Origins of the modern Zombie

Zombology, or the study, development, and classification of Zombies; is a rich and interesting field with a long history. Although Zombology has existed for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years, mainly in the form of magical or religious ceremonies which raised the dead, modern Zombology did not take form until about 1912.

In 1912, Dr. Otto Standish, known as the Father of Modern Zombology, published Mechanisms and Characteristics of the Undead, a treatise which raised zombology from the level of folklore and myth to a science. Standish spent several years in the field, studying the voodoo rituals which produced the undead, and their effects on undead physiology. I have read many of his unpublished papers on a past visit to his family home in Haiti and his work is downright fascinating.

Otto Standish was the son of missionaries, and spent much of his childhood in the Caribbean. It was there that he developed his lifelong fascination with the undead. This fascination lasted even after his parents perceived an “immoral interest in the black arts” in their son, and decided to move back to America.

Standish attained a medical degree whilst in Utah, but was frustrated by the inability of modern medicine to explain the re-animations he had witnessed in his youth. Eventually, he returned to the Caribbean to apply the scientific method to this phenomenon.

With the cooperation of voodoo practitioners, Standish performed various experiments with Zombie subjects so that he could accurately record their physical and mental characteristics. He described his procedures in great detail, so that even though his research was limited to voodoo-animated Zombies, his methods were later used to study other kinds of Zombies as well.

After Standish’s book was published, he was ousted from the medical community. Nevertheless, some that read his book intending to denounce it were intrigued by his ideas, and impressed by his thoroughness. The book circulated quietly for a while, and then interest died down. Standish moved back to the Caribbean in 1919 and disappeared.

Re-animation was brought back to the public interest after the movie Frankenstein came out in 1931. There was some demand for copies of Standish’s book to see if he made any references to electricity in his research. Although Standish did not cover this method of re-animation, readers were again impressed by his methods and thoroughness. Covert research into other methods of re-animation began, and the field of Zombology began to grow.

With the advent of the atomic age, even more methods of re-animation were proposed and researched. Eventually, of course, this explosion of research got noticed by the military. After a few ventures which ended badly for most involved, the military decided that the use of Zombies in combat was too unpredictable and abandoned the idea, with a few notable exceptions. However, even without government assistance, the field of Zombology continued to quietly flourish.

There are many different branches of Zombology today. See Zombie Classifications.

Although thriving within its own community, Zombology continues to be beneath the level of awareness of most of the world. That does not mean that there are not opportunities for enterprising young folk, though. There are always replacements needed in field research, and there is even a growing interest in Zombological theory mainly from the inaccurate portrayal on TV and cinema screens.

As I can attest, one thing to be aware of when entering this field is that it is not very financially rewarding. Commercial, industrial and military applications for Zombies continue to go awry, when tried at all. The last such attempt was “My Li’l Voodoo Kit”, marketed by the Farley Toys corporation in 1982. CEO and founder William Farley was shortly thereafter put out of business by the various lawsuits resulting from various uses of the kit by children. When asked later to explain his actions, Farley said “Well, when I was little, I raised the dead all the time, and it never got out of control.” I have one of these kits and can confirm that in the hands of an amateur the results would clearly be dangerous. How Farley managed to get any backing whatsoever is beyond me. They are just too successful.

At any rate, grants for Zombological research are few and far between, so it is not an easy field to make a living in. Many universities still do not recognise Zombology as a valid science, so there are no longer any faculty positions available at this time. However, many Zombologists will tell you that it is the most rewarding work they have ever done.

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