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XCAP is an experimental capstone curriculum for 3rd and 4th-year undergraduate students, team-taught by faculty from different Divisions or Schools. Its three courses, one per quarter, will be designed to encourage students not just to theorize but to put theory into practice as a way of approaching problems. This orientation and the innovative structure of the XCAP courses aim to enable individual students to be agents of change.

Each Experimental Capstone course should feature:

  • Practice, Product, or Impact: each course will require hands-on experiments, the production of an object or other product, and/or action outside of the classroom as a key component.
  • Universal appeal across the College, as students interested in XCAP may come from any division
  • Staying power after graduation: courses are designed to give students a new skill, framework, or product that they can use as they enter their careers, be it in academia or otherwise
  • 2 faculty for each course, from different Divisions or Schools, preferably focused on differing areas of research 

XCAP courses are an experiment in pedagogy unique to the University of Chicago and provide a chance for faculty to have a significant impact on the undergraduate curriculum and try out unconventional teaching ideas. The XCAP experiment has the potential to become regularized by the College after an evaluation of the first two years.

Each faculty participant will receive a $10,000 salary bonus for co-teaching the course with a faculty member from a different Division or School, and each team will receive a stipend of up to $3,000 towards class expenses (for travel, resources, visitors, etc.).  Salary bonuses will be subject to the policies of the Schools and Divisions of the participating faculty. 

XCAP courses will not form part of the regular faculty teaching load, and faculty will not receive teaching credit for the courses. Emphasis is on innovative teaching and classroom experiences rather than grading, so faculty may offer the classes Pass/Fail.

Application procedure:

To apply, find a faculty partner from a different Division or School, devise a syllabus that fascinates and challenges while incorporating real-life practice and problems, and submit it here

Applications are accepted from tenure-track faculty in any UChicago Division or School. Required application materials are a draft syllabus which includes a brief description of the course (including its goals and rationale), the c.v.’s of the two proposing faculty members, and an application form with contact information and the preferred quarter(s) in which the course would be taught.

Based on the criteria of the incorporation of practice or product, the anticipated impact of the course, and its appeal across the college, the Capstone Curriculum committee will select three XCAP courses to be offered next year. Publicity for the selected courses will be managed by the Institute. 

Applications for XCAP are currently closed. 

Previous XCAP courses include:

KNOW 29900 – XCAP: The Experimental Capstone - The Body in Medicine and the Performing Arts

Instructors: Brian Callender, Assistant Professor of Medicine, and Catherine Sullivan, Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Arts

The Body in Medicine and the Performing Arts is a multidisciplinary course designed to explore the human body through the unique combination of medical science and the performing arts. Drawing broadly from medicine, anthropology, and the performing arts, this course seeks to understand the human body by comparing and contrasting the medicalized body with the animated or performing body. With an emphasis on experiential learning, the primary pedagogy will be interactive activities that allow students to learn about the human body through interactions with other bodies as well as their own. The medical sequence of the course will examine how medicine uses the body as an educational tool, examines the body with diagnostic intent, views the body through radiographic imaging, utilizes the dead body to make diagnoses, and endeavors to prolong life. In the performing arts sequence, students will use their own bodies as instruments of inquiry to explore the ways in which the body is animate, expressive and prone to transformation and signification.

View syllabus here.

KNOW 29940: XCAP: The Experimental Capstone:  Knowledge Claims: Theory/Praxis

Instructors: Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics and the Program in Gender Studies. Co-instructor Changes Weekly.

This course incorporates the practice and theory of knowledge systems, with the goals of understanding the claims of various knowledge systems, experiencing the relationship of theory to practice, and learning specific sets of claims to knowledge.  Each module will feature a different expert and will cover a historical, topical, and geographical range of readings and experiments. Our explorations will be in psychology, chemistry, medicine, anatomy, textile knowledge, museum collections, and conspiracy theories; we examine knowledge claims throughout, with our investigations crossing over the traditional boundaries between science, social science, medicine, and humanities.

View syllabus here.

KNOW 29970: XCAP: The Experimental Capstone: Experiencing the Real - Nature, Culture, Society

Instructors: Michael Rossi, Assistant Professor of the History of Medicine, the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and the College. Jason MacLean, Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology.

An essential – if little remarked-upon – aspect of our work as scholars and students within an academic community is that we are concerned with that which is real. We read about things that are real. We write about things that are real. We attempt to prove the realities of our theories and we theorize the real. But what is it like to take “the real” as a question not simply of text or theory, but of experience? In this course, we will immerse ourselves in some of the many ways in which we (human beings living in an industrialized society in the early twenty-first century) have come to know that which is real, and to distinguish it from that which is unreal, ambiguous, or even fake. Equal parts ethnography, history, reportage, philosophy, and fabrication, this course takes action and embodiment as its key elements – particularly action and embodiment as manifested through the sometimes-twinned, sometimes-conflicting pursuits of science and art. In considering the nature of the real, we will consider our own embodiment and cognition in conjunction with the material and technological worlds of our own late modern moment as principle elements of the ways in which we come to know the real.

View syllabus here.

KNOW 29901: XCAP: The Experimental Capstone-The Art of Healing: Medical Aesthetics in Russia & the US

Instructors: William Nickell, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Brian Callender, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Elizabeth Murphy, Assistant Professor of Medicine

What makes a medical treatment look like it will work? What makes us feel that we are receiving good care, or that we can be cured? Why does the color of a pill influence its effectiveness, and how do placebos sometimes achieve what less inert medication cannot? In this course we will consider these problems from the vantage points of a physician and a cultural historian. Our methodology will combine techniques of aesthetic analysis with those of medical anthropology, history and practice. We will consider the narratology of medicine as we examine the way that patients tell their stories—and the way that doctors, nurses, buildings, wards, and machines enter those narratives. The latter agents derive their meaning from medical outcomes, but are also embedded in a field of aesthetic values that shape their apperception. We will look closely at a realm of medical experience that continues to evade the grasp of instruments: how the aesthetic experience shapes the phenomenon of medical treatment.

KNOW 29941: XCAP: The Experimental Capstone - The Affect System

Instructors: Stephanie Cacioppo, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, and Eric Oliver, Professor of Political Science

The Affect system in Medicine and the Political Science is a multidisciplinary course that aims to explore the concept of “affect” from different angles and unique perspectives. Drawing broadly from Medicine, philosophy and the political science, this course seeks to understand the affect system in different cultures and environments. The term “affect” typically refers to feelings beyond those of the traditional senses, with an emphasis on the experience of emotions and variations in hedonic tone. The structure and processes underlying mental contents are not readily apparent, however, and most cognitive processes occur non-consciously with only selected outcomes reaching awareness. Over millions of years of evolution, efficient and manifold mechanisms have evolved for differentiating hostile from hospitable stimuli and for organizing adaptive responses to these stimuli. These are critically important functions for the evolution of mammals, and the integrated set of mechanisms that serve these functions can be thought of as an “affect system.” It is this affect system – its architecture and operating characteristics, as viewed from neural, psychological, social, and political perspectives, that is the focus of the course.

KNOW 29971: XCAP: The Experimental Capstone - What is an Intervention (for Mental Health)?

Instructors: Eugene Raikhel, Associate Professor of Comparative Human Development, and Michael Marcangelo, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience

What does it mean for a practice to be understood as an intervention in the domain of mental health? Interventions in mental health can be carried out with tools ranging from chemicals and electrical impulses, to words, affects, and social relationships, to organizations. They can involve acting on a range of distinct targets -- from brains and bodies to psyches and emotional conflicts to housing and employment. This course will use a focus on mental health interventions to introduce students to a range of conceptual and practical issues surrounding mental health and illness, as well as to raise a set of broader questions about the relationships between knowledge formation, practice, ethics, and politics. The questions we will ask throughout the course will include: What does it mean for an intervention to be successful? How is effectiveness understood and measured? Are mental health interventions ethically-neutral or do they contain embedded within them assumptions about the normal, the pathological, and the good life? We will think through these questions vis-a-vis readings drawn from psychiatry, psychology, and the social sciences -- but more importantly, through weekly practical and experiential activities. Each week will focus on one kind of mental health intervention, and will involve a particular kind of practical learning activity.