KNOW courses are offered by the faculty of the Stevanovich 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 are 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 Stevanovich Institute's Postdoctoral Scholars. To browse courses, search by department, quarter, academic year, or type in a keyword that interests you. In addition, the Stevanovich Institute launched 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 43204: Medical Anthropology
We will analyze constitutive precepts, namely secularism, syncretism, toleration. Our attention here will be on the universal connotations of these ideas and their South Asian expression. Fifth week onward, we will turn our attention to select thinkers: Gandhi, Ambedkar, Azad, Madani. Our focus here will be on the ways that each intellectual negotiated the thorny issues of toleration, difference, ethnicity, and belonging. All the thinkers covered in this class had an active presence in nationalist era politics. Finally, we will read historical accounts of some of the most frequent causes of intolerance, namely cow slaughter, music played before the mosque, and desecration of sacred objects.
KNOW 32800: Religion, Ethics, and the Sciences
Basic concepts in the philosophy and history of science are critical to understanding debates in bioethics, environmental ethics, information technology ethics, and other related fields. This class will examine how scientific authority, methods, and information may relate to ethics, particularly religious ethics. We will also study objectivity, subjectivity, and values in the sciences; the development of scientific knowledge; risk, precaution, and accidents; and the development and use codes of ethics for scientists and engineers.
KNOW 21224: Against Interpretation: Philology at the Crossroads
Susan Sontag closed her essay "Against Interpretation" calling for "an erotics of art." Such an "erotics" would avoid doing anything to tame the work of art-allowing its hold on the imagination to grow, without trimming down its excrescences. Eros here stands for the irreducibility of the presence of art-the finite or even infinitesimal presence that imposes itself as irrepressibly fractal in its growth. Sontag was challenging us to make a certain kind of intellectual and affective space available-and this challenge has been reprised in recent scholarship that attempts to trace the state of the Humanities and some of its more eminent toolkits. Both philology and close-reading have been exposed as disciplinarian "disciplines" of the Humanities-long having abandoned the "erotic" power reading as a strategy of unfolding in favor of what might be termed strategies of containment. But this was not always the case. This course seeks to recover what then remains, peeking into the backgrounds of these disciplines as they stand at the crossroads of relevance and retreat-hovering just short of the intimate space of textual experience described by Sontag.
KNOW 29976: XCAP: The Narratives and Aesthetics of Contagion: Knowledge Formation in the Time of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in our lifetimes, one that has permeated our personal, national, and global discourse about health, disease, and dying. It confronts us with questions that we struggle to answer and are expressive of our individual and societal fears and anxieties. Where did the virus come from? How do I keep myself safe? How many of us will die? When will it go away? Will we ever return to normal? In the search for answers to these questions, we have been inundated with images and information about the virus, its contagious spread, and the impact on our society. Yet what do we make of all of this information? Where does it come from? And how does it help us understand the current moment? This is a unique opportunity to observe and participate in a moment of worldwide engagement in the challenge of knowledge formation. This course will explore how (dis)information about the virus and pandemic is created, disseminated, and shapes our perceptions and behaviors, with a particular focus on narratives and aesthetics within a variety of information ecosystems. In this course we examine what is happening as the scientific community and the media (print and digital) confront these unknowns under the watch of an anxious public, with its powerful fears, beliefs, and imagination. We will explore, in a broadly chronological format, important narratives and iconography that emerged and continue to evolve during the course of the ongoing pandemic and that contribute to our individual and collective understanding of social, cultural, political, and scientific aspects of the pandemic. We will further consider how this information relates to personal and collective knowledge formation that subsequently informs our attitudes about and behaviors during the pandemic. Our weekly readings and discussions will explore how scientists tell their story and represent their progress in a field of discourse with an unusually engaged public, which brings to bear its various faiths and agnosticism toward the systems of knowledge and practice of science. Clinical and public health ethics will provide an important framework for assessing and understanding this information within a medical context, including the ethics of quarantine, scarce resource allocation, vaccine creation, and mandated behaviors (masking, stay-at-home). We will also discuss how medical knowledge is formed and used to care for patients within a rapidly changing clinical environment. Materials that we will draw upon include: medical and scientific literature, mainstream media print and video, and materials that exist on the fringe of mainstream media. Assignments will focus on interrogating personal sources of information and how that information contributes to personal knowledge formation about and behaviors during the pandemic.
IRHU 27001: The Human Body in Extremes
What can the human body endure? This interdisciplinary research seminar focuses on the interplay between bodies and extreme environments. Each week we will “visit” a different hazardous context or locale and consider the challenges it poses to human culture and survival. Environments to be covered include outer space, deep seas, polar regions, radiation zones, mountain summits, underground mines, and disaster areas. With tools from environmental history, the history of medicine, the history of technology, medical anthropology, and sociology, we will consider how ideas of the body and how ideas of the environment change over time, and how producing knowledge about the limits of the body helps to define what people consider “normal.” Each seminar will pair short readings drawn from secondary sources with original research tasks in diverse historical archives. Students in the course will develop greater familiarity with humanistic research methods, as well as learn how to apply scientific and biomedical ideas of the body to participate effectively in current debates shaping where people live, work, or simply visit.
IRHU 27000: Race in Science and Medicine from 1800 to the Present
This interdisciplinary course will explore the ways in which scientists have studied and theorized race from the 18th century onward. We will start with Linnaeus’s racial classification and the 18th and 19th century anthropological study of skulls and bones, move to the 20th century study of genetic human variation, and end with the use of racial categories in biomedical research today. How have practices and theories of studying human diversity changed and persisted over time? The course will highlight the problematic and contentious nature of these studies by analyzing their colonial contexts, the UNESCO critiques after World War II, and current-day comments on race and science in newspaper articles and podcasts (transcripts available on course website). Together, we will reflect on how historical knowledge can assist in tackling complex issues surrounding race, science, and bias in societies today and in the past.
KNOW 17703: Visualizing Knowledge: Studies in the Humanities and Sciences
Visualization is a tool deployed across various fields of knowledge production. Diverse forms of imaging practices not only are wielded to support data and to illustrate claims, but also to disseminate information. Positioned at the nexus of art and science, this course explores the representational strategies deployed in various intellectual domains. We ask: how was/is knowledge visualized and what conventions determine(d) such standards of validity and utility? Far from being limited to one geographical or temporal context, we consider a range of visualization practices from early modernity to the present moment, especially as this concerns astronomy, geography, cartography, and medical diagnostics, as well as more recent areas of inquiry, visual pedagogy and the digital humanities.
KNOW 36072: Compiling and Mediating Environmental History
How do audiovisual media archives inform both the research and presentation of environmental history? This course looks at a series of documentary films and online media projects that show how the history of society-environmental interactions in site-specific areas have long-lasting effects. For example, John Gianvito’s documentary Vapor Trail Clark (2010) uses archival visual material and interviews to narrate the environmental history of the U.S. Clark Airforce Base in the Philippines. Established as sovereign territory during the period of American colonialism, the U.S. government abandoned the site when a nearby volcanic eruption buried a large section of the grounds. The Filipino government repurposed the buildings to house those displaced by the volcano, turning the vacated base into an ad-hoc refugee camp. Soon after, the underground stores of fuel, flame retardants, weapons, and insecticides left by the U.S. military entered the water table and consequently the Filipino environmental refugees faced severe health complications for years. In the seminar, students analyze such media objects alongside readings in environmental history and documentary media theory. Synthesizing these disciplinary resources encourages students to understand place through both how historians write about socio-environmental change and how audiovisual media index ecologies. In consultation with the instructor, the goal of this interdisciplinary engagement is to guide students toward a final project that employs both research and creation to produce an environmental historical case study that utilizes a media archive to make the argument. For instance, this may be a short essay film remixing footage from mid-century Hollywood cinema that recorded natural landscapes since lost to development, or a digital exhibition using the publishing platform Scalar to map how a group of activists use YouTube to communicate ecological problems, or a written study that reconstructs how a fenceline community suffers from environmental racism by analyzing photographic archives alongside readings from social geography, and so on. This course shows how humanistic inquiry into documentary media and the material conditions of media production can inform the assembly and presentation of environmental historical knowledge. Students with interests in film and media studies, history, environmental studies, and the environmental humanities will share with their peers how both media and memory record socio-ecological history. Production experience is not required.
KNOW 36068: Violence and the State
Violence in modern states is at once exceptional and ever-present, thought of as aberration even as it is routinely employed. Focusing primarily on modern Europe (especially France) and its colonial empires, this seminar will explore this contradiction in theory and practice. We will consider violence at the intersection of race, gender, and class. We will learn how various modern thinkers including Tocqueville, Weber, and Sorel theorized the place of violence in liberal society. We will read writers and activists like Fanon, Gandhi, de Beauvoir, and Assia Djebar to understand the role of violence in empire and decolonization. Finally, we will connect this history to the present day by considering contemporary police violence in France.
KNOW 36054: SIFK MAPSS Core: Ways of Knowing
This seminar introduces students to the practices and principles that guide the nascent field of inquiry into the formation of knowledge. “Ways of Knowing” examines how claims to knowledge are shaped by disciplinary, social, historical, and political contexts, as well as local cultural factors both explicit and unspoken. How do we know what we know? How have cultures and scholars contested, reconfigured, and defamiliarized accepted claims to knowledge? Building on social science perspectives and methods, this course will explore the formation of knowledge through key historical, sociological, and anthropological case studies. Furthermore, the course will take a expansive approach to knowledge formation by considering the interface of theory, practice, and social action. "Ways of Knowing" is a required seminar for all students wishing to undertake the Formation of Knowledge MAPSS track.