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Fagan is an archaeological generalist, with expertise in the broad issues of human prehistory. He is the author or editor of 46 books, including seven widely used undergraduate college texts. Fagan has contributed over 100 specialist papers to many national and international journals. He is a Contributing Editor to American Archaeology and Discover Archaeology magazines, and formerly wrote a regular column for Archaeology Magazine. He serves on the Editorial Boards of six academic and general periodicals and has many popular magazine credits, including Scientific American and Gentleman's Quarterly.
Unlike most scholars at research universities, Fagan chose to regularly teach large introductory archaeology classes to undergraduates at Santa Barbara. Avoiding traditional lecture formats, he experimented with technology to provide basic information as early as the 1970s, leaving his class periods for wide ranging discussions of interest to students. In conjunction with this interest in college teaching, Fagan began writing an extensive series of archaeology textbooks beginning in 1972 that are still in print in recent editions decades after their initial publication. These include In the Beginning (13th edition, 2013, with Nadia Durrani), People of the Earth (15th edition, 2018, with Nadia Durrani), Ancient North America (5th edition, 2019), Ancient Lives (6th edition, 2016), World Prehistory (9th edition, 2016, with Nadia Durrani), Ancient Civilizations (4th edition, 2016, with Chris Scarre), and Archaeology: A Brief Introduction (12th edition, 2016, with Nadia Durrani).
In addition to extensive experience with the development of Public Television programs, Fagan was the developer/writer of Patterns of the Past, an NPR series in 1984-86. He has worked as a consultant for the BBC, RKO, and many Hollywood production companies on documentaries. In 1995 he was Senior Series Consultant for Time-Life Television's "Lost Civilizations" series.
Fagan was awarded the 1996 Society of Professional Archaeologists' Distinguished Service Award for his "untiring efforts to bring archaeology in front of the public." He also received a Presidential Citation Award from the Society for American Archaeology in 1996 for his work in textbook, general writing and media activities. He received the Society's first Public Education Award in 1997.
He has written many critiques of contemporary archaeology and has advocated non-traditional approaches, as well as writing extensively on the role of archaeology in contemporary society. His approach is a melding of different theoretical approaches, which focuses on the broad issues of human prehistory and the past. He is a strong advocate of multidisciplinary approaches to such issues as climate change in the past. Over the years, he has written a series of well-known textbooks that provide accurate summaries of the latest advances in archaeological method and theory and world prehistory. These are designed for beginners and avoid both confusing jargon and major theoretical discussion, which is inappropriate at this basic level. His approach melds traditional cultural history with more recent approaches, with a major emphasis on writing historical narrative using archaeological data and sources from other disciplines. Fagan is also well known for his public lectures on a wide variety of archaeological and historical topics, delivered to a broad range of archaeological and non-archaeological audiences.
An avid sailor since childhood, Fagan wrote sailing guides to many locations on the Pacific coast of the United States and published them under his own imprint. Now retired from UC Santa Barbara, he lives in the Santa Barbara area with his wife, one of his two daughters, and numerous cats and rabbits.
(editor) Eyewitness to Discovery: First-Person Accounts of More Than Fifty of the World's Greatest Archaeological Discoveries. New York: Oxford University Press (USA), 1997 (hardcover, ISBN0-19-508141-2); 1999 (paperback, ISBN0-19-512651-3).