Courses

Please see University of Chicago Class Search for specific class schedule information.

Planetary Britain, 1600-1900

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson

What were the causes behind Britain's Industrial Revolution? In the vast scholarship on this problem, one particularly heated debate has focused on the imperial origins of industrialization. How much did colonial resources and markets contribute to economic growth and technological innovation in the metropole? The second part of the course will consider the global effects of British industrialization. To what extent can we trace anthropogenic climate change and other planetary crises back to the environmental transformation wrought by the British Empire? Topics include ecological imperialism, metabolic rift, the sugar revolution, the slave trade, naval construction and forestry, the East India Company, free trade and agriculture, energy use and climate change.


Kant: Critique of Pure Reason

Matthew Boyle

This will be a careful reading of what is widely regarded as the greatest work of modern philosophy, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Our principal aims will be to understand the problems Kant seeks to address and the significance of his famous doctrine of "transcendental idealism”. Topics will include: the role of mind in the constitution of experience; the nature of space and time; the relation between self-knowledge and knowledge of objects; how causal claims can be justified by experience; whether free will is possible; the relation between appearance and reality; the possibility of metaphysics.


Medicine and Culture in Modern East Asia

Susan L. Burns

This course will focus on the cultural history of medicine in China, Japan, and Korea from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1980s. We will be concerned with tracing the circulation of new medical knowledge and understanding its cultural and social implications. Topics to be explored include the introduction of "Western medicine" and its impact for "traditional" medicine; the struggles over public health, gender, medicine, and modernity; consumer culture; and medicine. No knowledge of an East Asian language is required, but those with reading skills will be encouraged to utilize them.


The Humanities as a Way of Knowing

Lorraine Daston

Despite intertwined histories and many shared practices, the contemporary humanities and sciences stand in relationships of contrast and opposition to one another. The perceived fissure between the “Two Cultures” has been deepened by the fact that the bulk of all history and philosophy of science has been devoted to the natural sciences. This seminar addresses the history and epistemology of what in the nineteenth century came to be called the “sciences” and the “humanities” since the Renaissance from an integrated perspective. The historical sources will focus on shared practices in, among others, philology, natural history, astronomy, and history. The philosophical source will develop an epistemology of the humanities: how humanists know what they know.


Spiritual Exercises, Relations of Power, Practices of Freedom

Arnold Davidson

How do ethical and political practices create new spaces of freedom? What kinds of practices can effectively modify networks of power and provoke transformations in our relations to ourselves? What is the dynamic between freedom and resistance? What forms of disobedience/dissidence/counter-conduct are ethically and politically productive? These questions will be approached through philosophical, historical, literary, and musical analysis. Readings and music may come from Pierre Hadot, Michel Foucault, Stanley Cavell, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Primo Levi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Derek Bailey, George Lewis, and Ceil Taylor.


Content Analysis

James A. Evans

A vast expanse of information about what people do, know, think, and feel lies embedded in text and images—from transcribed interviews, snapshots, news and the academic cannon to constitutions, poetry and idling online chat. With the rise of literacy, and more recently of computers, cellphones, scanners and the internet, there are both greater supply and demand for textual and image information, providing us with access to a greater variety of texts and images that reach further into the human condition, past and present. This class will begin by considering the nature of text and images and the possibilities for (and limits to) analyzing society and culture through their content. We will spend early sessions cultivating skills for close, interpretive content analysis (or so-called “qualitative content analysis”/QCA). Then we will briefly survey techniques for counting and verifying discovered meaning across text and images (classic “content analysis”). For the remainder of the course, we will explore recent approaches from natural language processing and information retrieval that facilitate the discovery and assessment of meaning on larger scales.

The course is designed to assist those seeking to enhance or expand a small-scale coding project (think interviews, field notes, snapshots, footage), those hoping to efficiently summarize large samples of text and images, or those in search of tools to sift through quantities of documents to find those meriting closer analysis. The course balances an empirical paper with experimentation using techniques. Students will be evaluated based on their participation, a presentation/report on a chosen method and a final paper.


Internet and Society

James A. Evans

Internet & Society will explore the Internet and its influence on modern life. We will consider the history, growth and structure of the Internet, email and the World Wide Web; the meaning and consequence of the “digital divide” between rich and poor; online identities and intimacy; social media and community; political participation and polarization; media sharing, mash-ups and cultural diversity; the knowledge economy, online markets and the evolution of intellectual property; immersive and virtual reality; information overload; searching, surfing and distributed intelligence on the Internet. The course will survey a wide variety of arguments about these issues, generate new questions and theories about Internet and society, and interrogate them all in discussion and through online investigation and experiments.


Sociology of Science

James Evans

This course examines science as an institution, drawing primarily on research from sociology, but also economics, philosophy, history and interdisciplinary approaches. We will examine the culture and practice of science, the many-layered organization of scientific activity, ways in which the scientific system draws inputs from society (e.g., money, students) and produces outputs for it (e.g., technologies, scientists and engineers, articles, certainty), the role of science in governments and economies, and the influence of these and other institutions on the evolution of scientific knowledge. (Although the course will touch on areas in the sociology of scientific knowledge and the broader arena of science studies, more attention will be given these fields in the graduate Introduction to Science Studies course taught by Johns and Knorr in Fall, 2010; and by me and Johns in Fall, 2011.)


Biopower

Judith Farquhar

The politics of life in modernity has come to occupy center stage in the human sciences. Studies of modern techniques of governmentality, the naturalizations of transnational neoliberalism, the medicalization of social and historical experience, and the growing hegemony of an interventionist bioscience offer some of the most interesting and challenging models for a contemporary and cosmopolitan anthropology. This seminar will read a number of recent studies in anthropology, science studies, and critical social theory in an effort to better grasp the centrality of the life sciences and biotechnology in modern and contemporary arrangements of power.

We will presume that most students will have already read the germinal writings of Georges Canguilhem (The Normal and the Pathological), Michel Foucault (The Birth of the Clinic, Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish, Governmentality), and Giorgio Agamben (Homo Sacer). These works will not be assigned. (Students who have not read this work are also welcome to enroll, of course.) The materials assigned for the course will first address broad social-theoretical concerns with life and modernist forms of power, then turn to some powerfully analyzed ethnographies of medicine and other institutions that govern life. The third part of the course will turn to science studies and some methodologically innovative approaches to the ethnography of power/knowledge in the contemporary moment.


Varieties of Intellectual History: Reading Rousseau and Freud

Jan Goldstein

This discussion course will serve as an introduction to the varieties of intellectual history through a sampling of the abundant scholarly literature on two pivotal modern thinkers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sigmund Freud. The course will be divided into two parts, one on each thinker. Each part will begin with a consideration of selected texts by Rousseau or Freud, followed by a consideration of a series of books and articles that, using very different methodologies, seek to make sense of those texts, specify their conditions of possibility, or assess their reception and impact.


An Introduction to Science Studies

Adrian Johns, Karin Knorr-Cetina

This course explores the interdisciplinary study of science as an enterprise. During the twentieth century, sociologists, historians, philosophers, and anthropologists all raised interesting and consequential questions about the sciences. Taken together their various approaches came to constitute a field, "science studies." The course provides an introduction to this field. Students will not only investigate how the field coalesced and why, but will also apply science-studies perspectives in a fieldwork project focused on a science or science-policy setting. Among the topics we may examine are the sociology of scientific knowledge and its applications, actor-network theories of science, constructivism and the history of science, images of normal and revolutionary science, accounts of research in the commercial university, and the examined links between science and policy.


History of Information

Adrian Johns

"Information" in all its forms is perhaps the defining phenomenon of our age. But although we tend to think of it as something distinctively modern, in fact it came into being through a long history of thought, practice, and technology. This course will therefore suggest how to think historically about information. Using examples that range from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century, we shall explore how different societies have conceptualized the subject, and how they have sought to control it. We shall address how information has been collected, classified, circulated, contested, and destroyed. The aim is to provide a different kind of understanding of information practices—one that can be put to use in other historical inquiries, as well as casting an unfamiliar light on our own everyday lives.


Maverick Markets: Cultural Economy and Cultural Finance

Karin Knorr Cetina

What are the cultural dimensions of economic and financial institutions and financial action? What social variables influence and shape ‘real’markets and market activities? ‘If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?’ is a question economists have been asked in the past. Why isn’t it easy to make money in financial areas even if one knows what economists know about markets, finance and the economy? And why, on the other hand, is it so easy to get rich for some participants? Perhaps the answer is that real markets are complex social and cultural institutions which are quite different from organizations, administrations and the production side of the economy. The course addresses these differences and core dimensions of economic sociology. This course provides an overview over social and cultural variables and patterns that play a role in economic behaviour and specifically in financial markets. We draw on the ‘New Economic Sociology’ which emerged in the late 70’s and early 80’s from the work of Harrison White, Marc Granovetter, Viviana Zelizer, Wayne Baker and others. We also draw on recent analysis of the relationship between knowledge, technology and economic and financial institutions and behaviour, and include an emerging body of literature on the financial crisis of 2008-09. The readings examine the historical and structural embeddedness of economic action and institutions, the different constructions and interpretations of money, prices and other dimensions of a market economy, and how a financial economy affects organizations, the art world and other areas.


Publics, Privates, Secrets

Joseph Masco

George Simmel once wrote that secrecy was “one of the greatest achievements of humanity” because it added complexity to social life, making every social encounter a complex negotiation over concealment or revelation. This course explores the critical theory of secrecy, and its others — the public and the private. We will assess how the deployment or withholding of knowledge is constitutive of experiences of self, social life, and state power.


The Anthropology of Science

Joseph Masco

Reading key works in the philosophy of science, as well as ethnographic studies of scientific practices and objects, this course introduces contemporary science studies. We interrogate how technoscientific “facts” are produced, discussing the transformations in social order produced by new scientific knowledge. Possible topics include the human genome project, biodiversity, and the digital revolution.


Big Science and the Birth of the National Security State

Joseph Masco

This course examines the mutual creation of big science and the American national security state during the Manhattan Project. It presents the atomic bomb project as the center of a new orchestration of scientific, industrial, military, and political institutions in everyday American life. Exploring the linkages between military technoscience, nation-building, and concepts of security and international order, we interrogate one of the foundation structures of the modern world system.


Nature/Culture

Joseph Masco

Exploring the critical intersection between science studies and political ecology, this course interrogates the contemporary politics of “nature.” Focusing on recent ethnographies that complicated our understandings of the environment, the seminar examines how conceptual boundaries (e.g., nature, science, culture, global/local) are established or transgressed within specific ecological orders).


The Evolution of Language

Salikoko Mufwene

How did language emerge in the phylogeny of mankind? Was its evolution saltatory or gradual? Did it start late or early and then proceed in a protracted way? Was the emergence monogenetic or polygenetic? What were the ecological prerequisites for the evolution, with the direct ecology situated in the hominine species itself, and when did the prerequisites obtain? Did there ever emerge a language organ or is this a post-facto construct that can be interpreted as a consequence of the emergence of language itself? What function did language evolve to serve, to enhance thought processes or to facilitate rich communication? Are there modern “fossils” in the animal kingdom that can inform our scholarship on the subject matter? What does paleontology suggest? We will review some of the recent and older literature on these questions and more.


Censorship from the Inquisition to the Present 

Ada Palmer

Collaborative research seminar on the history of censorship and information control, with a focus on the history of books and information technologies. The class will meet in Special Collections, and students will work with the professor to prepare an exhibit, The History of Censorship, to be held in the Special Collections exhibit space in spring. Students will work with rare books and archival materials, design exhibit cases, write exhibit labels, and contribute to the exhibit catalog. Half the course will focus on censorship in early modern Europe, including the Inquisition, the spread of the printing press, and clandestine literature in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Special focus on the effects of censorship on classical literature, both newly rediscovered works like Lucretius and lost books of Plato, and authors like Pliny the Elder and Seneca who had been available in the Middle Ages but became newly controversial in the Renaissance. The other half of the course will look at modern and contemporary censorship issues, from wartime censorship, to the censorship comic books, to digital rights management, to free speech on our own campus. Students may choose whether to focus their own research and exhibit cases on classical, early modern, modern, or contemporary censorship.


History of Skepticism

Ada Palmer

Before we ask what is true or false, we must ask how we can know what is true or false. This course examines the vital role doubt and philosophical skepticism have played in the Western intellectual tradition, from pre-Socratic Greece through the Enlightenment, with a focus on how Criteria of Truth—what kinds of arguments are considered legitimate sources of certainty—have changed over time. The course will examine dialog between skeptical and dogmatic thinkers, and how many of the most fertile systems in the history of philosophy have been hybrid systems which divided the world into things which can be known, and things which cannot. The course will touch on the history of atheism, heresy and free thought, on fideism and skeptical religion, and will examine how the Scientific Method is itself a form of philosophical skepticism. Primary source readings will include Plato, Sextus Empiricus, Lucretius, Ockham, Pierre Bayle, Montaigne, Descartes, Francis Bacon, Hobbes, Voltaire, Diderot, and others.


Reason and Religion

Robert  J. Richards, Shadi Bartsch

The quarrel between reason and faith has a long history. The birth of Christianity was in the crucible of rationality. The ancient Greeks privileged this human capacity above all others, finding in reason the quality wherein man was closest to the gods, while the early Christians found this viewpoint antithetical to religious humility. As religion and its place in society have evolved throughout history, so have the standing of, and philosophical justification for, non-belief on rational grounds. This course will examine the intellectual and cultural history of arguments against religion in Western thought from antiquity to the present. Along the way, of course, we will also examine the assumptions bound up in the binary terms "religion" and "reason."


Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man

Robert  J. Richards

This lecture-discussion class will focus on a close reading of Darwin's two classic texts. An initial class or two will explore the state of biology prior to Darwin's Beagle voyage, and then consider the development of his theories before 1859. Then we will turn to his two books. Among the topics of central concern will be the logical, epistemological, and rhetorical status of Darwin's several theories, especially his evolutionary ethics; the religious foundations of his ideas and the religious reaction to them; and the social-political consequences of his accomplishment. The year 2009 was the two hundredth anniversary of Darwin's birth and the one hundred fiftieth of the publication of On the Origin of Species.


Science and Aesthetics in the 18th-21st Centuries

Robert J. Richards

One can distinguish four ways in which science and aesthetics are related during the period since the Renaissance. First, science has been the subject of artistic representation, in painting and photography, in poetry and novels (e.g., in Byron’s poetry, for example). Second, science has been used to explain aesthetic effects (e.g., Helmholtz’s work on the way painters achieve visual effects or musicians achieve tonal effects). Third, aesthetic means have been used to convey scientific conceptions (e.g., through illustrations in scientific volumes or through aesthetically affective and effective writing). Finally, philosophers have stepped back to consider the relationship between scientific knowing and aesthetic comprehension (e.g., Kant, Bas van Fraassen); much of the discussion of this latter will focus on the relation between images and what they represent. In this lecture-discussion course we will consider all of these aspects of the science-aesthetic connection.


History of Perception

Michael Rossi

Knowing time. Feeling space. Smelling. Seeing. Touching. Tasting. Hearing. Are these universal aspects of human consciousness, or particular experiences contingent upon time, place, and culture? How do we come to know about our own perceptions and those of others? This course examines these and related questions through detailed readings of primary sources, engagement in secondary scholarship in the history and anthropology of sensation, and through close work with participants’ own sensations and perceptions of the world around them.


Catastrophic Thinking: Extinction in Culture and Science

David Sepkoski (Max Planck Institute of the History of Science, visiting instructor)

This course will examine the history of extinction through a consideration not only of relevant scientific literature, but also through the diverse forms of cultural production through which the scientific ideas have refracted: fiction and science fiction, film, political discourse, journalism and popular science, philosophy, religion, and more. From the apocalyptic visions of religious movements and cults, to protest movements of the '60s, '70s, and '80s, to fascination with zombies and world-ending plagues and catastrophes, we will consider the many ways in which "catastrophic thinking" about extinction has come to permeate the modern condition in science and society.


History of Statistics

Stephen Stigler

TThis course covers topics in the history of statistics, from the eleventh century to the middle of the twentieth century. We focus on the period from 1650 to 1950, with an emphasis on the mathematical developments in the theory of probability and how they came to be used in the sciences. Our goals are both to quantify uncertainty in observational data and to develop a conceptual framework for scientific theories. This course includes broad views of the development of the subject and closer looks at specific people and investigations, including reanalyses of historical data.