Monsters among us: Students present research on the things that scare us

Vampires, werewolves and monsters of all kinds are starring in academic research presentations at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, just in time for Halloween.

Undergraduate students from two programs are sharing their research at a “Monster Conference” on Friday, Oct. 27, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Room 196 of the Honors College, 3363 N. Maryland Ave. The conference is free and open to the public.

Students stand while posing for a photo.
Students who will present their research into vampires, werewolves and other scary creatures at the second-annual “Monster Conference” include, from left, Jessie Nitz, Kaily Zacher, Alisha Engelberger, Bailey Flannery, Lizzy Stolow and Mara Lapp. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

The conference is a collaboration among three popular classes – an Honors College course titled “Monsters and the Monstrous” and two Slavic folklore classes – “Vampires: From Slavic Village to Hollywood” and “Werewolves and Shape Shifters in Slavic and East European Folklore.”

Faculty members Meghan Murphy-Lee, senior lecturer in the Russian Department, and Jacqueline Stuhmiller, visiting assistant professor in the Honors College, came up with the idea of having the seven students who volunteered practice their academic presentation skills with a conference tied to the Halloween season.

The classes are extremely popular, and this is the second year the Monster Conference has been held, Stuhmiller said. “We thought that it would be fun to host an undergraduate research conference so that students could share their ideas with each other and with the public.”

“You usually don’t get to do papers on those kind of topics – things you don’t usually find in academia – so it’s great to do a presentation on something that’s a little bit more fun,” said Alisha Engelberger, a sophomore majoring in history and anthropology. Engelberger, who took two of Murphy-Lee’s classes, originally became interested in wizards, vampires and werewolves through television, and is doing her 15-minute presentation on alpha female werewolves.

Bailey Flannery, a junior majoring in English literature who took courses from Stuhmiller, said the conference gives her an opportunity to share her research, which examines portrayals of monstrous women and the fear of female sexual power. Those ideas are expressed in literary characters, going all the way back to the tales of Scylla and Charybdis in the Odyssey, she said.

Krist Schubilske will be talking about how cultural beliefs combined with the physical realities of death and decomposition helped create the concept of the vampire in folklore.

Schubilske, a linguistics major, has taken Murphy-Lee’s classes on vampires and werewolves, and became interested in the stories and traditions that have turned into the spooky elements celebrated in popular culture, especially at Halloween.

“I became interested in folklore because folkloric creatures are intrinsically part of the cultures that they are situated in, and can tell us so much about the belief-sets of a given people, how they lived, and what was important to them.”

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