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A Message from Director Erika George

Erika GeorgeDear Tanner Humanities Community,

I hope my message finds you and yours safe and well.  As the world continues to confront the challenges and changes caused by the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), we at the Tanner Humanities Center continue to keep you in our thoughts.

It has been six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic in March 2020. Click here for more. At the time, WHO reported, 118,000 documented cases in 114 different countries, and 4,291 people had lost their lives. Globally, as of September 2020, there have been 27,032,617 confirmed cases, including 881,464 deaths, reported to WHO. The Utah Department of Health has documented 55,033 total cases and 423 deaths from COVID-19 as of September 2020.

Beyond these alarming numbers, I’ve noticed that different narratives have served to guide and in some instances misguide how we as a society have adjusted and adapted during these times of uncertainty. Government response to COVID-19 crisis has been slow and inadequate in certain countries. The shock to the global economy is projected to be seismic with a prolonged economic slowdown expected. The pandemic has surfaced underlying structural and systemic inequalities. It has unearthed the harsh reality of racism—inequality has become more difficult to ignore due to significant racial disparities in COVID-19 death rates and discriminatory enforcement of pandemic-related movement restrictions around the world. Yet, several countries have demonstrated that the virus can be suppressed and controlled. Some countries have even managed to change course and mitigate the cultural, social, and economic consequences of the pandemic.


Author Arundhati Roy has observed that pandemics force humanity “to break with the past and imagine their world anew.” I do see the pandemic as a doorway to something different. We have a powerful opportunity in this moment to think differently about ourselves, our relationship to others, and our place in the world. On the other side of this we will do things differently. We have a responsibility to reimagine a better new world. Our narratives—personal and public—can make a difference.

While the Tanner Center remains closed to the general public to ensure the safety of our staff and patrons, this month we share stories of coping with the challenges of the present moment with you. As I reflect on the toll the pandemic has taken, I’ve been especially taken by the stunning visual vocabulary of the Capturing COVID photography project, an initiative by independent local artists who are working to document the different ways different people in our community have been impacted by the pandemic. I share their story on collecting stories. Researchers and educators affiliated with Tanner Humanities are interested in the history of the power of global pandemics to shift social paradigms. We share their thoughts. We also re-introduce Beth James, Susan Anderson, and Katie Piula, members of the Tanner Humanities Center team working to promote humanities research and outreach in collaboration with our community partners. This month we also welcome our Environmental Humanities Graduate Research Assistant Hannah Taub. A University of Oregon environmental studies graduate and Phi Beta Kappa member, Hannah’s honors thesis comparing American and Swedish approaches to public lands and the rights of indigenous peoples was inspired by time she spent studying abroad in Denmark.

We value our relationship with you, and we appreciate your support. We look forward to seeing you again in person. Thank you for being a part of our community. Follow us on social media for our updates and information on arts and culture activities available to you online. Please feel free to contact us to share your ideas. We would love to hear from you.

Erika George

Last Updated: 6/30/21