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Monsters in the Classroom: Teaching Can Be a Scream

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Got a monstrous concept to teach next semester?

There’s a zombie for that.

Inviting creatures into the classroom helps students analyze history, culture and everyday life, says Adam Golub, associate professor and graduate program advisor in American studies. His book “Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us” shares writings from instructors who the use cultural fascination with monsters to motivate students while discussing a wide range of academic subjects.

Golub, who teaches courses in literature, pop culture, childhood and … wait for it … monsters, explains his research and development of the book.

What is the subject of your book?

The book is an interdisciplinary collection of essays that explores the pedagogical power of teaching monsters in the arts and humanities. The 12 contributors discuss innovative strategies for using monsters to teach key topics and concepts in literature, film, art history, American studies, philosophy, theater, foreign language, history, religious studies and other disciplines.

How did you become interested in the topic?

I’ve always been a fan of horror, and as a child I even wrote stories about monsters. A few years ago, I designed and taught an “American Monsters” class in the American Studies Department, and I was amazed by the way students were able to use monsters to critically analyze culture and understand history. I contacted a colleague of mine who teaches literature at Guilford College, Heather Richardson Hayton, and we talked about co-editing a book on monster theory and pedagogy. We invited leading educators and monster scholars from around the country and the world to write essays for the book, and we each contributed our own chapters.

Why do you think it’s important for people to understand this subject?

Historically, the monsters that have appeared in art, literature, folklore and religion have always taught us something about society and the workings of culture. They teach us who supposedly belongs in the community and who doesn’t, they expose our many assumptions about what we consider “normal” and different, they encourage us to regulate our own behavior. Monsters are inherently pedagogical, and we wanted to write a book that would show readers how we can learn from monsters and what they can teach us about history, culture and our everyday lives.     

What new or surprising information did you discover during your research?

I hadn’t realized how many different and creative approaches there could be to teaching monsters. For example, one of our contributors simulates a zombie apocalypse on her campus, another has her students use photography to explore the visual rhetoric of the grotesque, a religious scholar uses aliens and Bigfoot to get his students thinking about ideas of faith and belief, and a theater professor has his students practice “zombie walking” in public to learn about body movement, space and performance. Collaborating on this project across disciplines really opened my eyes to new pedagogical possibilities.

What related or current research projects are you working on now?

I just recently published an article in “Quarterly Horse: A Journal of (brief) American Studies” that looks at the striking parallels between zombie culture and blues music, and how we use each idiom to process our uncertainties and make sense of our lives. Currently, I am writing an article, co-authored with American studies graduate student Ashley Loup, about teaching fandom and what students can learn when they conduct their own studies of fan communities.