Being Human in the Age of COVID-19

This 1-credit course (ARTSC 0010), sponsored by the Humanities Center, offers an opportunity for students to work closely with a team of faculty mentors to engage the COVID-19 crisis from a deeply humanistic perspective. Students will join a community of professors from a range of humanistic fields in a semester of discussions about our current pandemic moment. They will work closely with faculty members who bring research expertise in public health and the African diaspora; speculative fiction and imagining apocalypse; modern US History, the history of science, and the history of activism; the history of art as it has been shaped by plagues and epidemics; and the history of pandemic literature. In Fall 2020, we read, talked and thought deeply together about what it means to be human in the time of a pandemic, and faculty helped students realize how historical, humanistic research methods can respond to the challenges of the present. 

Meet the Instructors 


Dr. Fapohunda is a trained epidemiologist and health educator with over 19 years’ experience of running her consulting company and being in public health.  She teaches part-time at the Department of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh and has conducted several studies among African Americans, Africans in the Diaspora and on the African Continent. The focus of her current research is healthy community for Black immigrants in Allegheny County.  In February 2019, Dr. Fapohunda and Lakeshore Cancer Center in Lagos, Nigeria completed four training workshops on cancer awareness. During the four one-day workshops, 114 participants including 91 healthcare practitioners were trained. Abimbola's focus is on the intersectionality of segregation, health disparities and COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberto Iozzia is a 2010 graduate from the Università di Siena. He earned his PhD in Italian Studies in 2018 from Rutgers University by defending a dissertation on post-apocalyptic narrative. His research mainly focuses on contemporary literature and film. He is currently Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. His angle on the course – are apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction in particular and on speculative fiction in general.


Laura Lovett 

Laura L. Lovett is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches courses on the Ethics of Public History, Public Facing History Practice and Global History of Sexuality.  As an historian, she specializes in twentieth century US Gender, Sexuality and Women’s History and the History of Children and Youth.  She is the author of With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism (Beacon Press, forthcoming January 2021). She is currently co-editing, “It’s Our Movement Now”: Black Women’s Politics and the 1977 National Women’s Conference, with Rachel Jessica Daniel and Kelly Giles, a collection of sixteen essays by scholars on the often-little recognized African American feminists who helped organize and promote the First National Women’s Conference. As a historian who has worked on the history of public health and genetics,  she is interested in what we can learn from previous epidemics about our current situation. 

Christopher Nygren

Dr. Christopher Nygren is Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program and associate professor of early modern art in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture. His research focuses on the intersection of religion, philosophy, and art in the Italian Renaissance. His 2020 book, Titian’s Icons: Charisma, Tradition, and Devotion in the Italian Renaissance, re-examined one of the leading lights of Italian Renaissance painting to reveal the lasting impact of Christian icons on Titian’s career. He is currently writing a second book-length project that investigates the phenomenon of painting on stone substrates, which emerged in Italy around 1530. This project is provisionally titled Matter and Similitude in Italian Painting and the Transatlantic Renaissance. Christopher realized only in spring 2020 that his research trajectory has been closely intertwined with the history of pandemics since he first began focusing on miracle-working images early in graduate school. Miracle-working images were, of course, often invoked by individuals and communities as a shield against contagion. However, he never thought of his research as engaging with pandemic. When the spring semester was interrupted by COVID, the invocation of miracle-working images during times of plague became particularly poignant.

Uma Satyavolu

Uma Satyavolu Rau has taught more than 30 different courses in the English Department since 2001, and is interested in trans-historical, cross-cultural approaches to literary and cultural canons and counter-canons. She designed and teaches Literature and Medicine, a course bridging the so-called "Two Cultures"; and the complementing courses Prized Books and Banned Books, which examine the imperatives and limits of literature as an aesthetic and ethical enterprise. She has always approached all her teaching as answering the question of what it means to study and practice the Humanities. Uma is interested in "Being Human in the Age of COVID-19" as a direct result of already having explored the issues with her students in her Spring 2020 Literature and Medicine course.

Meet the Conveners 

David Marshall is a historian of ideas, and he is particularly interested in how we take up ideas from the past to think for ourselves in the present, even while being mindful of how different contexts make for fundamental changes. Thinking the coronavirus and what it means to live during a global pandemic means engaging with a wide variety of approaches from both past and present. You have to come at complex problems from multiple angles. For these reasons, he's really excited to be working in a team with both students and faculty this Fall to develop the skills necessary to get our heads around the scale of the challenges to our assumptions posed by COVID-19.



Carla Nappi is a historical pataphysician who holds the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in History at Pitt. From undergraduate training in paleobiology, Nappi pursued an M.A. in History of Science and then a Ph.D. in Chinese history. Her practice involves working not only in history and creative nonfiction, but also in poetry and very short fiction. Among her current projects is work related to Chinese history, translation, insomnia, DJ’ing, wormholes, and fictioning with Bosch’s art.