Teaching COVID-19:

An Anthropology Syllabus Project

This developing document is designed to collect and share resources for anthropologists and other social scientists teaching about COVID-19.

Contributions and feedback are welcomed! Please use the google commenting feature to share teaching resources (lecture slides, class activities, labs, etc.) and suggest readings, films, or other materials. Add your name to the Contributors list at the end.

You can contact Teaching and Learning Anthropology at teachinglearninganthro@gmail.com or on Twitter or Facebook.

Document editors: Nina Brown (nbrown2@ccbcmd.edu); Angela Jenks (ajenks@uci.edu); Katie Nelson (knelson@inverhills.edu); Laura Tilghman (lmtilghman@plymouth.edu).

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Class Activities, Lessons, and Labs

  • Multimodal class project: From Dada Docot (Purdue, @dadadocot): Goal: To make and share responsibly produced media focused on the expansive issues surrounding the outbreak. Instructions: Produce a shareable work using any medium of your choice with the broad theme -- “coronavirus.” Students can choose to create a short film, infographic, public service announcement, comics, trailer, animated work, a series of photographs, etc. Sample topics could include: caring for the elderly during the outbreak; coronavirus and pets; universities’, rural towns’ and cities’ responses to the outbreak; race, racialization, and xenophobia; containment and borders, etc. The output out of this project must 1) be based on research, 2) shareable/open source, and 3) respectful of cultural minorities. To find resources for your project, visit this open-source syllabus. COVID-19 Topic ideas.docx Platforms that could be used for uploading your project include Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Submit the link to your project accompanied by a 300-word abstract.
  • Public/Global Health response to pandemics, 1: The Great Flu is an online game in which players select a fictional virus (of varying difficulty for game play) and then must quickly make decisions about how to respond to an outbreak.
  • Public/Global Health response to pandemics, 2:Solve the Outbreak is another online activity in which players select a virus and location and then work to solve an outbreak. This online activity is hosted by the CDC.
  • Geography of COVID-19: Lesson plan and materials from World Regional Geography Lab Manual.
  • Research COVID-19 from an Anthropological Perspective (from a Parasites in Human Evolution course): From Tara Robins: For this assignment, you will do external research on the currently spreading coronavirus, called COVID-19. Try to analyze this virus from an anthropological perspective, applying your knowledge of both evolutionary theory and biocultural anthropology. The assignment is a 3 to 5 page double-spaced research paper that answers the following questions from an anthropological perspective (when possible): What is COVID-19? How did it likely start? How does it spread? Why has it been so successful at spreading around the world? What can be and is being done to slow/stop its progression, and what methods are most effective? Why is an anthropological perspective important for understanding the spread of this pathogen? Make sure to assess your sources for credibility, cite your sources, and include a list of citations. Upload your paper here on Canvas as a .doc or .pdf file.
  • Keep a pandemic journal: More details and resources in this twitter thread by Lance Gravlee; see also this Pandemic Journaling Project led by Sarah Willen and Katherine Mason
  • This is a crowd-sourced list of COVID-19 documentation projects. Check to see if there’s one at your institution or in your local area.
  • The following resource could help support a journaling project: This is a small collection of excerpts from firsthand accounts of epidemics throughout history.  Tina Ulrich worked with Ryan Johnson, history faculty from St. Clair County Community College, to create this resource for faculty who want to use experiences from the past to help students interpret the present. Each chapter has a brief introduction, glossary, questions for discussion, and sources.  It's licensed CC BY-SA so faculty can write their own discussion questions to suit their discipline and their students: Plague Diaries:  Firsthand Accounts of Epidemics, 430 B.C. to A.D. 1918
  • Write a letter to a public official; See also this call for advocacy letters from Somatosphere, which includes links to additional information and letter-writing advice
  • Choose an artifact to represent the crisis in a museum exhibit 100 years from now. Assignment from Kevin Mitchell Mercer, University of Central Florida.
  • A Day in the Life of a Pandemic: Assignment from Natalia Molina. Students pick one data and explore what COVID-19 looked like at different scales including: Their own daily life; International response; Federal/national response; Municipal and/or state response; The financial markets; Pop culture; News events; Sports; News coverage (e.g. left leaning vs. right leaning); Popular songs; Trending hashtags; Weather.
  • COVID Cultures assignment and collection of student work from M. Gabriella Torres at Wheaton College
  • COVID-19 Student Ethnographic Portfolio Project, supported by the Disaster STS Network. Resources for instructors and students, including a portfolio of assignments that guide students through ethnographic knowledge production about COVID-19. Includes the COVID-19 Rapid Student Interview Project, which aims to provide an engaging project for post-secondary students (undergraduate and graduate) to gain experience with qualitative research methodology while contributing to public discussions about everyday experiences with COVID-19.

Lecture slides

Reflections on teaching and learning in a pandemic


Note: Many of these are news articles, and it’s best to pay attention to the dates. As the situation develops, statistics and other info may change rapidly.

What is COVID-19?: Background, Timelines, Resources

  • NPR produced several articles in 2017 under the #KillerViruses tag. This one provides a general background to zoonosis and efforts to track/predict outbreaks.

Anthropological Overviews, Resource Roundups, and Special Collections

  • Description: Somatosphere’s COVID-19 Forum brings together seventeen anthropologists and historians in an effort to share ideas, analytical frameworks and concerns about the ongoing epidemic from interdisciplinary perspectives.”

Anthropologists’ reports and reflections

Anthropologists’ roles in health emergencies

Anthropological and Sociohistorical perspectives on infectious disease/epidemics

  • Description of archives: “This online collection offers important historical perspectives on the science and public policy of epidemiology today and contributes to the understanding of the global, social–history, and public–policy implications of diseases.”

Ethnographic methods in outbreaks/public health investigations

Anthropological perspectives on public health/epidemiology

Global health 

The “Outbreak Narrative”

How do scientists know what they know about viruses?

Research and Biomedical Ethics

“Unnatural” Disasters

Climate and Environment


Borders and Movement (see also “Structural vulnerability” for issues related to immigration)

Militarization and Securitization (Policing and the military positioned as public health solutions, “War” metaphors)


Racialization and Xenophobia


Structural Vulnerability

Religious and Cultural Responses to COVID and Structural Vulnerability

Policing and Incarceration


Mental Health/Psychology/Panic



Health workers, systems, and infrastructure

Health insurance/financing

Death and Dying

Work (labor protection, sick-leave policies, etc.)


Political economy, Capitalism, Neoliberalism

  • Written early in the epidemic so some statistics about COVID-19 will be outdated, but makes interesting comparisons to previous pandemics (SARS, MERS, Ebola), and discusses ways in which contemporary realities (social media, technology, disinformation campaigns, xenophobia, etc.) shape responses to current pandemic.

Education (ed-tech and online teaching/learning, school closings, accessibility, etc.)

  • New York City has the largest public school system in the United States, a vast district with about 750,000 children who are poor, including around 114,000 who are homeless. For such students, school may be the only place they can get three hot meals a day and medical care, and even wash their dirty laundry.”
  • “‘This may be our moment,’ ed-tech folks exclaim, giddily sharing lists of their favorite digital learning tools (with little concern, it seems for questions of accessibility, privacy, or security) and tips for quickly moving ‘to the cloud.’”

Activism, Mutual Aid, Solidarity


Medical Conspiracy Theories & Resistance to Public Health Recommendations

Information and Misinformation

  • Website describing the SIFT strategy to critically evaluate sources of information
  • Many examples of misinformation and efforts to counter them around the world.
  • Online article describing Mike Caulfield’s SIFT strategy, with some recent examples of misinformation about COVID-19.
  • A website created to counter false claims about the virus
  • Created by Melissa Salm (anthropology Phd UC Davis) and Ryan Hodgeman MD for the Consortium of Universities for Global Health


Visualizations (Graphs, Charts, Illustrations, Maps)

Games (Video and Board)

  • See Video games about viruses and epidemics (Wikipedia) for list
  • Pandemic (2008), a cooperative board game in which the players have to discover the cures for four diseases that break out at the same time.
  • Plague Inc. (2012), a smartphone game from Ndemic Creations, where the goal is to kill off the human race with a plague. (from wikipedia).


  • BBC Horizon special from 2003 about the original SARS outbreak
  • 3 short animated videos from NPR on the origins of disease, and how human responses have changed throughout human history.
  • An interesting visual collage that illustrates how people around the world react in different ways to common challenges (isolation, death, fear, etc.)
  • Using archival footage and contemporary interviews, this documentary traces the history of AIDS activism and the organizations ACT-UP and TAG from the beginning of the epidemic in the early 1980s through the development of effective treatments in the mid-1990s.
  • Interview with the film-maker about lessons from the history of HIV activism for COVID-19.
  • Available as a 6-part series or single 2 hour special.
  • Companion website has many resources, including further reading and class activities. Could provide good background to some of the underlying health issues and infrastructures that countries were dealing with prior to the current pandemic.
  • From the film website, “Over the last half century, the number of spillover diseases has increased rapidly. What's behind the rise in spillover viruses? What can we do to stop them? And what have we learned from the ultimate containment of Ebola?”
  • Companion website has a film guide and 3D virus models
  • A film series that explores social inequities to lead to poor health outcomes.         
  • Companion website has film clips, additional readings, and class activities.
  • A collection of TED talks related to viruses, pandemics, and vaccines

Podcasts and Audio Resources

  • Discusses “Typhoid Mary” and the controversies around quarantine and healthy carriers.
  • Discussion with Nancy Bristow, author of “American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds Of The 1918 Influenza Epidemic” about the 1918-1920 flu pandemic.

Additional Resources

General resources

Other COVID-19 Syllabus Projects

Guest-lecture exchanges

  • Anthropology guest-lecture exchange (organized by Bonnie Kaiser). Sign up on this spreadsheet if you are able to guest-lecture remotely for a colleague who is ill, quarantined, or care-giving.
  • Global health guest-lecture exchange (organized by Bonnie Kaiser). Sign up on this spreadsheet if you are able to guest-lecture remotely for a colleague who is ill, quarantined, or care-giving.

Resources for teaching continuity/remote teaching

Resources for students

Contributors (add your name and affiliation here)

  • Nina Brown, Community College of Baltimore County
  • Katie Nelson, Inver Hills Community College
  • Angela Jenks, University of California, Irvine
  • Bernardo Moreno Peniche, UC Berkeley
  • Yeonsil Kang, Drexel University
  • Laura Tilghman, Plymouth State University
  • Jonah Rubin, Knox College
  • Dada Docot, Purdue University
  • Liliana Olivares
  • Lance Gravlee, University of Florida
  • Fields Harrington
  • DurgaPrasad Karnam, Homi Bhaha Centre for Science Education
  • Martine Lappe
  • Pedro Gutierrez Guevara
  • Andrea Kitta
  • Burcu Baykurt
  • James Edwin
  • Alex Golub
  • Pableo Cardenas Ramirez
  • Christine Wenc
  • Tara Cepon Robins, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
  • Thurka Sangaramoorthy
  • Katherine Darling, University of Maine Augusta
  • Joe Dumit, UC Davis
  • Ishan Santra, HBCSE-TIFR, India
  • Katherine Hirschfeld University of Oklahoma
  • Paul Brodwin
  • Julia Hanebrink
  • Elena Burgos Martinez, Leiden University (Netherlands)
  • Louis Philippe Römer, Vassar College
  • Merrill Singer
  • Doc Billingsley
  • Amanda Mabe
  • Kate Kingsbury