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 24710: Genealogy of Confession: Foucault, Christianity, and the History of Truth
"Western man has become a confessing animal," Foucault writes, calling our attention to the religious background of secular institutions, especially in the persistence and proliferation of confession in juridical, medical, and psychiatric domains. In this course, we will take up confession as a practice in order to examine both its history and development within the Christian tradition, and its diverse and persisting forms in extra-religious contexts. Following the argument that religious forms act in our contemporary world in varying, diverse, and often unseen ways, the class will pursue an inquiry into confession and the insight it affords into contemporary questions. The course will proceed in three modules. First, we will read selections of Foucault in order to gain a framework and vocabulary for asking philosophical, critical, and historical questions on confession. In the second module, we will study primary sources from the Christian tradition that signal key moments in the history of confession, including sources from Tertullian, Cyprian, Cassian, Augustine, and Luther. In the third module, we will look for patterns of continuity and discontinuity in the domains of philosophy, literature, psychoanalysis, law, and criticism. Treating these sections in turn will allow for comparisons of critical themes, including truth, judgment, freedom, and subject. In answering these critical questions, we will pursue a theoretical and historical investigation of key texts from the history of confession, and put our analytic skills to work on current discursive modes.
KNOW 25315: Science Outside of Europe
The classical narrative of the history of science is, as one prominent historian of science has recently put it, “not just a Eurocentric narrative, it is the Eurocentric narrative, the one that explained how the West had outstripped the rest by inventing science and thereby winning the modernity sweepstakes.” This course will explore how, when and why this narrative took shape, and how recent scholarship has grappled with its legacy. Is it possible or desirable to tell the
story—or a story—of science from outside of Europe? What might we learn about that thing we call modernity if we start from traditions of systematized knowledge outside of Europe? The course will expose undergraduates to a range of contemporary debates about non-western and non-modern science from post-colonial, post-positivist, and more traditional historicist perspectives. While the course will take a global perspective, it will often draw on materials from
South Asia, which, as the purported ‘jewel’ in the crown of the British empire and as a location with a long history of scholarly traditions, is a productive place from which to pose global questions. No prior knowledge of South Asian history or South Asian languages is required.
KNOW 27015 / 37015: Graphic Medicine
What do comics add to the discourse on health, illness, and disease? What insight do comics provide about the experience of illness? Can comics improve health? Graphic Medicine: Concepts and Practice is a course designed to introduce students to the basic concepts and practices of the emerging field of graphic medicine. Broadly defined as the “intersection between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare,” graphic medicine allows for a unique exploration of health, disease, and illness through the narrative use of graphic and textual elements. Following a life-cycle framework, this course will examine the range of graphic medicine works that address topics such as pregnancy, abortion, mental health, sexuality, chronic medical diseases, HIV/AIDS, dementia, and end-of-life issues. Students will learn about conceptual and practical aspects of the field and be exposed to a variety of styles and genres that capture its breadth and diversity. In addition to reading, analyzing, and discussing the works, an important component of the class will be exercises during which students will create their own graphic medicine works. Taught by a nurse cartoonist (also a founding figure in the field) and a physician, the course also provides a perspective of the field from within the practice of medicine. Through didactics, discussion, and practice, this course will provide students with a thorough understanding of the field of graphic medicine.
KNOW 40306: Race, Land, and Empire: History, Intersectionality, and the Meanings of America
This seminar examines the making and meaning of the United States at the intersections of race, land, and empire. It considers a set of profound historical transformations that shape American and global life today: the conquest and colonization of the vast North American continent; the expansion of slavery and, with it, a system of global capitalism; the growth of opposition to that system of labor, culminating in the Civil War; the origins, as a result of that war, of a modern American nation-state; the ethnic cleansing and resettlement of the West; and the ascension of the United States of America to global eminence as a military power. Rather than framing these events within a national narrative about the idea of Manifest Destiny or an epic struggle toward the ideal of democracy—an approach that ignores most of the continent, divides the West from the North and South, and frames history itself as progress—this course makes use of a global lens to analyze the borders between and border crossings by American communities. Our foci will be the interrelations between regions and peoples; the processes that led to alteration; and the evolution of structures that redistributed social power. Our three interwoven factors—race, land, and empire—give us an acute lens of observation. At the intersections of these patterns of belonging, modes of land use, and relations of domination, we can come to a new understanding of the most rapid surge of colonization in world history, which led to the rise of a global empire. Salient themes include democracy and its contradictions, imperial science, questions of historical agency, the politics of sex and gender, and the ongoing legacies of slavery and ethnic cleansing.
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 30928: Thinking the Present through the Past: Classic Works of History since 1750
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
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
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
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
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
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.