KNOW 29522: Europe’s Intellectual Transformations, Renaissance through Enlightenment
This course will consider the foundational transformations of Western thought from the end of the Middle Ages to the threshold of modernity. It will provide an overview of the three self-conscious and interlinked intellectual revolutions which reshaped early modern Europe: the Renaissance revival of antiquity, the "new philosophy" of the seventeenth century, and the light and dark faces of the Enlightenment. It will treat scholasticism, humanism, the scientific revolution, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Diderot, and Sade.
KNOW 20702: Environmental Justice in Chicago
This course will examine the development of environmental justice theory and practice through social scientific and ethical literature about the subject. We will focus on environmental justice issues in Chicago including, but not limited to waste disposal, toxic air and water, the Chicago heat wave, and climate change. Particular attention will be paid to environmental racism and the often understudied role of religion in environmental justice theory and practice.
KNOW 31302: Goethe: Literature, Science, Philosophy
This lecture-discussion course will examine Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's intellectual development, from the time he wrote Sorrows of Young Werther through the final states of Faust. Along the way, we will read a selection of Goethe's plays, poetry, and travel literature. We will also examine his scientific work, especially his theory of color and his morphological theories. On the philosophical side, we will discuss Goethe's coming to terms with Kant (especially the latter's third Critique) and his adoption of Schelling's transcendental idealism. The theme uniting the exploration of the various works of Goethe will be unity of the artistic and scientific understanding of nature, especially as he exemplified that unity in "the eternal feminine."
KNOW 22012: Technologies of Race Making
This course considers the intersections between technology, science, and race. It explores how technologies have been developed and used to assign racial meaning to people's identities and bodies and how this has impacted economic, political, and social power structures. We will read studies relating to historical and present-day technologies and discuss topics such as racial science, phrenology, biometry, surveillance and policing, artificial intelligence and automation, and data production and reuse. A major theme that runs through the course is the practice of race-making, how biological race is enacted and made relevant in specific technological practices. Which assumptions and expectations about human variation are built into the technologies? What are the effects of its use in practice? How does race making configure into more durable forms, such as standards, databanks, and protocols? This class will be bi-modal, with in class and online options.
This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://sifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/
KNOW 22011: Data: History and Literature
Data is a notion that seems to characterize our contemporary world. Digital revolutions, artificial intelligence, and new forms of management and governance all claim to be data-driven. This course traces the origins of these trends to the nineteenth century, when new statistical knowledges and literary traditions emerged. Moving across disciplinary boundaries, we will analyze the ways in which practices of observation and calculation produced data on populations, crime, and economies. Likewise, the literature of this period reflected the ways that data shaped subjective experience and cultural life: the rise of the detective novel transformed the world into a set of signs and data points to interpret, while Balzac's Human Comedy classified individuals into types. Drawing on these historical and humanistic perspectives, students will have the opportunity to measure and analyze their own lives in terms of data-as well as think critically about the effects of these knowledge practices.
This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge
Watch a trailer of the class here.
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 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.
KNOW 24341: Topics in Medical Anthropology: Decolonizing Global Health
Over the past two decades, the field of “global health” has become the dominant narrative and organizing logic for interventions into health and well-being worldwide. This seminar will review theoretical positions and debates in medical anthropology, focusing on the decolonizing global health movement. Divergent historical legacies of colonialism and racism, institutionalized forms of structural violence, and modern-day extractive capitalism have resulted in stark global inequities, which currently stand at shockingly unprecedented levels. This seminar offers a critical lens to rethink contemporary global health’s logic and practice by considering other histories and political formations, experiences, and knowledge production systems. This seminar opens up a space for generative dialogue on the future directions of what constitutes health, equity, and aid, and whether social justice is or should be the new imperative for action.
KNOW 36059: Media, Environment, and Risk
This seminar reads the debates on risk in environmental studies alongside the emergence of risk criticism in media theory to interrogate the probabilistic thinking inherent to the mass communication of ecological hazard. A common characteristic of recent environmental catastrophes ranging from Bhopal, Fukushima Daiichi, Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, and the varied crises of global climate change, is that knowledge about unfolding ecological disaster involves the communication of environmental risk—whether imperceptible or probable—by media. This seminar offers graduate students methodological training to discern how risk is geographically and historically organized in parallel with the knowledge politics of distributing risk information through journalism, documentary, and digital media. Illustrated by readings and nonfiction media objects that record historical case studies of ecological crises, this seminar analyzes key epistemological concepts drawn from environmental studies and media theory, including uncertainty, ignorance, resilience, environmental racism, prediction, and prevention. This course is interdisciplinary and welcomes students with interests in environmental studies, film and media studies, environmental history, environmental sociology and SSK, STS, and the environmental humanities.
KNOW 18400: Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization II: “Renaissance to Enlightenment”
This lecture-discussion course examines the development science and scientific philosophy from the mid-fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The considerations begin with the recovery of an ancient knowledge in the works of Leonardo, Vesalius, Harvey, and Copernicus. Thereafter the course will focus on Enlightenment science, as represented by Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and Hume. The course will culminate with the work of Darwin, who utilized traditional concepts to inaugurate modern science. For each class, the instructor will provide a short introductory lecture on the texts, and then open discussion to pursue with students the unexpected accomplishments of the authors under scrutiny.
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 36065: Classification as World-Making
“To classify,” write Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Star, “is human.” There can be no doubt that classification sits at the heart of almost any form of knowledge production—arguably even thought itself. But what diversity hides under such atruism? This course will explore a set of exemplary fields in order to track genealogies and discontinuities in classificatory. We will begin with two philosophers, Aristotle and Kant, who stand as respective avatars of ancient and modern categorical thought. We will then proceed to sites where classification has flourished: the biological sciences which sought to capture the diversity of the living world; the social sciences—notably anthropology—which challenged the universality of Western cultural categories; and statistics or data science, which seek to understand numerical aggregates as categories. We will conclude by reflecting on the present explosion of digital techniques of classification, from social media algorithms to artificial intelligence, which structure more and more of our lives, often without human oversight. In this sense, classification is perhaps nonhuman as well. Moving between history, epistemology, and practice, this course will furnish students with a rich set of classificatory ideas that they can bring to their own research and disciplinary communities. Above all, it will ask students to account for both the construction and effects of categories, which are too often taken to be a neutral substrate of knowledge or conversely a means of imposing discipline on the wild diversity of the world.
KNOW 36070: Explorations of Mars
Mars is more than a physical object located millions of miles from Earth. Through centuries of knowledge-making we have made the “Red Planet” into a place that looms large in cultural and scientific imagination. Mars is now the primary target for human exploration and colonization in the Solar System. How did this happen? What does this mean? What do we know about Mars, and what’s at stake when we make knowledge about it? Combining perspectives from history, anthropology, and sociology, this course investigates how knowledge about Mars is created and communicated in science and technology fields. A major focus will be learning how Mars has been embedded within wider social and political projects including theological debates, Manifest Destiny, The Cold War, and the commercialization of spaceflight. Through reading-inspired group discussions and instructor-led experiential projects, the course will move from the earliest visual observations of Mars to recent robotic missions on the planet’s surface. In doing so, this dynamic research group will critically grapple with problems posed by the potential discovery of extraterrestrial life, the organization of future Mars colonies, and evolving human efforts to make Mars usable.
This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge