ANN ARBOR—Who knew they have a name for the study of ignorance? It’s called agnotology, a relatively new area of study focused on culturally induced ignorance or doubt that often shows up as a strong belief in inaccurate or misleading science.
Sound familiar? A spring course at the University of Michigan called “Fake News & the Anthropology of Ignorance” is just one of many this semester that will seek lessons from the COVID-19 crisis.
From implementing discussions and assignments on COVID to making extra efforts to develop community remotely, instructors have a wide breadth of opportunity to create dynamic experiences for students, despite the virtual classroom.
A sample of campus courses that are adapting and reacting to the current crisis:
Fake News & the Anthropology of Ignorance
Instructor: Sam Shuman, doctoral candidate in sociocultural anthropology, graduate certificate student in Judaic studies
Fake news has been one of the largest issues surrounding today’s crisis, and ANTHRCUL 298 aims to offer students the tools to combat it by analyzing agnotology, the study of ignorance. Students will learn to conduct an autoethnography, a form of research that relies on self-reflection and participant observation to explore anecdotal and personal experience and connect it to a wider cultural, social and political context. The class will also analyze the media narrative of Chinese wet markets as the origin of the pandemic.
Healing Dance and Drum Circle
Instructor: Imani Ma’at AnkhmenRa Amen, MFA candidate in dance and choreography
This introductory studio dance course is dedicated to getting students up and moving at home. Students will sing, dance and make their own music reutilizing ordinary household items. The aim of the course is to cultivate “healing movement that can be comforting during troubling times” by providing students the tools to create safe dance spaces at home.
Sex Differences in Brain, Behavior, and Disease
Instructor: Jennifer Cummings, lecturer in the psychology
PSYCH 430 will discuss the history of sex differences in a variety of species, including humans, rodents, birds and frogs. Topics will include sex differences in brain structure and function, and consequences of sex differences in susceptibility to and progression of various diseases, including autoimmune function and virology, according to the course description. Cummings hopes to use her course to combat the disconnection and disengagement students have felt in the last few months after leaving campus.
Health, Medicine, and Society
Instructor: Mercedez Dunn, doctoral candidate in sociology
This course works to understand the influence of social and cultural factors on health, illness and medical care. It will engage with COVID by developing skillsets to analyze current issues such as the inequalities in death rates to the decisions on prioritization of resources such as masks and ventilators. Topics include the social nature of disease, medical ethics/bioethics and the ecology of health care. Students will also consider how society influences our thinking about illness by exploring how illness is depicted in literature, the news and everyday discourse.
Foreign News Coverage
Instructor: Anthony Collings, lecturer in communication and media
COMM 432 will investigate the coverage of foreign media by reflecting on the function of media systems, the factors that influence media decisions, and the criteria media use in deciding what to report. The course will also discuss special issues that foreign correspondents face. Students will spend a large portion of the course discussing the current crisis, and will be critiquing the news coverage of it.
The History of Disaster
Instructor: Douglas Northrop, professor of history and Middle East studies
The History of Disaster will engage students with a spectrum of natural disasters, including fire, floods, famines, hurricanes, volcanoes, blizzards, and epidemics and pandemics. The course spans from the ancient world to the present day. For their final culminating project, students will be asked to put a modern disaster into historical context. Northrop anticipates that many projects will focus on the current crisis, although they are not required to do so.