Interest in vampires waxes and wanes, but a new U of T course brings them into the spotlight. (Bigstock photo)

Our Vampires, Ourselves

German studies course looks at vampires as mirror of society

The primary focus of the class might not be Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Vampire Diaries, but the resurging popularity of vampires has certainly helped stimulate interest in Our Vampires, Ourselves, a  first-year German studies course.

"It’s a fascinating subject," said Professor Erol Boran, the German department's associate chair of undergraduate studies. "Perhaps students see themselves in vampires. That's what makes them attractive. People think about them because they are very much like us."

When, back in the mid-1990s, Boran set out to write his MA thesis on the subject of vampires in literature, his supervisor at the University of Würzburg was skeptical, deeming vampires not worthy of academic study. But the celebration in 1997 of the 100-year anniversary of the publication of  Bram Stoker's Dracula  changed everything;  today, vampires not only populate film and literature, but have also become the focus of scholarly interest.

Boran created the course two years ago and named it after a book by Nina Auerbach. Asked why he chose to design and teach a course on vampires when his research interest has long since moved to minority studies, Boran said, "I thought I'd revisit vampires because they keep revisiting me. And, if you think about it, vampires can conceptually be perceived as another minority. The series True Blood, for instance, uses this concept very successfully.

"In general, it is intriguing to see the different guises in which vampires appear in various cultures. They provide a mirror image of human beings and social constellations."

Even though vampires can’t see their own reflections, the course Boran (pictured at right in a Diana Tyszko photo) created lets others get a good look at the myth, and through it, themselves. The class focuses on Dracula for the first six weeks. The second part of the course is devoted to student presentations on contemporary vampire images. He has had an enthusiastic response to the course's first two years, and Boran will bring it back again next year.

"Ultimately, I try to stimulate less an interest in vampires, as that's just a fascinating subject in our imagination," he says. "The important thing is to make people think and develop some kind of structured approach to critical thinking. I'd also like to get people more interested in literature-- if possible more German literature -- and make them more aware of culture."

Our Vampires, Ourselves is offered through the Faculty of Arts and Science First-Year Seminars (199Y) program.

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