DECATUR — Adjunct professor Elisheva Perelman, who teaches a class on the history of zombies, knows as well as anyone there is no such thing in real life.
Yet as Millikin University senior Maria Ferrer of Topeka, Kan., withdrew two potential bludgeons from her zombie survival kit, Perelman experienced a moment of panic that didn’t go away completely until Ferrer emptied the bag.
“Thank you for not bringing a gun,” Perelman said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my, I am so getting fired.’ ”
Realism was the order of the day Friday as Ferrer and seven other Millikin students made final presentations in Perelman’s eight-day class titled, “Zombies! The History of a Symbol.”
The class was one of 28 immersion courses offered at Millikin between Jan. 1 and the start of the spring semester Tuesday.
Immersion director Randy Brooks, dean of arts and sciences, said the small, intensive classes allow students to pick up extra credits and instructors to try new topics and experiment with different approaches.
“It’s often an incubator for classes that evolve into regular semester offerings,” he said.
Nearly twice as many immersion courses are offered in the summer, Brooks said, with about half involving travel abroad or elsewhere in the United States.
Perelman first taught her zombie class last summer and thought it went well enough to offer it again during winter break.
She begins with the rise of the Haitian zombie in the late 17th century as an expression of the fear natives and slaves experienced about their bondage as their religious beliefs merged with those of their French masters. She also covers how the symbol came back to life in the United States in a big way after the release of the 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead.”
Students turned to such source materials as the 2009 movie “Zombieland,” the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency website and the 2003 manual, “The Zombie Survival Guide,” by Max Brooks.
Senior Kylie Covey of Davenport, Iowa, showed commercials featuring zombies to demonstrate they are the “in” monster, appealing to all age groups. “My grandma never misses ‘The Walking Dead’ on TV,” she said. “My sister watches Zombie Reviews, and she’s 10.”
Asked if advertising featuring zombies would work with any other monsters, Covey replied she didn’t think so. “Maybe vampires, but I think they’re a little played out right now,” she said.
Interestingly enough, nursing major Meghan Matthews, a junior from Clinton, made a biological comparison between zombies and vampires.
What they have in common, she said, includes a low level of serotonin, which is responsible for their aggressive behavior; black blood; and because neither has a heart, movement of skeletal muscles is needed for circulation.
Senior Taylor Chaney of Lincoln theorized that the virus that causes zombism is a combination of the viruses that cause rabies, gangrene, influenza and measles.
Chaney later confessed to being a fan of horror movies and zombies. “This class gave us a chance to take a critical look at something that’s so in the pop culture right now,” she said.
Senior Nick Olendorf and sophomore Elizabeth Royal, both of Decatur, were among the students who focused on survival in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
Among Royal’s suggestions was taking advantage of the mindlessness of zombies by surrounding your house with treadmills.
She also talked about the relative merits of various weapons before showing an image of an armed Chuck Norris. “I would definitely choose him,” Royal said.
Olendorf and a classmate, by contrast, prepared a list of do’s and don’ts.
The do’s included keeping your weapons with you, even when you go to the bathroom, and always having someone stand watch, Olendorf said, because “that one that doesn’t moan always gets ya.”
Among the don’ts was don’t fall when running away.
“How many times do you see it? ‘Oh, no, I tripped, and now I’m dead,’ ” he said.
Olendorf admitted afterward he’s obsessed with “The Walking Dead.”
“I haven’t missed an episode,” he said. “This (class) is different in the sense that we’ve learned about religion and gone back in history to see what zombies have symbolized.
“It’s a new outlook from just a gory, they’re-going-to-munch-you creature.”