BUFFALO, N.Y. — The zombie outbreak that has infected
American popular culture will spread to the University at Buffalo
John Edgar Browning, an English adjunct professor, vampire
expert and author of 12 books on the undead, will teach “A
Cultural History of the Walking Dead,” a seminar exploring
the history and cultural impact of zombies.
Over 15 weeks, students will delve into the mystery of why
zombies have recently been so dominant in books, films and
“Monsters are always popular, and vampires have really
surged in the last five to six years, but we’re now seeing a
zombie version that’s approaching its apex,” says
Browning, also an Arthur A. Schomburg Fellow and PhD candidate in
the Department of Transnational Studies. “The craze is far
from done, but it’s definitely at its most
Browning designed the course after teaching a similar class,
“Vampires and Zombies: Lifestyles of the Undead and
(In)Famous,” which examined both types of monsters. He
decided to move zombies into the spotlight after realizing his
students were more captivated by the flesh-starved dead.
The 50-minute zombie class will be taught once a week on
Tuesdays as part of the Undergraduate Academies’ Discover
Seminar Program. The course, offered through the American Studies
department, is full, but Browning will allow a few more registrants
As the class progresses, students will begin exploring the West
African and Haitian Vodou roots of the zombie, and track the
creatures’ transformation in popular culture from magically
possessed people forced to do the bidding of evil landowners, to
masses of rabid corpses.
The seminar will examine primary texts that detail zombie
sightings in Haiti, along with horror and science fiction writer
Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend,” a book Browning
credits as the creator of the modern zombie craze.
Browning will place a heavy emphasis on film as well, and plans
to show George Romero’s “Night of the Living
Dead,” a movie that he believes perfected the modern
“Horror films are cultural artifacts,” says
Browning. “When anthropologists want to study cultures, they
look at their artwork, bones and houses. You can easily do the same
a thousand years from now by looking at films.”
Through movies, students can identify the cultural and political
ideals of a period and uncover what scares us. Whether the films
depict natural disasters, technology gone awry or deadly viruses,
they give viewers a way to indirectly consider the problems of
It’s no coincidence zombies became popular around the same
time as issues about gun control in the United States, says
Browning. People have projected their fear of losing the ability to
protect themselves onto attacks by zombie masses.
“The Walking Dead” is one of the most watched shows
on television, and the film “World War Z” grossed over
half a billion dollars at the box office. Both depict a zombie
apocalypse where survivors rely on guns to protect themselves.
The rage has spilled beyond the big screen, as arms
manufacturers now sell zombie-specific firearms and ammunition.
Doomsday prepping, which involves preparing for a catastrophic
event by stockpiling weapons and supplies, is a rising trend as
Although zombies are often portrayed in media as mindless, it is
apparent these and other nightmarish creatures have much to teach
us about ourselves, said Browning.
“Beyond serving as mere characters in horror films,
monsters reveal the social fabric of how societies construct what
is ‘normal’ at any given time,” says Browning.
“With the right training, students can use monsters to
confront and challenge ideological assumptions about class, race,
gender and sexuality, and unfix oppressive categories like these
that precipitate marginalization.”