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 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.
KNOW 53003: Explanation
This course surveys recent work on explanation across philosophical disciplines. Beginning with classic accounts of scientific explanation we will proceed to consider recent work on mechanical explanation, mathematical explanation, causal explanation (particularly in the physical and social sciences), the relation between explanation and understanding, and metaphysical explanation (particularly the idea of explanation as ground). (II)
KNOW 28002: Tutorial: Power and Medicine
The marvel of modern medicine has been lauded as a great leveler of the human condition. From sanitary regimes, to the discovery of antibiotics, to anaesthesia and the development of successful surgery and lifestyle intervention, medicine has improved the lives of all humankind. However, research shows that this improvement is not uniform - that some benefit more from medicine than others. This disparity, which public health scientists and medical researchers have followed for decades, is borne of a complex set of societal factors - including socioeconomic status, race, genetic background, environment, and lifestyle. These studies show us a key feature of medicine: it does not exist in a vacuum, and one’s lifespan and quality of life are as tethered to social factors as they are to scientific innovation.
This class will explore the effects of uneven power systems on health and human medicine in modern history. We will explore how different peoples – of diverse racial, socioeconomic and historical backgrounds - experienced medical and sanitary regimes, and how they navigated disparities in access. Every week we will examine a particular theme in the history of medicine and explore its effects first on a regional scale in the U.S., and the following meeting in the global context. The goal in this structure is to demonstrate the diversity of experience and the complex systems that influence medical regimes.
KNOW 28000: Antiquity, Archaeology, & Anthropology: Humanism & the Rise of Science in Germany
What do Homeric poetry and human skulls have in common? What about the Old Testament and Mycenaean pottery shards? Or Roman ruins and entomology? They were all used to illuminate the course of human history and they all transformed pre-existing conceptions about the past. This course traces the development of the human sciences from a general and preparatory program of humanistic study into specialized research disciplines focused on the production of new knowledge. Through a focus on the study of antiquity, archaeology, and anthropology in Germany, students will examine how information about the humanity and its past was produced, what the function or purpose of such knowledge was, and how this changed over time. They will also investigate the ways in which broader political, social, and cultural concerns shaped scientific research and were, in turn, shaped (or not) by it. In so doing this class explores how, why, and in what ways the development of German science was fundamentally and intrinsically shaped by humanistic inquiries about history and humanity. It also challenges linear notions of disinterested, secular, scientific progress as well as the modern division between natural sciences, human sciences, and the humanities.
KNOW 37612: Literary Theory and the Hebrew Bible
Readings in literary theory and in select works of the Hebrew Bible, with special attention to voice and genre. Seminar-style presentations and discussion.