August 18, 2022

Ed Slavishak, professor of history, appeared on the Emmy Award–winning NBC program Who Do You Think You Are? on Sunday.

Slavishak provided actor Zachary Quinto, who portrayed Spock in the three-movie Star Trek franchise, with some insights into Quinto’s family’s history — including a remarkable letter penned by his great-grandfather P.J. McArdle that pre-ordained Quinto’s intergalactic rise to fame.

In the official newspaper of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers union, Slavishak found a letter penned by McArdle that praised the journal, writing:

“The members here are all well pleased with the journal. May it live long and prosper.”

Quinto was visibly surprised. As Slavishak explained to him, Star Trek was not the first to use this phrase. Contemporary to McArdle’s letter, the line appeared in a stage adaption of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle.

“This was as close as you get to a catch phrase,” Slavishak told Quinto.

“I think one of the takeaways from the show is how history as a discipline is a meaning-making activity,” Slavishak said after the program aired. “The five-month process to bring the story to camera, and then the months of work afterward, showed how scraps of information become a polished, accessible product for a popular audience. The research itself could be tedious and frustrating, but creativity and storytelling skills brought it to life.”

NBC contacted Slavishak in fall 2019 after discovering his book on Pittsburgh industrial workers, Bodies of Work.

“They had traced Quinto’s great-grandfather to the Pittsburgh iron mills, so they wanted me to give some color to their timeline,” Slavishak said. “I used newspapers and labor journals to place his ancestor in specific places and times. That let me connect the individual to the larger story of industrial work and unionization, which historians have been telling for 50 years.”

Other individuals featured on this season’s Who Do You Think You Are? include Allison Janney, Nick Offerman, Billy Porter and Bradley Whitford. Watch the entire program here.