A crash course in COVID: New University of Manitoba class will explore impact of pandemic

A group of students who wanted to study the profound disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have inspired a new class being offered this fall at the University of Manitoba.

Anthropology course devoted to COVID-19 borne out of students' interest when crisis hit

The human experience has been changed by the onslaught of COVID-19, and a new course at the University of Manitoba is setting out to explore that. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press )

A group of students who wanted to study the profound disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have inspired a new class being offered this fall at the University of Manitoba.

Instructor Lara Rosenoff Gauvin's second-year introduction to anthropology class was studying diseases this spring when the arrival of COVID-19 was confirmed in Manitoba, and her class shuffled online.

"It was this profound sense of, 'OK, maybe we should take a moment and look at what's going on with our own lives and how anthropology is approaching epidemics.'"

She asked her class if they wanted to rejig the rest of the course to focus on the present pandemic, and students were overwhelmingly in favour, she said.

Many of them wrote final papers focused on their own pandemic experiences, and how it connected them to the worldwide upheaval.

"I think it provided people a place to think about their own experiences, how rapidly things were changing and to have a space to do that with other people and to think more thoughtfully about what was going on," Rosenoff Gauvin said.

Buoyed by the class's success, the anthropology professor will offer a fourth-year course, Anthropology Now: COVID-19, this fall.

The new course will take an anthropologic lens to the pandemic. This "holistic approach," Rosenoff Gauvin said, will explore the pandemic's impact on humans through many fields, including political structures, daily habits, communications, cultures and religions.

Anthropologists have played an important role in the public's understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, university professor Lara Rosenoff Gauvin said. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"I would say what's fascinating — and not in a positive way but in a really interesting way — is to think about how one disease could affect the entire world," she said.

"This is beyond the scale of even a world war. COVID has affected everyone and that's a major event; it's a major world event."

She said anthropologists are embedded in the worldwide response to COVID-19. Experts in the field are crafting public messaging, joining contact-tracing teams and working for non-governmental organizations.

Since the pandemic is still new, she expects her students to contribute to the scholarly understanding of how humans are coping.

Rosenoff Gauvin said her students may interview anthropologists working on the ground-level, from their homes to anywhere.

"We are living through something that is world-changing and I think that the more that we can talk about it … the better off we will be."

About the Author

Ian Froese


Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email:


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