Gothic towers looming against ominous grey skies. Midnight readings of the Bacchae and Catullus. Darkened libraries filled with dusty volumes on age-blackened wooden shelves. Fellow students wearing tweed blazers and expressions of barely concealed, bloodthirsty competition during seminars in your professor’s dim, book-lined office. Is the skull sitting beside the banker’s lamp and the weathered copy of Wordsworth on your coursemate’s desk really an antique? The ‘dark academia’ aesthetic that overtook first Tumblr, then Instagram and TikTok, is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s spent any meaningful time online: a way of romanticizing the act of studying and the experience of university. But where does this aesthetic come from? What do its signifiers mean, and why are they used? What cultural and political currents run underneath the surface of that #darkacademia post? This course welcomes first-years to Penn by inviting us to interrogate the myth of the academy itself. We’ll learn about Dark Academia’s literary history – reading Greek and Latin plays and verse, gothic horror, Romantic poetry, and the famed campus novels of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – before digging into novels like The Secret History and Babel and films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Dead Poets’ Society to ask what Dark Academia can tell us about class, race, sexuality, and power in the hallowed halls of higher education.