Bioethics and Ancient DNA
The first ancient human genome was sequenced just over 10 years ago. From a single genome in 2010 to what has been hailed as a “scientific revolution” today, the field of archaeogenetics has expanded rapidly. In this course, we will explore how the field is grappling with emerging issues related to ethical and responsible research, including sampling practices, collaborative community partnerships, and accessibility of research findings to the broader public. How have researchers successfully leveraged multiple voices, perspectives, and priorities engaged with ancient DNA to explore the human past? What are the possibilities of engagement beyond the practical and project-based level? How do these new alliances formed around archaeogenetics inform the ethics of sampling, participation, and interpretation? In this course, we will thoughtfully and critically engage with aDNA research in the present to envision possible futures for the field.
How Fungi Shape Our World
Why are our newspapers and social media feeds all of a sudden filled with stories about mushrooms and fungi? From our forests to our fridges, fungi shape our daily lives in fundamental ways, but this vibrant kingdom of life remains poorly understood. This course will introduce you to the history and cultural importance of fungi, with each week dedicated to readings and discussion around a major theme.
Explorations of Mars - Novel Knowledge Series
Everyone is talking about Mars. Whether you have no prior knowledge of Mars or are someone deeply fascinated with space exploration, this course will prepare you to join and lead Mars conversations happening across society. Through non-technical readings, activities, and discussions focused on the history and culture of Mars exploration we will build an understanding of important figures, events, ideas, and trends.
Big Data: Ethical and Historical Perspectives
We live amidst a “Big Data” revolution, a moment of exponential data accumulation and the accelerated development of technologies that process it. Recent studies in the history and sociology of science, however, question the novelty and neutrality of our Big Data Age. In this class, we will analyze how big data technologies, old and new, both revive historical prejudices like sexism and racism as well as create new opportunities for the future.
How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Plan and Write a Book (About Fungi)
How do you move from curiosity to an academic question and research project? This course will introduce components of the humanities research process by inviting students into my own planning for an academic history of science book on mycology and fungi. We will collaboratively build our syllabus and explore how to formulate research questions, survey existing literature, use online databases, conduct archival trips, carry out embodied studies (via a foraging trip with the Illinois Mycological Society), structure a long writing project, and then, cyclically, imagine teaching a course on the history of fungi. Everyone knows writing an extended thesis or monograph is difficult; what this class presupposes is… maybe it isn’t?
The Nuclear Age
This seminar examines the history of nuclear science, technology, and politics since World War II. The invention of atomic weapons transformed the international security landscape in the middle of the last century, yet most nuclear arms have never been deployed in conflict. This course encourages students to consider the roles of ideas, knowledge, culture, and secrecy in the development and deployment of technologies often considered as quintessentially material. It asks how nuclear science and technology both reflected and informed social landscapes, intersecting in crucial, often surprising ways with issues of gender, race, and class. What kinds of people in which places have had access to atomic knowledge, and to what ends? Who has benefitted, who has not? How have assumptions of social order or civilizational hierarchy alternately promoted and hindered the spread of nuclear know-how, technology, and ideas? Ranging across national contexts and through social layers that intersect with nuclear industries, we will consider the perspectives of victims / survivors, scientists, workers, environmentalists, miners, diplomats, and other people. We will examine how the tragedies of the Nuclear Age—including mass loss of human life, destructive uranium extraction, radioactive fallout, and industrial disasters—have been enacted and addressed, and we will situate these stories alongside discussion of proven or potential applications of nuclear knowledge and technologies for medicine, civilian power generation, international security, and even climate science. Students will encounter a multifaceted approach to the Nuclear Age, including how its promise and peril have been represented and contested, into the present time.
We Other Victorians
This course examines the construction of otherness, difference, and belonging in England during the long Nineteenth Century from a historical perspective. Each week students will study a different “other” by drawing on a variety of primary sources, including novels, autobiographies, government reports, legal documents, private correspondence, newspapers, and scientific publications. Special attention will be paid to how and why emerging social sciences such as anthropology, sociology, and psychology both contributed to and were themselves informed by, (1) broader discussions about cultural ethnicity, biological race, national identity, and modern society; as well as (2) changing conceptions of class, gender, race, religion, and illness. By working historically, students in this course will also develop a conceptual framework for studying otherness that transcends geographic and temporal boundaries. Final papers can consequently analyze others and otherness in any place at any time. (Students with linguistic competencies beyond English are strongly encouraged to use these skills!) Students will learn about the socio-political, cultural, legal, scientific, and ideological construction of otherness in Victorian Britain while also developing a conceptual framework for studying otherness that transcends geographic and temporal boundaries. This course relies almost entirely on primary sources and is designed to help students develop the skills needed to complete an original research project independently.
Technologies of the Body
From models and measures to imaging technologies and genomic sequencing, technologies have profoundly shaped how we know and understand human bodies, health, and disease. Drawing on foundational and contemporary science and technology studies scholarship, this class will interrogate technologies of the body: how they are made, the ways in which they have changed understandings of the human condition, their impact on individual and collective identities, and the interests and values built into their very design. Course readings will examine how technologies render bodies knowable and also construct them in particular ways. We will also focus on how technologies incorporate, and reinforce, ideas about human difference. Students will conduct an independent, quarter-long research project analyzing a biomedical technology of their choice. By the end of this course, students will be able to identify and explain the social, political and economic factors that shape the design and production of biomedical technologies, as well as the impact of these technologies on biomedicine and the social world more broadly. This course provides students with an opportunity to conduct a quarter-long research project, using a biomedical technology as a case study. Students will be introduced to foundational and cutting-edge scholarship in science and technology studies, and will use this scholarship to conduct their independent research.
Explorations of Mars
Mars is more than a physical object located millions of miles from Earth. Through centuries of knowledge-making people 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 the social sciences and humanities, this course investigates how knowledge about Mars is created and communicated in not only science and technology fields but across public culture. A major focus will be learning how Mars has been embedded within diverse social and political projects here on Earth. Through reading-inspired group discussions and instructor-led experiential research 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 seminar will critically grapple with evolving human efforts to make Mars usable. No prior knowledge of Mars is required. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge
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.
This course is an exploration of anthropogenic landscapes, past and present, that for various reasons have been “invisible”—sometimes to long-term inhabitants, sometimes to newly arrived colonizers, sometimes to academics and other researchers, sometimes to legislators, and/or sometimes to tourists and other public audiences. Examples include, among others, ancient cities and road networks revealed beneath forest canopies in Central America and Southeast Asia; sophisticated geo-biological manipulations in the Amazon; immense hydrological systems across the semi-arid deserts of Arabia; legacies of colonization, extraction, and dispossession in the Americas; extensive underground environments; co-constructed human-animal infrastructures, and landscapes of waste, toxicity, and ruins. The class is broadly comparative, drawing on diverse case studies to address two central questions: 1) Can we think about, document, visualize, and analyze “invisible” landscapes without forcing them to conform to historically and culturally specific notions of monumentality, materiality and temporality, nature and culture, etc.? and 2) What methods (or combinations of methods) employed by archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, architects, ecologists, and other researchers can shed light on “invisible” landscapes and the people (and other beings) who inhabit(ed) them?
Race, Religion, and the Formation of the Latinx Identity (Winter 2023)
In this class, we will focus on the conditions of possibility, development, and problems surrounding the formation of the Latinx identity. We will pay special attention to how such an identity is expressed through and informed by religious experience, and to how religious experience is theoretically articulated in Latinx theology and religious thought. To pursue this task, we will devote the first part of the class to the examination of the conditions of possibility of latinidad by focusing on the formation of the Latinx self. What makes Latines, Latines? Is this a forcefully assigned identity or one that can be claimed and embraced with pride? Is there such a thing as a unified Latinx self or shall we favor approaches that stress hybridity or multiplicity? In the second part of the class, we will shift from self-formation to community-formation by examining the experience of mestizaje (racial mixing) and its theoretical articulation in Latinx theology. Is this concept useful to describe the Latinx experience or does it romanticize the violence of European colonialism? Lastly, we will return to the formation of Latinx identity considering the ambiguities of religious ethnic identity through the examples of tensions between Catholic and Evangelical Latinos, and those emerging from the experiences of Latinos converting to non-Christian religions. No prerequisites.
#Blessed: The Prosperity Gospel, The Bible, and Economic Ethics (Winter 2023)
Is wealth a sign of divine favor? What would Jesus do when it comes to money? How does the Bible inform contemporary views of charity, economic ethics, and material possessions? This class examines the multiple messages about material wealth contained within biblical literature and the diverse ways these passages have been interpreted. After a survey of shifting approaches to economic ethics among Christians over the centuries, students will turn to the phenomenon of the "Prosperity Gospel" within the modern period. The class will query the ways the Bible has been harnessed to an economic vision tied to capitalism and ostentatious displays of personal wealth. Previous knowledge of the Bible and the historical periods covered is not expected.
Literary Criticism before Theory: Auerbach’s Mimesis
This course is an introduction to Erich Auerbach's Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, often hailed as the masterpiece of twentieth-century literary criticism, through a historical contextualization that recovers the theoretical, ethical, and existential underpinnings of so-called Romance Philology, as purveyed by Auerbach, the influential Dante scholar Karl Vossler (1872-1949), the medievalist Ernst Robert Curtius (1886-1956); and, especially, Leo Spitzer (1887-1960), the author of innumerable seminal essays in the French, Italian, and Spanish literary traditions. We will home in on these scholars' quarrelsome sodality among themselves and others (e.g., Benedetto Croce, Martin Heidegger, Arthur Lovejoy, and Georges Poulet) by reviewing some of the discipline-defining debates, such as debates about canonical authors (including, Dante, Cervantes, and Proust) and the (dis)advantages of periodization in textual interpretation (Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque). We will also take stock of this generation's shared reliance on 18th- and 19th-century sources and methodologies (Giambattista Vico and German Hermeneutics, among others) and their remarkable foreknowledge of the many turns literary analysis would take at a time when textual concerns and/or close readings gave way to a more theoretical outlook.
Visual Art and Technology: From the Historical Avant Garde to the Algorithmic Present
This course tracks the entanglements of visual art and "technology," a term which took on an increasingly expanded set of meanings beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century. Focusing on the period between World War I and the present, we examine these expanded meanings and ask how the work of art fundamentally shifted with, extended, tested, or acted upon "technology." We consider cases from the art historical avant gardes, the impact of cybernetics and systems thinking on architecture and visual perception, midcentury collectives that sought to institutionalize collaborations between artists and engineers, as well as more subtle exchanges between art and technology brewing since the Cold War. We will conclude with a look at present-day practices that integrate visual art, design, and technology. Course readings drawn from art history and the histories of science and technology, as well as site visits to art collections and laboratories on campus, will inform our investigation. Students will gain historical insights into the relation between visual art and technology; develop analytical tools for critically engaging with the present-day interface of art, science, and engineering; and consider the implications for the futures we imagine.
Archaeogenetics and the Human Past
The rapidly growing field of paleogenomics has brought together researchers from a wide variety of fields and perspectives in the social and natural sciences. This survey course is designed for students from all backgrounds interested in developing practical skills in ancient DNA methods, contextual research, analysis and interpretation. We will also focus on exploring and discussing ethics in the field and the implications of the growing interest of public audiences with ancient DNA. Throughout the course, we will also explore a variety of related topics by taking a deep dive into the archaeology context and analytical approaches of published case studies. Throughout the course, there will be a number of laboratory and computational activities to apply ancient DNA research methods. For a final project, you will explore a site, topic or study of your choosing with the tools learned in this course and evaluate the potential for ancient DNA to uncover new findings there.
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.
Science, Governance, and the Crisis of Liberalism
In the era of "post-truth" it has become common to link a crisis of scientific authority with a crisis of liberalism. Democracies around the world are under threat, this reasoning goes, in part because of an attack on scientific truth. But what does liberalism - as political culture and as a form of governance - need (or want) from science? Depending where you look, the answer might appear to be facts, truth, a model 'public sphere,' an ethic of objectivity, tactics for managing risk and uncertainty, or technologies of population management (to name a few). In addition to exploring the complex historical relationship between science and liberalism in the modern era, this course will critically assess how the history of science and the history of political thought have theorized truth and governance. We will examine what models of "coproduction" and "social construction" - nearly ubiquitous in the historiography of modern science - fail to capture about the histories of science and state power. We will also think about how political and intellectual historians' theories of truth and mendacity in politics might be enriched by more attention to scientific knowledge in both its technical and epistemological forms. This course focuses on 19th- and 20th-century Europe and the United States in global perspective, and readings will draw from political theory, history, economic thought, the natural and human sciences, and critical theory. Advanced undergraduates are very welcome with instructor's permission. This course fulfills the elective requirement for the MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Capturing the Stars: Exhibiting the History of Women at Yerkes Observatory in early twentieth- century America
“Capturing the Stars,” the exhibit, that will illuminate the history of women at Yerkes Observatory and demonstrate how their labor contributed to the advancement of astronomy and astrophysics in Fall 2023. In this experimental and hands-on course, students will actively participate in the creation of this physical exhibit for the Special Collections Research Center and its digital counterpart. Students will begin by learning about the history of women in science, the social, economic, and cultural history of early twentieth-century America, as well as the history of astronomy and astrophysics. They will then develop skills in historical research, exhibition development, community outreach, and science communication while working on final projects to be featured in the exhibit. No prior historical, scientific, or museum experience is required for this course. Students will learn how to conduct historical research and how to communicate with a public audience by contributing to the production of a physical exhibit on the history of women at Yerkes Observatory with an ambitious digital footprint. This highly experimental class will move beyond the confines of a traditional history seminar by involving students in the development and execution of an exhibit on the history of women at Yerkes Observatory. This course fulfills the elective requirement for the MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss
Research in Archives: Human Bodies in History
How have we come to know and experience our bodies? This undergraduate seminar develops humanities research skills necessary to study the body in history. Spanning early modern cultural practices to modern medicine, science, and technology, this course explores how ideas and practices concerning the body have changed over time and how the body itself is shaped by culture and society. A major focus will be learning how to conduct different forms of historical research to produce cutting-edge humanities scholarship about the human body. Readings will introduce key themes and recent scholarship including work on disability, reproduction, race, gender, ethics, extreme environments, and identity. This dynamic research group will grapple with issues at the heart of our corporeal existence by combining perspectives from the history of science, medicine, and technology, cultural history, anthropology, and science and technology studies (STS).
Normal People (Winter 2023)
Worrying about what's normal and what's not is an endemic feature of both our popular and scientific cultures. Is my intelligence above average? What about my height? 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 of the modern human sciences on how we understand ourselves and others. This seminar will offer a broad historical overview of the ways that group behaviors and individual traits - bodily, moral, intellectual - were methodically described and measured in the past 200 years. We will become acquainted with the work of sociologists and anthropologists, psychiatrists and psychologists, polling experts and child development specialists, and ask about the kinds of people their efforts brought into being, from sexual perverts to the chronically depressed. The course will focus on the scientific theories and techniques used to distinguish the normal from the pathological, together with the new social institutions that translated this knowledge into forms of control. We will read Émile Durkheim on suicide rates and Cesare Lombroso on born criminals; learn about IQ tests and developmental milestones; and consider whether, with the advent of personalized medicine and self-data, we have indeed reached the "end of average." This course fulfills the elective requirement for the MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/
Gaming History (Winter 2023)
How do games reflect, theorize, and alter history? This interdisciplinary research seminar will explore the history, design, and function of games, drawing on strategies from history, media and game studies, and cultural anthropology in order to understand the place of games in the history of knowledge and our knowledge of history. How have historical simulations, such as Civilization, represented scientific, social, and cultural progress? How do games, such as Settlers of Catan, invite players to perform and inhabit historically specific subjectivities? What is the role of popular titles, such as Call of Duty: Cold War, in the pedagogy of public history? By representing alternate and future histories, games articulate theories of historical change. They even change the future by suggesting and popularizing modes of political, economic, and social agency. In this course, we will play games about history, including video games, tabletop games, and other analog game formats, to consider how they represent the structure of time, causality, and choice. Through class discussions, example games, and theoretical readings, we will learn about methods, theories, and case studies for gaming history and historicizing games. Students will practice original archival, ethnographic, and media archaeological research into the history of games, and gain experience writing about and critically analyzing media objects. The seminar will emphasize practice-based research alongside traditional humanistic research, including critical game play and game design. The course will culminate in a solo or collaborative game design project that intervenes in gaming culture and its histories. This course fulfills the elective requirement for the MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Paris in the 1670s: Quantities and Qualities
The decade of the 1670s saw an astonishing convergence of brilliant people in Paris. Blaise Pascal, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Christian Huygens, Nicolas Malebranche, met and debated mathematical concepts, logic, engineering (calculating machines in particular), microscopy, theology, and world peace. All were also in contact with Baruch Spinoza by letter. In the salons, men and women, nobles and bourgeois, clerics and secular people conversed about matters of general interest (that is, not likely to involve politics or religion): art, history, and aesthetics. The novel of introspection attained full development in Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves; the art of polemic was displayed in all its sarcastic majesty in Charles Perrault’s defense of Lully’s opera Alceste against the neo-classicist traditionalists. We will explore the connections among art, literature, the investigation of antiquity, mathematics, and philosophy, seeking them most energetically where they are not obvious, with calculus, ie., the reduction of differences to a regular trend, the proposed common thread. This course fulfills the elective requirement for the MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Ways of Knowing (Winter 2023)
This seminar introduces students to the conditions and processes of knowledge formation that shape our understanding of truth, our theories of social life, and our projections of possible futures. It examines how claims to knowledge emerge out of disciplinary, historical, and political contexts, as well as local cultural factors, both explicit and unspoken: how do institutions, technologies, and other normative structures produce, stabilize, or disrupt knowledge? How do scientists and artists examine and represent the world differently? What makes expertise and why do we trust certain ways of knowing over others? Building upon methods and perspectives in the social sciences and humanistic social sciences, this seminar introduces problems, concepts, and analytical tools that will enable students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to examine how we know what we know. "Ways of Knowing" is a required seminar for all students wishing to undertake the Formation of Knowledge MAPSS track. https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/. It also counts towards a required MAPSS Methods seminar.
#Blessed: The Prosperity Gospel, The Bible, and Economic Ethics
Is wealth a sign of divine favor? What would Jesus do when it comes to money? How does the Bible inform contemporary views of charity, economic ethics, and material possessions? This class examines the multiple messages about material wealth contained within biblical literature and the diverse ways these passages have been interpreted. After a survey of shifting approaches to economic ethics among Christians over the centuries, students will turn to the phenomenon of the “Prosperity Gospel” within the modern period. The class will query the ways the Bible has been harnessed to an economic vision tied to capitalism and ostentatious displays of personal wealth. Previous knowledge of the Bible and the historical periods covered is not expected.
Indigenous Religions, Health, and Healing
This course introduces students to the dynamic, often-contested understandings of health, healing, and religion among the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Our task will be threefold: first, to examine the drastic effects of settler colonialism upon the social determinants of health for Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean, Mexico, United States, and Hawaii. Second, we shall attempt to understand healing practices as they are steeped in and curated by Indigenous traditions and religious beliefs. Our goal is to counteract centuries-old stereotypical images of Native peoples and challenge our preconceived notions of wellness, selfhood, and the boundaries of medicine. Third, we will reflect upon contemporary Indigenous approaches to health and healing with particular attention to the postcolonial hybridity of these practices. Throughout the course we will attend to a generative diversity of epistemologies, anthropologies, and religious worldviews with the ultimate goal that a renewed understanding of Indigenous healing traditions will augment our own approaches to global/public health and the study of religion.
Race, Religion, and the Formation of the Latinx Identity
In this class, we will focus on the conditions of possibility, development, and problems surrounding the formation of the Latinx identity. We will pay special attention to how such an identity is expressed through and informed by religious experience, and to how religious experience is theoretically articulated in Latinx theology and religious thought.
To pursue this task, we will devote the first part of the class to the examination of the conditions of possibility of latinidad by focusing on the formation of the Latinx self. What makes Latines, Latines? Is this a forcefully assigned identity or one that can be claimed and embraced with pride? Is there such a thing as a unified Latinx self or shall we favor approaches that stress hybridity or multiplicity? In the second part of the class, we will shift from self-formation to community-formation by examining the experience of mestizaje (racial mixing) and its theoretical articulation in Latinx theology. Is this concept useful to describe the Latinx experience or does it romanticize the violence of European colonialism? Lastly, we will return to the formation of Latinx identity considering the ambiguities of religious ethnic identity through the examples of tensions between Catholic and Evangelical Latinos, and those emerging from the experiences of Latinos converting to non-Christian religions. No prerequisites.
The first half of the twentieth century was a period of intensified focus and progressive thinking regarding the rights, development, and well-being of children as interests of utmost importance to all society. This focus was marked, inter alia, by concerted efforts to apply the methods of modern science to the investigation of childhood, efforts that in turn forever changed the way we understand, raise, and educate children. This seminar will revisit the lives of children who had served as subjects of observation and experiment from the 1880s to the 1950s, and whose childhood experiences (their emotions, thoughts, and games; their family lives and institutional realities) had shaped the central dogmas of developmental psychology, as well as our ideas about normality. The course takes a biographical approach to the history of science, but rather than focus on the careers of scientists and doctors, delves into the stories of their objects of study, from the Bostonian first graders who answered G. Stanley Hall’s pioneering survey to the 44 “juvenile thieves” who had informed John Bowlby’s influential attachment theory.