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 22175: Apprenticeship: Learning on the Job
What does it mean to master one’s craft? How is mastery evaluated and who determines when it is achieved? Apprenticeship tends to involve long-term, intensive, and situated, or site-specific learning, under the guidance of masters and alongside of peers. While explicit instructions or textbooks may feature in apprenticeships, apprentices often learn by observing those with more experience and attempting to repeat or reproduce what they observe. Drawing on ethnographies of apprenticeship in chocolate making, Lucha Libre wrestling, Chinese medicine, and fire fighting, we will examine the embodied processes of socialization and professionalization, and pay close attention to the settings in which learning takes place. By taking this course, students will gain a broader understanding of the nuances between apprenticeship and other forms of learning. Moreover, by completing an ethnographic reflection project, students will develop sharper observation and field note taking skills.
KNOW 24106/34106: Uncanny Resemblances
This course examines one of the most captivating bodies of portrait art in the Western tradition. Captivating because they are at once disquietingly familiar and strange: familiar in their realism and psychological presence, yet foreign in their temporal remoteness. For well over a century, the study of Roman portraiture, an essentially German subfield of classical archaeology, has largely confined itself to forensic problems of dating and identification. More recent work has focused on social and political topics ranging from site-specific issues of context and display, patronage and power, gender, and the ideological stakes of recarving and reuse. Additionally, we will consider the historiographical and media-archaeological contexts that have profoundly shaped and framed our understanding of these objects, both in antiquity and modernity: e.g., the production (and reproduction) of wax and plaster death masks in Roman funerary custom; ancient theories in the domain of optics that were used to explain the phenomenon of portraits whose eyes appear to follow a beholder in space; how the stylistic category of “veristic” portraiture in the Roman Republic has its origins not in antiquity (despite the Latin etymology), but rather in the painting and photography of the Neue Sachlichkeit in Weimar Germany; and how the contemporary use of digital craniofacial anthropometry to study the recarving and reuse of Roman portraits relates to Sir Francis Galton’s criminological apparatus for creating composite photographic images using portraits from ancient coins as early as 1885.
KNOW 48809: Trompe l’oeil: Cognition and Depiction in Western Painting
This course offers a focused examination of trompe l’oeil, a category of painting that is typically associated with the aims of illusion or deception. Yet who, or rather what set of criteria, adjudicates what counts as an illusion or deception in the first place? Indeed, why are illusion or deception even the appropriate or operative terms here? And how might we begin to attend in an historical fashion to the phenomenological question of how human agents, whether in the distant or even the more recent past, saw such pictures as pictures? For many art historians as well as philosophers and anthropologists of art, the historical emergence of trompe l’oeil constitutes a somewhat paradoxical phenomenon. On one hand, it counts as evidence for a natural-historical revolution in human depictive practices and cognition; on the other, it is an extreme, essentially transhistorical case of picture-making and perception. We will look at works spanning from ancient Roman wall-painting to Dutch Golden Age still life to the immersive environments of contemporary art through various methodological approaches including the philosophy and psychology of depiction, psychoanalysis, ethology (the study of animal behavior), and so-called “neuroarthistory.”
KNOW 30926: Wonder, Wonders, and Knowing
“In wonder is the beginning of philosophy,” wrote Aristotle; Descartes also thought that those deficient in wonder were also deficient in knowledge. But the relationship between wonder and inquiry has always been an ambivalent one: too much wonder stupefies rather than stimulates investigation, according to Descartes; Aristotle explicitly excluded wonders as objects of inquiry from natural philosophy. Since the sixteenth century, scientists and scholars have both cultivated and repudiated the passion of wonder. On the one hand, marvels (or even just anomalies) threaten to subvert the human and natural orders; on the other, the wonder they ignite fuels inquiry into their causes. Wonder is also a passion tinged with the numinous, and miracles have long stood for the inexplicable in religious contexts. This seminar will explore the long, vexed relationship between wonder, knowledge, and belief in the history of philosophy, science, and religion.
Prerequisites: Reading knowledge of at least one language besides English, some background in intellectual history.
KNOW 40308: Political Theologies of Slavery and Freedom in the Atlantic World
This seminar examines the interdisciplinary form of knowledge known as “political theology” in the context of Atlantic slavery. The course will trace two major developments. First, we will explore how Christian metaphysics facilitated colonialism and slavery, focusing on the emergence of race as a theological (rather than a biological) concept and on the self-fulfilling providentialism that structured fantasies of Euro-Christian world dominance. Second, we will explore how indigenous and African cosmologies and Christianities informed enslaved resistance and abolitionism. Our readings will range from works of political theology (Augustine, Calvin, Hobbes) to early American writings (Las Casas, Ligon, Jefferson) to Black Atlantic anti-slavery texts (Wheatley, Walker, Turner). We’ll consider the explorer George Best’s rewriting of the biblical Curse of Ham, Francis Bacon’s claim that Europe’s superior technology evidenced its Chosen status, and the ideology of “hereditary heathenism” that forestalled early efforts to convert slaves to Christianity. Likewise, we’ll consider the role of obeah in Anglo-Caribbean insurrections and vodou in the Haitian Revolution, the competing attitudes toward Christian slave revolt found in fiction by Douglass and Stowe, and the continued contestation of what W. E. B. Du Bois called “the new religion of whiteness.” Secondary authors may include Charles Taylor, Talal Asad, Max Weber, Colin Kidd, Rebecca Goetz, Jared Hickman, Katharine Gerbner, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, and J. Kameron Carter.
KNOW 40307: Seeing and Knowing
The concept of visuality attends to the ways in which things become seeable, knowable, and governable. Scholars who study optical instruments, architecture, cinema, and media have done much to show us how visual technologies change our ways of seeing. Others in the history of science study how practices of observation transform our understanding of nature—and ourselves.
This comparative course analyzes regimes of visuality in different cultural and historical contexts. After a short introduction on the philosophy of visual experience and psychology of visual perception, we will investigate a series of configurations of seeing and knowing. These sites range from the history of disability to contemporary climate science, and students will be asked to contribute visual topics from their own research or disciplines for collective exploration in our seminar. Through comparative study, we will work to develop new categories or relationships for linking perception and knowledge.
KNOW 40208: Man and/as Machine
Recently, Amazon employees fighting for better working conditions united under the slogan “We are not robots!” Recalling Karl Capek’s R.U.R., which coined the word robot (from the Czech word for slave), the slogan suggests the importance of the machine as an object and a concept in relation to which human identity has been – and continues to be – defined. Throughout the history of human thought, the machine has existed as both something that we are like (for example, Descartes comparing the brain to a machine) but also as an opposite to humanity (as in the aforementioned slogan). This course will trace this tension between the machine as an ‘Other’ and as a metaphor for our human self from the early modern period to the present. Beginning with theoretical and philosophical writing on the importance of oppositions and binaries to human identity and language, it will trace the history of the idea of the machine as it relates to the human in texts by Rene Descartes, La Mettrie, Emile Zola, Karl Capek, Alan Turing, and Donna Haraway, among others. In addition to confronting the complexity and ambiguity of a concept that ubiquitously shapes our lives today, students in this course will also wrestle with broader humanistic questions regarding the nature of the Self, the boundaries between self and other, and the relationship between human identity and technology.
KNOW 40207: Human Rights and Humanitarianism in the Modern World
The related concepts of human rights and humanitarianism form the basis of contemporary ethical and political thought. Acting in the name of “humanity” is seen as unequivocally noble, and very few of us would ever claim to be anti-humanitarian or anti-human rights. Yet the moral consensus surrounding these terms obscures a contested and often disturbing history. Rather than uncritically accepting a triumphalist story of the progressive victory of human rights and humanitarianism, this course will explore how these concepts were constructed over time, paying special attention to how they were used in practice, what kind of rhetorical work they accomplished, and whose interests they served.
The course will consider the origins of modern concepts of humanity, rights, citizenship, and social responsibility during the enlightenment and trace how they developed over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. We will study the role of human rights and humanitarianism in the transformative events and processes of modern history, including the rise of nation-states, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition, imperial expansion and decolonization, the world wars, and twentieth-century genocides. Students will leave the course with an understanding of how human rights and humanitarianism can be applied to their own research interests.
KNOW 28003: Tutorial: Histories of Scientific Communication, 1650-1914
In a 2004 address to the History of Science Society, historian James Secord exhorted his audience to play closer attention to what he called “knowledge in transit,” meaning the practices and mechanisms that have historically served to circulate knowledge claims, arguing that “questions of ‘what’ is being said can only be answered through a simultaneous understanding of ‘how,’ ‘where,’ ‘when,’ and ‘for whom.’”
The aim of this course is to apply Secord’s maxim to a series of case studies in the history of scientific communication. That is, each week we will historicize a different form of scientific communication or inscription, ranging from the public demonstrating to the scientific image, and situate it within a particular socio-political context and regime of knowledge production.
KNOW 21108 / 31108: Time after Physics
This course provides a historical survey of the philosophy of time. We begin with the problems of change, being and becoming as formulated in Ancient Greece by Parmenides and Zeno, and Aristotle’s attempted resolution in the Physics by providing the first formal theory of time. The course then follows theories of time through developments in physics and philosophy up to the present day. Along the way we will take in Descartes’ theory of continuous creation, Newton’s Absolute Time, Leibniz’s and Mach’s relational theories, Russell’s relational theory, Broad’s growing block, Whitehead’s epochal theory, McTaggart’s A, B and C theories, Prior’s tense logic, Belnap’s branching time, Einstein’s relativity theory and theories of quantum gravity.