Chris Kovats-Bernat: Great Teachers, Great Courses

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Dr. Chris Kovats-Bernat, associate professor of anthropology at Muhlenberg College, shares his passion for the culture and history of the people of Haiti with his students.

He frequently travels to Haiti and interacts with children who spend their lives in the streets. Kovats-Bernat conducts interviews in Kreyòl, the native language, to learn about life on the street and how children work, fight, share, resolve conflict, court one another and interact with other children, residents, police and the military. His research has led to studies on gangs, child soldiers and the economic and cooperative strategies the children use to ensure the survival of the group.

Kovats-Bernat brings that zeal back to his classes. “Vodou in Haiti & the Diaspora,” for example, invites students to explore the ritual and belief system of Vodou, including healing ceremonies, protective magic and witchcraft, while students in “Cultural Anthropology” study the similarities between Haitian street child life and the lives of hunter-gatherers elsewhere around the world. “Anthropological Theory” and “Anthropological Ethnography” explore theoretical and methodological considerations for anthropologists who work in dangerous locations - including sites with political conflict and armed violence.

His students seem to have caught his fervor for Haiti and her people — last year, Muhlenberg helped organize a film screening to raise awareness of the living conditions in Port-au-Prince both before and after the 2010 earthquake.


This spring, students enrolled in Kovats-Bernat’s Senior Seminar in Anthropology focus on "Crisis and Resilience in Haiti,” and are conducting semester-long research projects that focus on Haiti issues. Students will be studying the impact of AIDS response, medical intervention in the wake of the earthquake, the relationship of Haitian painting and music to national identity, the impact of post-earthquake mass burials on traditional beliefs and the legacy of slavery and resistance throughout Haitian history.

“Haiti is 2.5 hours by plane from Florida, and yet, given the catastrophe that is everyday life there, it might as well be a million miles away,” says Kovats-Bernat. After taking his classes, students may find that gap seems a bit smaller.

*Photos provided courtesy of Dr. Chris Kovats-Bernat.

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