UVic vampire history course celebrates 20 year anniversary

Campus News

Professor Golz says the cultural significance of vampires shifts as our world shifts

Peter Golz with vampire cake
Photo of Golz with a celebratory vampire cake for the course’s 20th anniversary. Photo provided by UVic Photo Services.

Vampires have been a part of fantasy stories for years — acting as the mysterious blood-sucking antagonist. From Twilight to Sesame Street, vampires are the mysterious weirdos that we want to know more about. One UVic professor, Peter Golz, developed a course that traces how viewers’ perceptions of vampires have changed over time.

Golz is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his infamous Cultural History of Vampire course in the Germanic studies department. The course has become very popular with students over the years and gained wider recognition from the CBC and the Globe & Mail. 

The course begins with a history lesson on vampires. The first known English definition of vampires was recorded in the early 18th century. The course dives into the 18th and 19th century, analysing poems and writings about vampires.

The course then focuses its attention on analysing vampires through film with Nosferatu, the first film that involved vampires, and other films from the 20th and 21st century that involve vampires. 

Although the idea of the vampire is greatly popular, it isn’t a static one. The perception of vampires changes with time. In the 1922 film Nosferatu, the vampire reflects the world’s current stage as someone who runs around infecting people with the flu — referencing the significance of a plague. But as time has passed, we now see vampires such as Edward Cullen, a handsome modern day vampire that is much more sexualized and relatable.

“The reason the vampires don’t have an image in the mirror is because they really are our mirror; they talk about what is important and what is relevant for us right now” describes Golz.

Gulz says the evolution of the vampire in entertainment is fluid and continues to change with the times.

“Every generation gets the vampire they deserve,” says Golz.

But what continues to make vampires so interesting? They’ve stood the test of time as a character that people have come to love. It’s hard to capture exactly why something is so intriguing for mass audiences but Golz explains it exceptionally well.

“Compared to other monsters, the vampire is also popular because it combines fear and desire; they are attractive and repulsive at the same time and other monsters are normally not.” 

The traditional idea or cartoon representation of a vampire is someone with slicked back hair, a cape, eye shadow, and fanged teeth. They move in the night, they suck people’s blood to keep them going, and they never die; it’s Dracula. 

Modern day film and television have exploited the concept of a vampire to a wide range of variations. For example, Taika Waititi’s hit satire film, What We do in the Shadows portrays modern day vampires and how they live their lives in Wellington, New Zealand but there is nothing mysterious, frightening, or sexy about them. There is a vampire in the film who only comes out to eat, who has a decayed face, and would make a small child scared from the looks of it and then there is another vampire, a hipster who loves to go to the bars and socialize. Vampires have so many different forms in entertainment right now that the variations offer a version that everyone can enjoy. The course dives into the spin-off television series, What We do in the Shadows, to understand how these vampires are portrayed.

“There is no single vampire, there are so many different kinds, there is basically a vampire for everybody,” says Golz.

Vampires’ influence in our culture is undeniable. Their mystery is created in new ways for each generation — first with their capes and now with a  move towards romance. 

For any student that is interested in looking for an academic experience that will surely shed light onto the darkness of the vampire’s life without getting burnt, this is their course. The course examines vampires but in a wider context, it analyzes how  entertainment changes through time and what makes people like what they like.