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APSU professors publish "...But if a Zombie Apocalypse Did Occur," a scholarly book on zombies

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – The decaying, dangerous world of mega-popular television show and comic series “The Walking Dead” is not real and will never be our reality.

But if zombies did start shambling down our real world streets, it wouldn’t be the worst idea if we had a plan.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – The decaying, dangerous world of mega-popular television show and comic series “The Walking Dead” is not real and will never be our reality.

But if zombies did start shambling down our real world streets, it wouldn’t be the worst idea if we had a plan.

Taking advantage of a unique overlapping of both personal and professional interests, Dr. Antonio Thompson, Austin Peay State University associate professor of history, and his wife, APSU associate professor of biology Dr. Amy Thompson, recently completed work on a new academic book, titled “But If a Zombie Apocalypse Did Occur: Essays on Medical, Military, Governmental, Ethical, Economic and Other Implications.”

“When ‘The Walking Dead’ came on television, I started watching it, and I saw that the show was really about people and not the zombies themselves,” Dr. Amy Thompson said. “One of the things you have to do as a college professor is reach your audience, reach your students, and talk about things that they like in order to engage them in learning.”

As devotees of the genre, the Thompsons saw the popularity of zombies as an opportunity to better reach students on a personal level. While at San Diego Comic-Con to present an academic paper in 2012, Dr. Antonio Thompson pitched the book’s concept to editors from McFarland Press, a major academic and adult nonfiction publisher, and quickly received a contract for the book.

Popularized by film director George Romero, the modern zombie is notable in terms of its thematics; Romero saw zombies as not just a frightening enemy, but as a vehicle to criticize what he saw as the ills of society.

“Romero looks at the modern zombie as a metaphor; that’s why you sometimes hear the saying, ‘We are the zombies,'” Dr. Antonio Thompson said. “What the zombies are doing is often what we do. Why do the zombies go to the mall (in 1978’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’)? They do that because that’s what we do – it’s a criticism of consumerism.”

Under the guise of responses to a real world zombie outbreak, the Thompsons’ book collects essays that consider the implications of a scientifically impossible event, examining real-world responses to pandemic contagion and civic chaos, as well as those from Hollywood and popular culture. The contributors discuss the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for actual catastrophes and estimate the probabilities of human survival and behavior during an undead invasion.

To construct the book, the Thompsons solicited top scholars across the country, including Harvard University assistant professor of psychiatry Dr. Steven Scholzman, to contribute essays for this work. They also invited three of their colleagues--APSU biology professor Dr. James Thompson, APSU nursing professor Linda Thompson and APSU sociology professor Dr. David Steele--to write chapters for the book.

The Thompsons each contributed essays to the book, with the professors tackling one aspect of a theoretical zombie apocalypse through the lens of their academic expertise.

While a zombie plague has never brought the world’s governments to their knees, civilization has faced numerous wars, epidemics and disasters. Presidents have never fallen victim to a zombie’s bite, but revolutionaries have overthrown them in times of conflict.

In his contribution, Dr. Antonio Thompson, an expert in both government and history, examined real world parallels to the sort of dystopian, oppressive world that viewers of “The Walking Dead” visit each week.

“I wrote a piece looking at zombie movies and literature for examples of when government has collapsed and there’s a crazy dictator who has taken over,” Thompson said. “I looked at political theory and what it has looked like when a new government has formed.

“Maybe the zombie apocalypse won’t actually happen and maybe a collapse of government structure won’t actually create the tyrant we see (in zombie fiction), but there have been many times where personal rights have been violated or curtailed, especially in times of crisis. I’m not justifying those actions, but I’m saying that it has happened.”

An expert in biology, Dr. Amy Thompson used her knowledge and experience to examine the role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during an apocalyptic event.

“In zombie movies, people always want to get to the CDC or World Health Organization, and I ask whether that (motivation) is founded,” Thompson said. “In my essay, the reader sees times the CDC has succeeded, as well as times they’ve had challenges. In the end, they’ll see that the CDC has a good track record of handling crisis situations.

“Through that common (plot device) in zombie fiction, the reader comes in thinking about zombies, but they’re really just a vehicle to learn more about the real world CDC,” Thompson continued. “What I’m doing is really just finding a new way to present materials to students through a topic they’re already interested in.”

The book is available now through major retailers, including Amazon.com. For more information on these works, contact Dr. Antonio Thompson at thompsonas@apsu.edu or Dr. Amy Thompson at thompsona@apsu.edu.