Academia and pop culture have made for strange bedfellows for decades now. The University of Washington offers a comparative history class on the work of rapper Tupac Shakur, Syracuse University made headlines for its course analyzing Lil’ Kim’s lyrics, and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer became academic fodder almost the second it left the airwaves. If all that wasn’t enough, you can go to Liverpool Hope University in the U.K. and earn a master’s degree in Beatles Studies.
Now, the Brits have taken the pop-culture graduate degree idea and run with it: This fall, the University of Hertfordshire will offer what may be the world’s first master’s degree in Vampire Studies. There are no actual course offerings yet, but the description promises careful readings of literary vampire narratives like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (which got a rather prominent name-check on True Blood last season). Of course, if you want to literally study Edward Cullen, you’re in luck—Twilight is also on the list of course readings, along with works from Darwin, Marx, and Freud. (What? You thought this would be a breeze? It is grad school, after all.)
You might be wondering, how much interest there is in vampires outside Edward Cullen and True Blood. To give you an idea, recently, program director and lecturer Sam George organized a conference of more than seventy academics from around the globe to seriously discuss and present papers on vampire literature. How seriously? Although it’s easy to snark on a plenary discussion entitled Gothic Charm School or How Vampires Learned to Sparkle, papers like “True Blood, Real Life: Religious Fundamentalism, Gay Rights, (Non) Violence and The American South” and “Romance and Female Knight Errantry in the Twilight Saga” could have some real bite. (Sorry.)
George says that the best papers from the conference, which included meaty discussions on race, gender, sexuality, and even southern manners within these deceptively light monster stories, will be compiled into a textbook for the program’s graduate students. It isn’t hard to see why academics love delving into vampire narratives: It’s not so much about the themes themselves as it is about blurring the lines between them. These are already complex ideas, and it takes complex and pointedly non-human creatures—ones that drink blood and don’t die certainly fit the bill—to scrutinize them. In other words, academics dive in for the same reasons we regular folk watch and read. We like the unknown. We like danger. And we like watching what happens when the rules go flying out the window. Vampires, by definition, embody this danger and uncertainty.
Originally published on HowStuffWorks