KNOW courses are offered by the faculty of the 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 Institute's Postdoctoral Scholars. To browse courses, search by department, quarter, academic year, or type in a keyword that interests you. In addition, the 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. 


  • Course Level: Undergraduate, Graduate; undergraduate with permission
  • Department: Art History
  • Year: 2022-23
  • Term: Autumn
  • ARTH 2/36609, KNOW 2/36609

This seminar considers the abstract art that defined much of Western art in the course of the 20th century and into the 21st. Guided by two overarching questions — “Why Abstraction?” and “Beyond Abstraction?” — the class will explore different models for understanding non-figurative painting, sculpture, and other media such as textiles and television. These include the concept of utopia, phenomenology, decoration, the ready-made, appropriation, iconographies of form and materials, and reproductive media. Artists discussed include Hilma af Klint, Josef and Anni Albers, Mark Bradford, Lucio Fontana, Sam Gilliam, Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, Wassily Kandinsky, Yves Klein, El Lissitzky, Piet Mondrian, Blinky Palermo, Jackson Pollock, Gerhard Richter, Hans Richter, Aaron Siskind, Sophie Taeuber, among others. There will be regular visits to local collections. Students working on monochrome art will have the opportunity to contribute their research and writing to a fall 2022 Smart Museum exhibition’s web-based audio app and to a research symposium and possible publication.

Normal People: History of the Human Sciences

  • Course Level: Graduate; undergraduate with permission
  • Department: Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, Health and Society, History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine, MAPSS
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • Thur 9:30 am - 12:20 pm
  • KNOW 36078, CHSS 36078, HLTH 26078, HIPS 26078
  • Tal Arbel

We often worry about what’s normal and what’s not. Is my IQ above average? What about my BMI? Should I be feeling this way? Is there a pill for that? People seem to have always been concerned with fitting in, but the way of describing the general run of practices and conditions as “normal” is a rather recent phenomenon; testament to the vast influence modern science have had on how we understand ourselves. Charting a wide-ranging history of the ways that human traits and behaviors came to be classified and measured, this research seminar will introduce students to the theories and techniques used to distinguish the normal from the pathological and the deviant for the past 200 years. We will read Cesare Lombroso on born criminals and Richard von Krafft-Ebing on sexual perversion; learn about psychological tests and developmental milestones; and consider the kinds of people these scientific and medical efforts brought into being. In addition to lecture and class discussions, the course includes close engagement with a diverse historical archive: scientific and medical treatises, clinical case studies, diagnostic tools, and patient narratives. Students will also explore how the University of Chicago contributed to the definition and establishment of normality through a project at the university’s archival collections.

Race, Gender, and the Production of Knowledge

  • Course Level: Undergraduate
  • Department: Philosophy
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • KNOW 25406, PHIL 25406/1 [43906]
  • Emily Dupree

To what extent does "what we know" have to do with who we are? This advanced undergraduate seminar explores the field of "social epistemology" with a special emphasis on gender and race. We will examine classical models of knowledge in contrast to contemporary models of epistemic interdependence, focusing on how the production of knowledge is impacted by group social structures and what social practices must be in place to ensure that voices of the marginalized are heard and believed. Looking at examples from literature and our ordinary lives, we will investigate how race and gender intersect with these issues, especially on the topics of testimony, White ignorance, and epistemic injustice. Finally we will explore the possibility of an ethical epistemic future, asking how we can redress wrongdoing and construct communities of epistemic resistance and epistemic justice.

Third-year and above philosophy or fundamentals majors.

Medical Knowledge in Early Modern Japan and China: History/Literature

  • Course Level: Graduate, Graduate; undergraduate with permission
  • Department:
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • KNOW 48080, CDIN 48080/1 [45219]
  • Susan Burns, Judith Zeitlin

This experimental seminar examines how medical knowledge is constituted and disseminated in texts, images, and performances in early modern Japan and China (roughly 1600-1850). This period saw an explosion in the number of doctors, print and visual materials, and a new centrality of medical, pharmacological, and bodily knowledge and practices. Looking beyond established national, cultural, and political boundaries, we will study how shared medical traditions converge and diverge over time and space. How did literary genre shape and constrain the forms medical knowledge took and vice-versa? Who has access to and who has control over technologies of health and sickness, including learned medicine, vernacular healing, and self-care? How was efficacy understood, contested, and proven in a medical and legal context? Primary sources to be read include medical and crime cases, forensic reports, plays, novels, biographies, imperial encyclopedias, almanacs for daily life, illustrated pharmacopeia, religious tracts, printed advertisements, and shops signs. Film and tv episodes will be screened to explore contemporary narratives of early modern medical knowledge in the very different political and media economies of post-war China and Japan.

XCAP: The Commune: The Making and Breaking of Intentional Communities

  • Course Level: Undergraduate
  • Department: Russian and East European Studies
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • KNOW 29975 / REES 23154 / REES 33154
  • Wiliam Nickell

Any class is an intentional community of sorts: people gathered together with a sense of collective purpose. But often the hopes of students are not met by the content or the methods in the classroom. Can we do better by making the process more intentional—clarifying and developing a collective sense of purpose at the outset? We will start by forming a collective plan on topics to be explored—anything from iconic American communities and Russian communes to memoir studies and economics. Possible projects include creating an intentional community in an off-campus location, designing a communal space, rewriting manifestos, or creating a new communal charter. We can cover anything from economics, space, and gender to the problem of leadership and secular belief systems. We may also want to utilize alternative modes of learning, besides reading and discussing texts, such as roleplaying. A few students in the class have some experience in intentional communities, and we will welcome their input and suggestions. XCAP courses are designed to challenge students to build upon their UChicago educational experience by adding practice, impact, and influence as important dimensions for undergraduate education.

Environmental Justice In Chicago

  • Course Level: Undergraduate
  • Department: Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Environmental and Urban Studies, Public Policy Studies - Harris School, Religious Studies, American Studies, Chicago Studies
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • T Th 11:00am-12:20pm
  • KNOW 25704 / RLST 25704 / AMER 25704 / CHST 25704 / CRES 25704 / ENST 25704 / PBPL 25704
  • Sarah E. Fredericks

This course will examine the development of environmental justice theory and practice through social scientific and ethical literature about the subject as well as primary source accounts of environmental injustices. 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. Throughout the course we will explore how normative commitments are expressed in different types of literature as well as the basis for normative judgments and the types of authorities authors utilize and claim as they consider environmental justice.

History Of Information

  • Course Level: Graduate, Undergraduate
  • Department: Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, History, History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine, Law, Letters, and Society
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • T 2:00pm-4:50pm
  • KNOW 25415/35415 / HIST 25415/35415 / CHSS 35415 / HIPS 25415 / LLSO 23501
  • Adrian D S Johns

Everybody knows that ours in an information age. No previous generation ever enjoyed access to the mass of material made available by Google, iTunes, Amazon, and the like. At the same time, however, no previous generation ever had its reading, listening, and traveling so thoroughly tracked, recorded, data-mined, and commercialized. Information thus shapes our culture for both good and ill, and it is up to us to understand how. This course provides students with the materials to do that. It ranges across centuries to trace how information has been created, circulated, and controlled. In short, it tells us how our information age came into being, and why it has generated the issues with which it now confronts us.

Babylonian Knowledge: The Mesopotamian Way Of Thought

  • Course Level: Graduate, Undergraduate
  • Department: Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • T Th 2:00pm-3:20pm
  • KNOW 20035/30035 / NEHC 20035
  • Seth Richardson

This course has two goals. The first is an interior goal, to introduce students to the major categories of knowledge created and employed in ancient Assyria and Babylonia, as the Mesopotamian "core curriculum." This was the corpus of material that had to be mastered by scribes of the Neo-Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian periods, including proverbs, lists, omens, geographies, medicine, magic, law, mathematics, history, royal wisdom, and accounting. The second goal is "exterior": to examine the epistemological precepts on which knowledge was constructed. What was held to be knowable? What methods and techniques were used to identify and justify knowledge as valid or authentic? What roles did copying, editing, authorship, and literacy play in the production of knowledge texts? How the organization and preservation of texts create canons and curricula? No prior knowledge of Mesopotamian history or literature is required. Students are asked to think with the primary texts, not to demonstrate mastery of them.

Italian Renaissance: Petrarch, Machiavelli, And The Wars Of Popes And Kings

  • Course Level: Undergraduate
  • Department: Classical Studies, Fundamentals: Issues and Texts, History, Italian, Medieval Studies, Religious Studies
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • M W 1:30pm-2:50pm
  • HIST 12203 / KNOW 12203 / CLCV 22216 / FNDL 22204 / ITAL 16000 / MDVL 12203 / RLST 22203 / SIGN 26034
  • Ada Palmer

Florence, Rome, and the Italian city-states in the age of plagues and cathedrals, Petrarch and Machiavelli, Medici and Borgia (1250-1600), with a focus on literature, philosophy, primary sources, the revival of antiquity, and the papacy's entanglement with pan-European politics. We will examine humanism, patronage, politics, corruption, assassination, feuds, art, music, magic, censorship, education, science, heresy, and the roots of the Reformation. Writing assignments focus on higher level writing skills, with a creative writing component linked to our in-class role-played reenactment of a Renaissance papal election (LARP). This is a History Department Gateway course. First-year students and non-History majors welcome.

Diasporic Narratives and Memories: Designing a New Concept for a Multi-Ethnic Museum of Belarusian Emigration

  • Course Level: Graduate, Undergraduate
  • Department: Big Problems, Comparative Literature, MA Program in the Humanities
  • Year: 2021-22
  • Term: Spring
  • Wed 10:30 am – 1:20 pm
  • KNOW 29943, CMLT 29943, CHST 29943, BPRO 29943, REES 29950, CRES 29943, MAPH 39943
  • Olga Solovieva and Bożena Shallcross

Of the many emigrant communities in Chicago, Belarusians are the only group that does not yet have its own museum. Our course takes this lack as an opportunity to train the students to create a grassroots community-driven initiative to empirically develop a conceptual foundation for a new type of multi-ethnic museum of emigration, informed by the experiences of community members themselves. This course will allow students to actively participate in a museum creation project which takes as its point of departure not a nation-state narrative but the everyday life of a multi-ethnic community with the goal of informing research, policy, and public discourse about emigration. The course participants will collaborate with the Chicago Studies Program, the NGO Belarusians in Chicago, Chicago History Museum to conduct the oral histories from the Belarusian community members to preserve, collect, and interpret knowledge about Belarusian emigration in order to present the full breadth of the multi-ethnic and inclusive Belarusian community. The students will conduct the field work about multi-ethnic Belarusian emigration to include experiences of Belarusian Jews, Belarusian Russians, Belarusian Lithuanians, Belarusian Tatars, and other groups from Belarus. Collected from people of different generations, these multi-ethnic collective narratives will be analyzed by the participants and become a catalyst, prompting a better understanding of the challenges of emigration and of maintaining cultural identity in the context of diaspora, and for reimagining what the future museum of this community should look like from the point of view of the members of multi-ethnic Belarusian community itself. XCAP courses are designed to challenge students to build upon their UChicago educational experience by adding practice, impact, and influence as important dimensions for undergraduate education.