Defining Geek History

Before looking at exactly what ‘geek history’ is, the term must be defined, to give the term relevance, but also the content that should be looked at. With those elements in mind, an examination of the history behind the Geekdom becomes much easier, but also allows for someone to look at the greater significance for how exactly Geek History is in any way important.

A couple of years ago, Ben Nugent published a book titled American Nerd: The Story Of My People, a short book that was part biography, part history and part examination of culture. While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the book as a whole, there were a number of very good ideas there, particularly in how he defined a geek or a nerd-type person. It boiled down to a fairly simple concept: a geek/nerd (minus the social connotations) is someone who is extremely passionate about any given subject, learning all that they can about it. They tend to be readers, and because of this attention, there’s a tendency to miss out on some social elements that most people take for granted. The subject itself doesn’t necessarily matter, and I’ve generally assumed that geeks/nerds tend to gravitate towards the science fiction / fantasy realms because the content is more appealing.

By this definition, education, literacy and an attention to detail are paramount, defining elements in how geeks and nerds are defined. In a country where education seems to be a point against an individual, it’s even more important to understand the role that such things play with the public, and to recognize the importance of individuals in the past, and how their actions and knowledge has helped to define the present that we now know today.

In a large way, looking at geekdom in history is akin to looking at major historical figures who have the largest impact because of their contributions to events through conception, rather than just actions. These are people who help to develop ideas in a number of different stages, either formulating designs, concepts of plans, or helping to see some major thing through. With the Geek definition in mind, people such as this also tend to be very hands on with a lot of their work, being directly involved with their projects, or singlehandedly putting something together that changes how people think about the world afterwards. In some cases, this is a simple person to pick out: an author of a notable book, or a director of a film. Other instances, where science and industry are involved, this would be slightly more difficult, given the collaborative nature of some of these projects.

Looking at Geek History, then, is looking at the people who change the future because of their ideas, rather than predominantly implementing these changes themselves. These creators were instrumental in putting items in place that likewise changed how people interact with the world, and in addition to examining the people behind the advances, it’s also important to look at how their works, whether they’re inventions, novels, films or even events, helped to transform the world into a much different place.

Geek History largely comes down to the history of knowledge and ideas. Given the general rise in popularity in geek things, I tend to think of this style of history as one that looks to the past hundred to hundred and fifty years, simply because of the general proximity of the modern day, and more highly relevant to the modern sort of geek movement. However, there’s elements of this line of thinking that extend far more into the past, mixing science and social histories that can likely go back to the beginning of the examination of thought itself.

The study and appreciation of the modern geek movement should look at the roots and elements that make up the modern geek, from the tools that are used to the entertainment that we soak up to the way that we think and approach the world. It’s far more than the stereotypes, it’s in everything that makes up those stereotypes.