Academics & Research Coronavirus News

Honors College to offer courses on coronavirus and Black Lives Matter

The two new courses offered by the Honors College will be covering current events | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

The two new courses offered by the Honors College will be covering current events. | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

In light of the current national turmoil, the Honors College will be offering two courses in Fall 2020 that relate to the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Writing About Plagues and Peoples, with course code HON 4397, will be taught by French history and Human Situation professor Robert Zaretsky.

This class is cross-linked with HIST 4395 and WCL 4396, meaning students can sign up for either the honors, anthropology or world cultures and literature course number based on which they would prefer to receive credit for.

The course will frame experiences with COVID-19 through novels as well as plays, according to the Honors College website.

Zaretsky said the works tell compelling stories about the past as well as prompts students to think about fundamental ethical and political questions that national leaders have been grappling with these past few months.

“I hope (students) take away a deeper and more complex appreciation of the ways in which our country has responded, or failed to respond, to our current crisis,” Zaretsky said.

The professor was inspired to teach this course as he volunteered to help overworked nursing home employees feed residents while simultaneously reading the works of authors from ancient to modern times.

These authors, including Thucydides, Michel de Montaigne and Susan Sontag, all addressed various plagues and diseases in their own lifetimes.

“They have helped me to make sense of my own experiences and I thought they might help students make sense of their experiences,” Zaretsky said.

Also offered this coming term is Theory from the Global South from 1780 to WWII or WCL 4354; this class is cross-linked with ANTH 3396.

Professor Marie Theresa Hernández Ramirez said she looks forward to leading students through analyses of various historical events as viewed from the eyes of scholars from the Global South.

As the World Cultures and Literature undergraduate director and an affiliated faculty member in the anthropology program, Hernández Ramirez believes that students who learn Western theory as a universal theory are often left with an incomplete understanding of the world.

“This course provides an opportunity for students to learn about the perspectives of scholars that might be speaking against the stories that we’ve always heard,” Hernández Ramirez said.

She said she hopes the class will be a vehicle to analyze the complicated forces behind George Floyd’s violent death and the many other problems and inequities existing in American society.

Hernández Ramirez wants students to leave the class with the ability to integrate ideas brought to light by the readings and discussions with their current understanding of world history, politics and social issues. The final will consist of a research paper on a topic related to the Global South.

The class will examine Atlantic slavery, the Haitian Revolution, the U.S.-Mexican War, King Leopold and the genocide in the Belgian Congo, the genocide of indigenous people in Spain’s northern territories and the British Empire’s occupation of India, Hernández Ramirez said.

At the core of the course is the book “Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History” written by Haitian anthropologist, historian and writer Michel-Rolph Trouillot.

Other planned readings include “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa” by Adam Hochschild and “Limpieza de Sangre, Religion and Gender in Colonial Mexico” by María Elena Martínez, among many others.

“What is most exciting to me is when the students and I start discussing these different events and how they have been previously interpreted,” Hernández Ramirez said. “Their response is not about what they learned; instead, (it’s) about what they could learn. For me this is very exciting; I enjoy it as much as I think the students do.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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