Skip to main content

2014-2015 Kaplan Scholars Courses

Fall 2014

The Measure of All Things: Numbers, Space, and the Humanities

Professors: Wendy N. Espeland (Sociology), Jules Law (English), and Claudia E. Swan (Art History)

In the popular view, the sciences are the domain of "quantitative" reasoning and the humanities are the realm of "qualitative" thought. Yet numbers and space have from time immemorial played an inescapable and essential role in the arts and in humanistic thinking. In forms as elevated as art and philosophy, and as prosaic as accounting and standardized tests, we know and express ourselves through numbers. In this course we will investigate the human fascination with making, using, and contemplating numbers, and together we will consider the unexpected role of art, literature, and social thought in the "measure" we make of our world.

Our materials will be as varied and as fascinating as the arts of measurement themselves: novels, paintings, plays, philosophical texts, film, historiography, sociology, and political science. Some questions we will ponder: How does measurement structure and condition our experience of the world, of artworks, and of human relations? Is artistic beauty mathematically derived? Are values necessarily quantifiable? How do passions and the market interact? This course brings together a wide range of fascinating materials central to the humanities and offers a new perspective on the ways in which those experiences are structured and evaluated. The course will also include field trips to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Field Museum of Natural History.

Winter 2015

Crossing Borders

Professors: John Alba Cutler (English), Emily Maguire (Spanish & Portuguese), and Geraldo Cadava (History)

Borders can seem so natural that we take them for granted. Nations seem always to have existed in their current forms, as if geopolitical boundaries were a feature of the earth's topography. Other kinds of borders can appear equally natural, such as the divisions between races or sexes, or different genres of literature and art. Yet as lines that demarcate boundaries between two or more groups (or ideas), borders simultaneously divide and conjoin. This course will examine the historical and social construction of various kinds of borders—geopolitical, sexual, racial—and how those borders are continuously transgressed. When do borders become oppressive? What does it mean to cross a border? And what strategies have individuals and groups employed to blur or erase borders altogether?

Through literature, art, film, and primary historical documents, we will show how borders come into being through complex and hotly contested histories. We will examine the historical formation and maintenance of geopolitical borders around the world: the US and Mexico, North and South Korea, Israel and Palestine, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We will also examine the nature of sexual and racial boundaries, and how individuals and groups attempt either to maintain or transgress those boundaries. Finally, we will explore how current trends in technology and globalization are changing the very nature of borders.