Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Theater professor gives spooky first-year seminar

Take this course if you dare: DU offers a spine-chilling class some students really can sink their fangs into.

Theater Professor Kim Axline teaches a first-year seminar course — called Things That Go Bump in the Night: the Supernatural and the Popular Imagination — that introduces students to critical thinking through the study of what Axline calls “enduring cultural malefactors,” such as witches, ghosts, monsters, zombies and vampires.

“Basically, I get to teach a subject I love … within the guise of a larger, cross-cultural study of human civilization and popular media,” says Axline, who has taught the course for six years. “We cover everything from the ancient and medieval worlds to the latest movie releases and television series, exploring how various supernatural figures manifest themselves and adapt to ever-changing cultural stimuli.”

Axline says her goal is to expose her students to many fascinating subjects and disciplines in a survey setting, and to cultivate learning skills that are critical to educational success. She also wants them to apply those newly attained skills in their other classes.

“So while it’s a course on the supernatural in particular, it’s a course more generally in how to excel in a liberal arts environment,” Axline says.

The class takes field trips to “supernatural” events such as Dracula at the Denver Center Theatre Company, a haunted house, a ghost tour of the Stanley Hotel and spooky movies.

For Halloween, students will attend classes in costumes as well as submit short papers on the day’s history. The class will eat a little candy and watch clips from scary movies.

Axline says a few years ago she gave a special Halloween lecture and screening in the Mary Reed Building — one of several supposedly haunted buildings on campus.

While Halloween brings out the supernatural in almost everyone, students in Axline’s class learn that the day is about more than candy and costumes.

“In many ways, a culture’s supernatural beliefs are one of the best ‘mirrors’ to their norms, hopes and fears,” Axline says. “So looking at the various shapes supernatural figures take back then — and now — tells you a lot more than you would think.”

One Comment

  1. I’ve always thought that pop culture today is more or less a rehash of ancient myths and ideas. Good work! Seems like it would be a nice class.

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