Nancy Drew and the Ivory Tower


Still, Julie.  “Nancy Drew and the Ivory Tower:  Early Academic Study of the Girl Detective,” Clues:  A Journal of Detection 35 #1 (2017): 75-84.

This had been the oldest idea in my possibilities folder; I started thinking about it around 1990.  I read Nancy Drew as a girl and as a relatively new librarian became interested in academic study of the books.  Right about this time the first Nancy Drew conference was being held which lead to proceedings volume and journal articles.  I started searching through databases and print indexes to see what earlier work had been done. Since it is easier to locate scholarly articles than book chapters I focused on academic journals.  Every few years I would update the research, as new databases were developed and backfiles were added, and think about it again.  I limited my research to articles as it is difficult to do a comprehensive search of book chapters. In 2014, I gave a paper on the subject at the Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association and that spurred me to finally write it up as a formal article.  Clues:  A Journal of Detection, a peer-reviewed journal focusing on mystery and detective fiction, responded positively to a query letter.  After two sets of revisions the article was accepted.

Something that struck me in reading about Nancy Drew is the number of women who said they were introduced to the books by older female relatives, mothers, aunts, older cousins, etc.  Outside of the domestic sphere there aren’t many intergenerational shared experiences for women.  Nancy is one of them; she provides a common cultural language.  While in this study I was looking primarily for scholarly discussions of the Nancy Drew books I was surprised at the number of articles that simply mentioned Nancy, often describing someone as being like Nancy, especially women mentioning the character as an inspiration or role model.  Researchers have also found the universality of Nancy useful, not only do the large number of books provide a good body of work for study, but very little description of the plotlines and characters are needed. Even those who have not read the books or seen the movie or tv show know who Nancy is.

About juliemstill

Julie Still is working on a dissertation in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg. She has a B.A. in History and an M.A. in Library Science from the University of Missouri, and an M.A. in History from the University of Richmond.  Librarian by trade, writer by choice, once (and future?) Girl Scout leader and community participant, she reads history (all kinds), science fiction / fantasy (ranges from Scalzi to McKillip), mysteries (varied), and more.
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