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Budding paleontologist delves into USC history for new book

by Diane Anderson
Charles Epting signs his new book at the USC Pertusati Bookstore. (USC Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)
Photo: Charles Epting signs his new book at the USC Pertusati Bookstore. (USC Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

If you have a question about USC history, you can ask USC student Charles Epting or you can buy his book.

USC President C. L. Max Nikias did both.

Not long after University Park, Los Angeles: A Brief History, was published, Epting was sitting in the president’s office.

“He actually went online to get the e-book so he could read it before we met,” said Epting, a geology major at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “He is buying copies for the entire Board of Trustees. He wanted to sit down with me and talk about what got me started writing the book at my young age. He was so supportive and so proud. It was fantastic.”

A week later, Epting was signing his book at the USC Pertusati Bookstore.

Feedback from students, parents and alumni has been “incredible,” Epting said. “Everyone who has read it has found something they’re interested in, which was my hope for the book.”

With lifelong dreams of becoming a paleontologist, Epting had no intention of writing a book about USC when he enrolled at the university three years ago, but the University Park Campus inspired him.

“It’s hard not to get immersed in all the history when you are surrounded by these buildings and these legends. I start collecting fun facts, news articles, anything I could find,” said Epting, who has a minor in environmental studies and history. “I wanted to explore every inch of campus.”

Epting decided to write the book, he said, when his father, a historian and travel writer, prompted him to record his findings, and his friends got tired of all the “fun facts” he continually talked about as they walked around campus.

He wrote a book proposal, pitched a publisher and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I was really shocked, surprised and happy,” he said about the History Press purchase of his proposal. “It took about six months to get all the writing done, collect all the photos, do all the research. It was a really incredible process from start to finish.”

The publisher set up several book signings for Epting, including the event at the USC Bookstore, a building he documents in his 140-page, fact-packed historical inventory published in July.

“Thinking back to when I was writing this book, it is surreal that I did a book signing on campus, where I have spent the last year researching and writing,” said Epting, who rattled off interesting USC facts and stories at the event.

One of his favorite stories is how USC got its “Trojans” nickname. During his research, the young author discovered that a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1912 wrote that one of the school’s teams “fought like Trojans.” But, Epting said, the writer was discussing the track and field team and not — contrary to popular belief — the football team, which had been temporarily replaced by a rugby team.

Epting’s personal history with USC dates back to his high school days when he volunteered at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Dinosaur Institute. It was there that Luis Chiappe, head paleontologist and USC adjunct professor of earth sciences, told him about the well-known geology program at USC.

“I started looking at USC seriously,” said Epting, the first person in his family to attend the university. Then I took a tour of campus, and I was just bitten by the bug.”

At USC, Epting is a member of the Theta Chi fraternity and recently started working at USC Libraries’ Special Collections, where he is recataloging a 1940-1990 architectural collection.

Epting currently has another book in the works for History Press. The resident of Huntington Beach, Calif., is returning to his roots to write a book on the New Deal in Orange County. But his book deals have not altered his plan to pursue paleontology professionally, which will require a PhD, and USC is definitely on his list.

“We have a really good geology graduate program. So I don’t see why I would need to move anywhere else,” he said. “I want to also keep writing and doing research. It is just so much fun to get wrapped up in this and combine science and humanities.”

 

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