AUGUST 20, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic has urged transformation in our society. For a select group of college seniors, though, it will provide an opportunity to learn how plagues have inspired the best literary minds.
Undergraduates at UTSA will be the first to enroll in a new fall course: The Literature of Pestilence. The seminar will examine how plagues are represented in texts from the ancient Greek era to the present. Offered through the Department of English in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, the class is the brain child of professor Steven G. Kellman and has already reached its maximum student capacity.
“We will ask the tough questions: Could pandemics teach us about literary art?” said Kellman. “Will we see the particular characteristics that plague narratives have in common that distinguish them from other forms of storytelling? What is it to be alive—together and alone?”
Viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, arthropods and other potential vectors of infection have accompanied our species throughout recorded history. Epidemics and pandemics have wiped out large swaths of the population at least as far back as 430 B.C.E., when a devastating plague caused Athens to lose the Peloponnesian War, as chronicled by the historian Thucydides. Between 541 and 542 C.E., what came to be called the Justinian Plague wiped out 40% to 50% of the population of Europe. Even more deadly was the Black Death, the bubonic plague that claimed up to 200 million lives between 1347 and 1351.
And there is of course the current moment, when the global death toll from COVID-19 is over 750,000 and mounting.
This is not a course in epidemiology, although learning something from the hard sciences might be an incidental benefit. This course is an example of how UTSA adapts to the extraordinary current moment. Literature of pestilence is an explicit lesson in human humility, according to Kellman. It forces the student to consider fundamental issues of personal and social identity. It poses the ethical question, How does one behave in a pandemic? In the literary world as in the sciences, dire situations have produced the greatest innovation.
Some of the works that Kellman will be using in his fall semester course.
John Keats wrote his most enduring poems as he lay dying of tuberculosis. And it follows that much of the world’s greatest literature—by Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Kafka, among many others—is inspired by the fact that the inevitability of death forces us to define life. In that respect the literature of pestilence is a more concentrated instance of what the best writers (for example, Shakespeare creating King Lear while in quarantine from the plague) are always doing.
“And yet it is not intended to be entirely grim,” added Kellman. “The imminence of extinction often inspires wit or mirth.”
Kellman specializes in comparative literature at UTSA, where he has taught since 1976. He was twice awarded the President’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Recognition of Research Excellence (1991 and 2006) and has also received the campuswide teaching award (1986).
He has served four terms on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. And is also the author of Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth (W.W. Norton, 2005), which was honored with the 2005 New York Society Library Award for Biography.
Led by UTSA Campus Recreation, these in-person group exercise sessions provide survivors a safe space to focus on their bodies' power to foster a sense of agency. Bring your mask and yoga mat and experience a soothing sound bath at sunrise. Students must register online before attending these sessions.Recreation and Wellness Center, Main Campus
Communication between parents and youth can be difficult and the stress of COVID-19 and virtual learning may have made things worse. This is an opportunity for parents and youth, ages 9-17, to learn and share how to enchance communication.Virtual Event
The virtial event will feature undergraduate student research and creative endeavors from across the university. Students who have participated in research experiences beginning summer 2020 through Spring 2021 are invited to participate.Virtual Event
By participating in this training you will feel more prepared to recognize potential harm on a spectrum, decide how you would respond in certain situations and take action to keep our Roadrunner Community safe.Virtual Event
At UTSA, there are many ways to connect with others, gain relevant career experience, and leave your mark at a world-ranked university. With over 300 student organizations, there’s something for everyone at UTSA. Hear from various UTSA Students Leaders about their life as a Roadrunner and why UTSA is their new home.Virtual Event
This course is offered by UTSA's Employee Assistance Program EAP Deer Oaks. Every new beginning comes from something else ending, and in our ever changing world, it is essential to develop the ability topositively cope with change. This session provides participants with the insight to understand the nature of change and learn how to effectively deal with both the losses and the gains that change brings to one’s life.Virtual Event
On April 28, 2021, millions of people across the world will wear jeans with a purpose, support survivors, and educate themselves and others about all forms of sexual violence. To support this movement our donation drive will be items that we will be putting together to make Care Kits. These Care Kits are for students, faculty and staff to get in case of an emergency and they need to leave the situation they're in ASAP and do not have time to pack.Ximenas Ave Garage
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.
UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.
The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.