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Open graves, open minds: Vampire Studies

Open graves, open minds: Vampire Studies

The popularity of True Blood, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries has spawned a variety of educational offers for those with a thirst for the subject. The Gothic has always held a special fascination, but recently it has seen a revival in popular culture which some institutions have formalized into taught and research courses.

Coffin boffins have been able to indulge in their passion in an academic setting since around 2010. A 2011 course that is now sadly defunct (or perhaps it is just sleeping) was Harvard Extension School’s The Vampire in Literature and Film. It tracked modern developments in the vampire genre, and particularly how ‘Most surprising, the vampire has morphed from a terrifying figure of pure evil to a handsome, self-hating outsider who longs for community with humans.’ One of the key insights was how the vampire story has been used by authors and filmmakers as a code for talking about things besides vampirism: sexuality, death and immortality, gender roles, HIV/AIDS, addiction, immigration, religious doubt, power and economic exploitation.

The University of Hertfordshire, England has been a pioneer in modern Vampire Studies. In 2010 it hosted a conference on Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture, perhaps summed up in the words of its convenor, Dr Sam George: "Vampires used to be rooted in the past, representing something primitive; now they are about modern culture, living in cities, listening to punk music, embracing technology. Some are even female, and vegetarian." The University of Hertfordshire MA English Literature: Modern Literature: Modern Literary Cultures includes the module Reading the Vampire: Science, Sexuality and Alterity in Modern Culture.

St Mary’s University Twickenham, London, benefits from the use of the Strawberry Hill mansion of 18th-century gothic novelist Horace Walpole. Pretty much the perfect place to sit and muse on the gothic, Walpole’s high-ceilinged home is where he wrote tales that predated the Victorian penchant for the gothic, and were precursors of the vampire story. St Mary’s MA course Gothic: Culture, Subculture, Counterculture teaches the subject in the place it all began. Manchester Metropolitan University also has a Centre for Gothic Studies with an MA English Studies: The Gothic.

The University of Kent offers the module Creatures of the Night: Vampires in Literature and Film, exploring ‘the ways in which vampires function as polyvalent symbols of specifically modern preoccupations … frequently serving as foils to discuss more contentious matters.’

So if you are a lover of the unquiet grave in its modern context, there’s plenty out there to get your teeth into.