This fall, University of Guelph students will be able to study pandemics from scientific, cultural, historical and societal perspectives with the launch of a new course believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.

Pandemics: Culture, Science, and Society (UNIV*2020), has been created to foster knowledge of the current global COVID-19 pandemic as well as past pandemics that had far-reaching impacts on communities around the world.

Its multidisciplinary and collaborative approach will blend expertise from four U of G colleges: biological science, arts, engineering and physical sciences, and social and applied human sciences.

Taught by a number of faculty members, the course will explore infectious disease and pandemics through a range of lenses, including communication (and misinformation), technology, ethics, psychology, social inequities, literature, genetics, nutrition, wildlife biology, and mathematical modelling.

“Pandemics and infectious diseases are complex issues, and it’s therefore necessary to take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding what they mean for the world we live in,” said Prof. Elizabeth Finnis, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “Students will gain a broader understanding of the complexities of infectious diseases, how they can become pandemics and what they mean for different aspects of society.”

Prof. Karen Gordon, associate dean, academic in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said the course will provide students with a unique opportunity to interact with experts from many disciplines.

“It exemplifies the unique collaborative environment at the University of Guelph,” Gordon said. “The premise of the entire course is to inspire students to actively consider perspectives of others that are different from their own.”

The online course is designed to guide students to explore the possibilities associated with both disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to societal challenges, said Prof. Sofie Lachapelle, chair of the Department of History.

The course highlights the breadth of expertise in the subject of pandemics at the University, in which numerous studies are under way in a range of areas related to COVID-19.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted just about every aspect of our lives and is like nothing any of us have experienced,” said Prof. Ryan Gregory, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology. “The idea for the course came from facing this topic head on in a way that takes advantage of and showcases the University of Guelph’s unique strengths as a truly comprehensive university with an exceptional community of scholars.”

Gregory said the course will provide students a unique opportunity that would not be possible at any other time or at any other university.

“The course is fundamentally about exploring our current shared experience from many perspectives – culturally, scientifically, historically, societally — and it was natural to involve faculty from across campus.”

For further details about the course, send an email to

To learn more about what the U of G student experience will look like this fall, visit the Virtual Campus page.


Prof. Ryan Gregory

Prof. Karen Gordon

Prof. Sofie Lachapelle

Prof. Elizabeth Finnis