"We have discovered that monsters actually have histories," says associate professor of anthropology and religious studies director Angela Zito, who is teaching a new undergraduate seminar on "Vampires, Zombies and Other Monsters" in the College of Arts and Science this semester. "They arise to address specific fears in people's social lives, and studying them gives us a wonderful window on those transformations. I chose vampires and zombies because they are monsters that are transformed humans, unlike aliens or Godzilla, and thus tell us a lot about what people in different times and places desire and fear."
Given the popularity of TV shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones (with its increasingly prevalent zombie plotline)—and polls that show that 34% Americans believe in ghosts and 21% believe in witches—the course, which blends monster studies (in literature and film), anthropology, and religious studies, couldn't be timelier.
"One of the most exciting class sessions was when we finally moved from our initial deep dive into Dracula—the novel, the films—and started reading about zombies," Zito says. "Differences were exciting—vampires are so individual, so full of motivation and agency; zombies, not so much. But students saw immediately that zombies are a better metaphor for life under modern capitalist consumption—that they are, truly, our best current monster.