KNOW courses are offered by the faculty of the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at both the graduate and the advanced undergraduate levels. 

For graduate students, we offer a number of cross-listed seminars as well as an annual core sequence in topics in the formation of knowledge (KNOW 401, 402, 403). These seminars will be team-taught by faculty from different departments or schools and are open to all graduate students regardless of field of study. Graduate students who enroll in two quarters of this sequence are eligible to apply for the Dissertation Research Fellowships.

For undergraduate students, we offer courses cross-listed in departments and schools across the University, as well as unique courses taught by the Institute's Postdoctoral Scholars. To browse courses, search by department, quarter, academic year, or type in a keyword that interests you. In addition, the Institute will launch the Experimental Capstone (XCAP) in 2018-19, team-taught courses for fourth-year undergraduate students interested in building upon their UChicago educational experience by adding practice, impact, and influence as important dimensions of their undergraduate work. 

KNOW 30928: Thinking the Present through the Past: Classic Works of History since 1750

  • Course Level: Graduate
  • Department: Social Thought
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Spring
  • SCTH 30928
  • Lorraine Daston

As proudly empirical as the sciences, as interpretive as the humanities, and as analytical as the social sciences, history as the pursuit of knowledge about the past resists classification. Because all history is written through the lens of the present, most works of history cease to be read after a generation, especially during the modern period, as the pace of change accelerated. In this seminar we will read some of the exceptions, including works by Kant, Tocqueville, Michelet, Cassirer, Huizinga, Lovejoy, and Frances Yates, to understand how a powerful vision of the past can transcend its own present.

KNOW 21405 / 31405: The Italian Renaissance

  • Course Level: Graduate, Undergraduate
  • Department: Center for Latin American Studies, Classical Studies, History, History of Christianity, IFK, Italian, Religious Studies
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Spring
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays 3:30 – 4:50 PM
  • KNOW 21405/31405, HIST 22900/32900, CLAS 32914, HCHR 32900, ITAL 32914/22914, CLCV 22914, RLST 22900
  • Ada Palmer

Florence, Rome, and the Italian city-states in the age of plagues and cathedrals, Dante and Machiavelli, Medici and Borgia (1250–1600), with a focus on literature and primary sources, the recovery of lost texts and technologies of the ancient world, and the role of the Church in Renaissance culture and politics. Humanism, patronage, translation, cultural immersion, dynastic and papal politics, corruption, assassination, art, music, magic, censorship, religion, education, science, heresy, and the roots of the Reformation. Assignments include creative writing, reproducing historical artifacts, and a live reenactment of a papal election. First-year students and non-history majors welcome.

KNOW 27700 / 37700: The (Auto)Biography of a Nation: Francesco De Sanctis and Benedetto Croce

  • Course Level: Graduate, Undergraduate
  • Department: Comparative Literature, IFK, Italian
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Spring
  • TBD
  • ITAL 27700/37700, CMLT 28800/38800
  • Rocco Rubini

At its core, this course examines the making and legacy of Francesco De Sanctis’s History of Italian Literature (1870-71), a work that distinguished literary critic René Wellek defined as “the finest history of any literature ever written” and “an active instrument of aesthetic evolution.” We will read the History in the larger context of De Sanctis’s corpus, including his vast epistolary exchanges, autobiographical writings, and so-called Critical Essays in order to detail his reform of Hegelian aesthetics, his redefinition of the intellectual’s task after the perceived exhaustion of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Romantic moments, and his campaign against the bent toward erudition, philology, and antiquarianism in 19th-century European scholarship. We will compare De Sanctis’s methodology to that of his scholarly models in France (Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred Mézières) and Germany (Georg Gottfried Gervinus, Georg Voigt) to explore De Sanctis’s claim that literary criticisms – not just literary cultures – are “national.” In the second part of the course, we assess Benedetto Croce’s appropriation of De Sanctis in his Aesthetics (1902), arguably the last, vastly influential work in its genre and we conclude with Antonio Gramsci’s use of De Sanctis for the regeneration of a literary savvy Marxism or philosophy of praxis. In the current age of “world literature,” characterized by a wariness toward national literary canons, we may find that reading De Sanctis, one of the uncontested founders of modern literary critcism, proves therapeutic  and usefully introspective in critically revaluating and clarifying our current values and beliefs as women and men of letters.      

KNOW 45699: When Cultures Collide: Multiculturalism in Liberal Democracies

  • Course Level: Graduate
  • Department: Anthropology, Comparative Human Development, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Human Rights, Psychology
  • Year:
  • Term:
  • Wednesdays 9:30am-12:20pm
  • CHDV 45699, PSYC 45300, ANTH 45600, HMRT 35600, GNSE 45600
  • Richard A. Shweder

Coming to terms with diversity in an increasingly multicultural world has become one of the most pressing public policy projects for liberal democracies in the early 21st century. One way to come to terms with diversity is to try to understand the scope and limits of toleration for variety at different national sites where immigration from foreign lands has complicated the cultural landscape. This seminar examines a series of legal and moral questions about the proper response to norm conflict between mainstream populations and cultural minority groups (including old and new immigrants), with special reference to court cases that have arisen in the recent history of the United States.

KNOW 31407: Hermeneutic Sociology

  • Course Level: Graduate
  • Department: Anthropology, IFK, Sociology
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Winter
  • M 5:30 - 8:20pm
  • SOCI 40156, ANTH 40150, KNOW 31407
  • Andreas Glaeser

The core ideas of a social hermeneutics expanding traditional textual hermeneutics into social life, were developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They can be summarized in a few intertwining propositions: First, discursive, emotive and sensory modalities of sense making, conscious and unconscious, characterize and differentiate social life forms. Second, sense making is acting, thus entangled in institutions. Third, sense making proceeds in diverse media whose structures and habits of use shape its process rendering form and style important. Fourth, sense making is structured by the relationships within which they take place. Fifth, sense making is crucial for the reproduction of all aspects of life forms. Sixths, sense making, life forms, and media are dialectically (co-constitutively) intertwined with each other. Seventh, social hermeneutics is itself sense-making. The course will explore these ideas by reading classical statements that highlight the core analytical concepts that social hermeneuticists employ such as symbolization, interpretation, mediation, rhetoric, performance, performativity, interpretive community, institutionalization. Every session will combine a discussion of the readings with an analytical practicum using these concepts. Authors typically include Vico, Herder, Dilthey, Aristotle, Burke, Austin, Ricoeur, Schütz, Bourdieu, Peirce, Panofsky, Ranciere, Lakoff, Mackenzie, Latour.

This course fulfills part of the KNOW Core Seminar requirement to be eligible to apply for the SIFK Dissertation Research Fellowship. Ph.D. students must register with the KNOW 31407 course number in order for this course to meet the requirement. 

KNOW 21417: American Modernities

  • Course Level: Undergraduate
  • Department: Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies, History, History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine, IFK
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Autumn
  • M/W 3:00pm-4:20pm
  • KNOW 21417, HIPS 21417, HIST 27014, CRES 21417
  • Isaiah Lorado Wilner

This seminar covers social thought in the United States from the Progressive Era to the present. The central theme will be the highly charged concept of modernity. Modernity is often thought of as an attribute or invention of Western Europe, but what if we see it as a family of experiences shared by many interconnecting peoples? After framing the concept of modernity globally, drawing on Baudelaire, Weber, and Taylor, we will move to the United States. There, three historical processes of rupture and renascence—the Atlantic slave trade; the indigenous cataclysm brought about by European settlement; and transnational migration—yielded forms of modernity autochthonous to the Americas. Part I, Sources of Modernity, considers the influence of diaspora and historical trauma on the making of the social sciences, giving attention to the rise of new ideas of race, culture, and the unconscious that led to an assault on universal standards of civilization. Part II, Rupture and Reweaving, traces the affect of modernity across landscapes of perception—conceptual (American philosophy), sonic (music), and visual (state surveillance). Part III, Disciplines of Witnessing, turns to modernism as praxis through an investigation of idea networks: psychological, poetic, mathematical, and aesthetic. Postwar incubators of modernist experimentation produced situations of epistemic flux, destabilizing binaries between Self and Other, human and machine, thinking and nonthinking—leading to posthumanist understandings that cracked the foundations of modernity. Part IV, Deconstructing Modernity, turns to the fracture of modernism in the aftermath of decolonization through a consideration of identity, the linguistic turn, and the memory boom. A final set of discussions locates modernity in the Anthropocene.

KNOW 40203: Biopolitics and Posthumanism

  • Course Level: Graduate
  • Department: IFK
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Winter
  • Wednesdays 9:30pm-12:20pm
  • N. Bruner

Much has been written about the possibility (or impossibility) of creating an integrated political schema that incorporates living status, not species boundary, as the salient distinction between person and thing. In this course, we will explore how biopolitical and posthumanistic scholars like Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, Jane Bennett, Cary Wolfe, and Donna Haraway have acknowledged (and advocated transcending) the anthropocentric ümwelt, to borrow Jakob von Üexküll’s influential term. In parallel with our theoretical readings, we will explore how actual legal systems have incorporated the nonhuman, with a particular focus on Anglo-American and transnational law. Our goal is to develop our own sense of an applied biopolitics—whether to our own research, to future legislation and jurisprudence, or both.  

This course fulfills part of the KNOW Core Seminar requirement to be eligible to apply for the SIFK Dissertation Research Fellowship. No instructor consent is required, but registration is not final until after the 1st week in order to give Ph.D. students priority.

KNOW 27013: Being Corporate

  • Course Level: Undergraduate
  • Department: IFK
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Spring
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays 11:00am-12:20pm
  • N. Bruner

Corporations suffuse our lives.  We study with them, work with them, consume their products—even become part of them through the purchase of stock.  But what, exactly, is a corporation?  In this course, we will trace the evolution of the US corporation from its historical roots through the present day.  Our focus will be twofold: the evolving rights and responsibilities of the corporate person in law, and the ways that individual humans both inside and outside the corporate structure have imagined that person in a wider social context.  Texts will include US court cases, legal treatises, historical analyses, novels, and cultural ephemera.  By the end of the course, students will have a deeper understanding of the persistent and evolving problems of corporate personhood and corporate social responsibility, both from a business and a consumer perspective.

KNOW 40305: The Archive of Early English Literature: Manuscripts, Books, and Canon

  • Course Level: Graduate
  • Department: IFK
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Spring
  • J. Stadolnik

This course will introduce students to early English literature through manuscript studies and book history. Throughout the course we will reflect on archival research as a critical practice: how do the material histories of early texts invite us to rethink the fundamental categories that organize literary history, like authorship or canonicity? The course will be both a practicum (teaching the basics of paleography, codicology, and textual editing) and an ongoing conversation about the archives of literary history, as sites of interpretation, memory, and erasure. 

We will meet in the Special Collections Research Center, and use the collections of the University of Chicago. We will first focus on the archives of Chicago’s Chaucer Research Project and its principals, John Matthews Manly and Edith Rickert, who tried to establish an authoritative text of the Canterbury Tales in the early twentieth century. The second half of the course will focus on print culture and reading practice, with a focus on Chicago’s collection of early modern commonplace books. Students will propose and pursue a research project in the U of C or Newberry Library collections, on a topic of their choosing. Students will produce a piece of scholarship that reflects both careful research in those collections and thoughtfulness about the place of that research in critical practice.  

This course fulfills part of the KNOW Core Seminar requirement to be eligible to apply for the SIFK Dissertation Research Fellowship. No instructor consent is required, but registration is not final until after the 1st week in order to give Ph.D. students priority.

KNOW 27012: Reading the Known World: Medieval Travel Genres

  • Course Level: Undergraduate
  • Department: IFK
  • Year: 2018-19
  • Term: Winter
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:00am-12:20pm
  • KNOW 27012
  • J. Stadolnik

This course will consider how medieval English readers came to knowledge of their world, and imagined a place within it, through genres of travel narrative such as the pilgrim’s itinerary, the merchant manual, and the saint’s life. We will reflect on genre as concept en route: how did generic conventions and strategies organize this knowledge of unknown lands, other peoples, and distant marvels?  We will read medieval texts like Book of Margery Kempe, Mandeville’s Travels, and the Digby play of Mary Magdalene, along with medieval and modern literary theory, to survey how vernacular literature presented a picture of the world and charted paths across it. Students will leave the class proficient in reading Middle English (the precursor of modern English). No previous experience with the language is required, and an optional weekly reading group will meet to work through passages in this half-new language.