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.
"The IFK was not something I discovered until my fourth year in the College, and I still wish I had engaged with it sooner. The IFK granted me the opportunity to explore social-scientific questions on how new technology impacts what we know, how we know, and the limitations to access to knowledge. The course I took at the IFK gave me the freedom to explore these questions in more depth than has been allowed in other courses I have taken during my undergraduate experience. The courses of study provided by the IFK are unable to be found in any single other major, and brings together students from across disciplines and programs to engage in unique discussion."
-- Undergraduate student, History and Sociology double major, Fourth Year
"Explorations of Mars provided me the rare opportunity to engage with students of different majors and with Mars-related pieces published across a wide range of disciplines. In our seminars and assignments, Professor Bimm challenged us to think through complex societal questions whose answers benefitted from each student's unique perspective. We were also empowered to equally utilize critical thinking, creativity, and imagination as analytical tools and to steer the discussion towards our own emerging concerns. Overall, this class provided an intellectual environment I've encountered nowhere else at UChicago: one that valued each student's voice, that immersed us in contemporary space issues, and that thrived on the multidisciplinary approaches central to IFK's mission."
MENTORING: "I have brought undergraduate and graduate students into my research projects. They learn about sociological research methods and have the opportunity to contribute to ongoing studies that investigate the politics of biomedical knowledge production. In the College Summer Institute (2023) I trained three undergraduate students in sociological methods, and they contributed to data collection and analysis for two projects. All three of these students stayed on to work as Quad Scholars in the 23-24 year." Dr. Melanie Jeske, 2022-24 IFK Postdoctoral Researcher at the Rank of Instructor
Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Morality
Poetics of Science
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.
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.
Introduction to Philosophy of Science
We will begin by trying to explicate the manner in which science is a rational response to observational facts. This involves a discussion of inductivism, Popper's deductivism, Lakatos and Kuhn. After this, we will briefly survey some other important topics in the philosophy of science, including undetermination, theories of evidence, Bayesianism, the problem of induction, explanation, and laws of nature. (B) (II)
Debate, Dissent, Deviate: Literary Modernities in South Asia
Focusing on the period of British colonial rule, this class explores different instances of toleration and conflict. How were South Asian discourses of toleration by suhc leaders as Gandhi and Nehru differnt from their European counterparts (e.g., John Locke and John Rawls)? How did their ideologies differ from those articulated by their minority peers such as Ambedkar, Azad, and Madani?
Italian Reinassance: Petrarch, Machiavelli, And the Wars of Popes and Kings
Florence, Rome, and the Italian city-states in the age of plagues and cathedrals, Dante 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, corruptionassassination, 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 live-action-role-played (LARP) reenactmnet of a Reinassance papal election. This is a Department of History Gateway course. First-year students and non-History majors welcome.
Science, Culture, and Society in Wittgenstein’s Vienna, 1867-1934
Fin de siècle Vienna is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Arnold Schoenberg, and Otto Wagner, among other pioneering modernist artists, but it was also home to several of the most important philosophers and scientists of the early twentieth century, including Ernst Mach, Ludwig Boltzmann, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Indeed, the city’s artists drew considerable inspiration from its philosophers and scientists and vice versa. The purpose of this course is to examine these cultural entanglements in more detail, and to analyze why Vienna was integral to the development of so many of the aesthetic and intellectual trends that scholars now associate with “modernity.”
Cultural Heritage Management in Conflict Areas
As a result of the widespread destruction of monuments, museums, and archaeological sites in conflict areas, combined with the creation of brand-new international funds to protect heritage in situations of armed conflict or climate change, this class presents a series of lectures and discussions by the course instructors along with guest lectures by heritage specialists who focus on the various geographical zones concerned. It will also adopt a transdisciplinary approach where several fields of expertise will be convoked, from archaeology and curatorial to international heritage protection law.
Counterhistories of Mathematics and Astronomy
Mathematics and astronomy are often taught as packaged universal truths, independent of time and context. Their history is assumed to be one of revelations and discoveries, beginning with the Greeks and reaching final maturity in modern Europe. This narrative has been roundly critiqued for decades, but the work of rewriting these histories has only just begun. This course is designed to familiarize students with a growing literature on the history of mathematics and astronomy in regions which now make up the global south. It is structured as a loosely chronological patchwork of counterexamples to colonial histories of mathematics and astronomy. Thematic questions include: How were mathematical and astronomical knowledge conjoined? How were they embedded in political contexts, cultural practices, and forms of labor? How did European scientific modernity compose itself out of the knowledges of others? Where necessary, we will engage with older historiographies of mathematics and astronomy, but for the most part we will move beyond them. No mathematics more advanced than highschool geometry and algebra will be assumed. However, those with more mathematical preparation may find the course especially useful.