/star_trek.html
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, ENT
Subjects covered: Technology, warp drive, transporters, replicators, androids, aliens

This article on NASA’s website goes over some of the technology in Star Trek and whether or not it is plausible. Batchelor covers technologies such as androids, transporters, aliens, and phasers. Batchelor notes that even though Star Trek stretches science or gets it wrong sometimes, the show is still important because it inspires many people to go into science. He also notes that the shows are more faithful to science than other science fiction. Interestingly, NASA has recently teamed up with Tor Books (a major science fiction publisher) to create works of science fiction inspired by NASA.

The article would be useful to students who are interested in the scientific aspects of Star Trek. Even though there are many books that have been written on the topic, this article gives the point of view of a NASA physicist—someone who is involved in the scientific exploration of space. This article would be good to examine in contrast with Kaku’s book.

Chyka, P.A. & Banner, W. (1999). The history of poisoning in the future: Lessons from Star Trek. Journal of Toxicology — Clinical Toxicology, 37(6), 793-799.  doi:10.1081/CLT-100102459
Series covered: TOS, TNG, ENT
Subjects covered: Medicine, toxicology

Chyka and Banner have a unique approach to TOS in this article. They examine the circumstance of poisoning in the 79 episodes of TOS to see what lessons might be learned from the future. They found 28 episodes dealt with poisoning in one manner or another. There is a comprehensive chart that shows the circumstances and toxin type, as well as the episode title, scenario, and year (of the future) of the occurrence. They conclude the poisonings reflect the state of society as it is now, but they also believe that toxicologists can learn a few things from studying the future.

This was a paper that was presented at the Toxicological History Society, North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology Annual Meeting in 1998. Chyka is a medical doctor who works at the University of Tennessee, and Banner is also a medical doctor and toxicologist. Students interested in the field of medicine and how it is portrayed in Star Trek will probably find this article interesting.

lit_medHughes, J.J. & Lantos, J.D. (2001). Medical ethics through the Star Trek lens. Literature and Medicine, 20(1), 26-38. doi:10.1353/lm.2001.0004
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Medicine, ethics, technology

Hughes and Lantos discuss the issues presented in Star Trek that are related to medical ethics. They specifically discuss how they have used the TNG episode “Ethics” to get first-year medical students talking about ethical issues. The article spends a lot of time on this episode, but also looks at some issues on DS9 and VGR. In addition to examining the ethical dilemmas, the authors note that Star Trek makes a great teaching tool because it serves as a parable. This article pairs nicely with Judith Barad’s book about the ethics of Star Trek because medical ethics aren’t discussed in depth in that volume.

This article comes out of a respected scholarly journal, Literature and Medicine, which is the official journal of the Institute for Medical Humanities. The journal explores interdisciplinary connections between humanities and medicine. Hughes is a sociologist and bioethicist, and Lantos has an MD and is also concerned with bioethics.

kakuKaku, M. (2011).  Physics of the future: How science will shape human destiny and our daily lives by the year 2100.  New York, NY: Doubleday.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, MOV
Subjects covered: Physics, warp technology, quantum mechanics, social impact of technology

Although this book is not specifically about Star Trek, as some other works are, Kaku still explores many of the technologies that are to be found in the Star Trek series. What he does that others do not (at least, not in as much depth) is explore the social and ethical consequences and issues that may come with new technologies. He is interested as much in the effect on humanity as the inner workings of any new gadget. How we deal with the challenges that come along with rapidly developing technology will help define our direction as a species. This is also something that Star Trek is concerned with.

Kaku is one of the originators of string field theory and is a professor of physics. This book will be of interest to any student who is interested in more than just the whiz-bang technology. This work would fit well in a discussion in either the humanities and social science fields, as well as discussions coming from the scientific area.

metalWeiss, D.  (2009). Foundries: The final frontier the next thousand years of casting technology.  International Journal of Metalcasting, 3(3), 7-11.  Retrieved from http://www.metalcastingjournal.com/
Series covered: TOS, TNG
Subjects covered: Metallurgy, foundries, material science

This article explores the possibilities of materials science in the near future. Weiss notes that the starship Enterprise was built in the 2130s, which is not all that far away. In his discussion, he gives a brief history of metalcasting then considers some materials that are featured in some science fiction. Weiss relies on Kaku’s classifications of “impossibilities” to frame his discussion of the future of materials science. Weiss includes a nice graphic on the relative importance of materials over time that shows which materials were used and relied on the most over the years. He also discusses what needs to happen for significant advances in metalcasting to occur.

Weiss is Vice President of Sales and Engineering at Eck Industries, Inc. He is also part of the 100 Year Starship Study, which is backed by DARPA, and has the goal of developing a model for investment into the variety of disciplines that would need to be involved to make long-distance space travel a reality.

 

 

 

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