Since their animation out of folk materials in the eighteenth century, vampires have been continually reborn in modern culture. They have enacted a host of anxieties and desires, shifting shape as the culture they are brought to life in itself changes form. This may have contributed to the popularity of the Gothic in English studies. There are quite a few Gothic literature courses and MA Gothic Studies modules at various universities, but ‘Reading the Vampire’ embeds vampires in their cultural contexts, exploring their relationship to modernity together with issues of gender, national identity, technology, consumption, and social change. The module provides a forum for the development of innovative research and examines these creatures in all their various manifestations and cultural meanings.
I designed this course on the back of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project in 2010. Inviting vampires into the academy has proved controversial for some and, whilst Gothic Studies have been popular in universities for a number of years, Vampire Studies still require some explanation. This is apparent in the stories that we have generated in the press and elsewhere:
‘Vampires make Leap to Academia’ (Wall Street Journal)
‘Coffin Boffin Syllabus: chance to study all things undead as part of a new university degree’ (STV Entertainment News)
‘Twilight Gets Scholarly Treatment’ (NY Times)
‘Wanna Study Edward Cullen?’ (Mediabistro)
It is true to say that we have had our scoffers and detractors but these have not been without humour:
Listen up, Lestat lovers: The University of Hertfordshire in England will be offering a master’s degree in vampire lit, apparently the only one of its kind in the world. We imagine that the program, which begins this September, will cover all the bloodsucking basics, from Nosferatu to Twilight and of course Anne Rice. Extra credit for anyone who scores an interview with a vampire! Globe and Mail
More importantly, the response from students has been absolutely phenomenal as this extract shows (though I haven’t managed to make an interview with a vampire part of the assessment yet!):
I can’t even express how badly I wish I could take this course. Maybe I am just a big vamp-geek, but the idea of taking an intellectual look at vampire fiction throughout time makes me so giddy that I want to bounce around like a six-year-old on caffeine pills.University Offers Course in Vampire Literature
‘Reading the Vampire’ is now in its fifth year and some of the the early misconceptions have been successfully challenged. Simon Midgley allowed us to discuss vampires in academe and our Masters’ studies in vampire fiction in The Times, and the article he published featured comments from two of the ‘Reading the vampire’ MA students, finally giving them a voice. You can read more here: The Times ‘Counting on Dracula’
If you are interested in vampire MA studies, I would love to hear from you. The ‘Reading the Vampire’ module is an option on the Modern Literary Cultures MA at the University of Hertfordshire. You can complete this programme part-time over two years (and study in the evenings). A number of graduates of the MA have gone on to register for PhDs. I am always happy to look at PhD proposals in the area of Gothic, vampire, or undead studies and we currently have two funded doctoral students attached to the Open Graves, Open Minds Project.
If you are interested in taking this course or would like to see what we study, you can download the ‘Reading the Vampire’ course schedule for more detail.
A booklet on the MA is available to download here.
Open Graves, Open Minds Representations of Vampires from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (Manchester University Press, 2013) is the leading text book for this course.