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2023-2024 Kaplan Scholars Courses


What Science Can’t Teach Us: A Humanities Approach to Making Sense of the World

The great political theorist Isaiah Berlin once said that there is an old quarrel between two rival ways of knowing the world: a paradigmatically scientific form of knowledge that is produced by methodical, systematic inquiry, and a more impalpable alternative that has been variously characterized as good judgment, wisdom, or art.

In this course we will be examining various oppositions related to this rivalry, like the distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge, between empiricism and aesthetics, between reason and emotion, and between fact and value.

One major aim of this course is to use these oppositions to help explore some differences between the sciences and the humanities.  It is often taken for granted that the natural sciences aim at knowledge that is theoretical, empirical, rational, and fact-based; but there is much less certainty about whether the humanities should be guided by the same paradigm of knowledge, or whether it would be better served by adopting a fundamentally different conception of its aims and methods. Are there distinctively literary or aesthetic ways of knowing, different from the sciences? What do arts, practices, feelings and values teach us that knowledge cannot?

 We will pursue these questions by engaging both literary and philosophical texts.

Sample texts


Mark Alznauer is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy. He has a B.A. from St. John’s College (Annapolis) and a Ph.D. from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago (2008). He specializes in ethics, aesthetics, and social theory in nineteenth century European philosophy. He also has interests in the history of political philosophy, the theory of action, and the philosophy of religion. He is the author of Hegel’s Theory of Responsibility (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the former Vice President of the Hegel Society of America.

Vivasvan Soni is Associate Professor in the Department of English. His book, Mourning Happiness: Narrative and the Politics of Modernity, won the MLA’s prize for a first book. It examines how novels shape the modern concept of happiness and make it unusable for politics, arguing that classical ideas of happiness are better suited to the political imagination. He is currently completing a book manuscript on The Crisis of Judgment, which traces our modern discomfort with judgment to the eighteenth century, and explains why judgment is so important to a humanistic understanding of the world. When that is complete, he hopes to work on a book about Jane Austen’s politics, and one about utopian writing.


Science Fiction and Detective Literature:
Popular Genres in the Global South

Science fiction and detective literature are genres whose formulaic nature has often been derided or ignored by literary critics. Yet the very formal structures of these genres may be part of the key to their popularity and increasing ubiquitousness. Emerging in England in the nineteenth century from, in part, an urban unease brought on by the colonial encounter, the detective novel form was quickly “translated” back into colonized territories, soon becoming one of the most truly transnational literary genres in the world. Similarly, while science fiction’s early narratives drew from the scenarios and power dynamics of the colonial encounter, it has more recently become a space from which to contest official histories as well as posit decolonial futures. Focusing on the spaces of the Global South, late colonial and postcolonial South Asia and (post)colonial Latin America in particular, this course will trace how and why these popular genres have emerged as a mode of narration with which to confront political and social transformations and contemporary crises.  

Sample texts


Laura Brueck is Associate Professor of South Asian Literature and Culture in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and the Comparative Literary Studies Program. She specializes in modern and contemporary Hindi literature, with a particular focus on literatures of resistance, popular literatures, and translation studies. Her book, Writing Resistance: The Rhetorical Imagination of Hindi Dalit Literature, focuses on modern and contemporary Hindi Dalit literature, or resistance writing by those formerly known as “untouchables.” Her new book project considers Indian “pulp” fiction, particularly the genre of detective fiction and crime narratives. She is especially interested in the ways that the socio-political discourse of crime and criminality are reflected in twentieth century Hindi, Urdu, and English detective novels. Brueck teaches courses on South Asian literature in Hindi/Urdu, English, and in translation, Bollywood cinema, Indian epic literature, the theory and practice of translation, and South Asian civilization, with a particular focus on the modern politics of caste, class, and gender.

Emily Maguire is an Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, where she specializes in the literature of the Hispanic Caribbean and its diasporas. The author of Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography (2011), she has published articles on contemporary Caribbean Literature, Afrocubanismo, Black internationalism, Latinx poetry, and Latin(x) American speculative literature. Her second book, Tropical Time Machines: Science Fiction in the Contemporary Hispanic Caribbean,is forthcoming from University Press of Florida in 2024.


great-migration-836x268.pngA Place Called Home: Great Migrations, Folk Life, and The Chicago Renaissance

“By the time the Great Migration was over,” writes Isabel Wilkerson in the epilogue to her sprawling “epic story” The Warmth of Other Suns, “few Americans had not been touched by it.” From World War I through the end of the Vietnam War, African Americans kept coming out of the American South, to the North and West, mostly to cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Tulsa, Cleveland, Detroit, Wichita, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Like many other migrants and immigrants, they were often obstructed, misrepresented, and rebuked on the beginnings and ends (not to mention in the middles) of their trips. Yet they kept coming, and their movement, as well as its aftermath, culturally redefined the United States, along with the migrants themselves.

This seminar will be an intensive, interdisciplinary study of literature, music, film, and visual art produced during and about the first and second waves of the Great Migration, from roughly 1917 until 1970.  We will explore the Chicago Renaissance as a cultural flowering of the Migration’s first wave, and consider the philosophical and cultural critiques offered by the African American intelligentsia of the period. In addition, we will examine the migration of Black Folklife—faith practices, music, foodways, and vernacular iterations—and chart its impacts across and beyond the US. Finally, the class will explore what some sociologists and urban studies scholars have called a “reverse migration,” citing a statistical exodus of African Americans out of the Great Migration’s destination cities in numbers that now rival or exceed the movement itself. We will also focus on themes of home, community, and physical place and space, ideas that we imagine will be especially resonant for first-year students.

Sample texts

  • Clarke Hine, Darlene. Black Chicago Renaissance
  • Griffin, Farrah Jasmine. Who Set You Flowin'
  • Angelou, Maya. Down in The Delta (film, 1998)
  • Hughes, Langston. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes
  • Perry, Tyler. Madea’s Family Reunion (film, 2006)
  • Larsen, Nella. Passing
  • Reed, Christopher. Roots of the Black Chicago Renaissance
  • Stewart, Jacqueline. Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity
  • Toomer, Jean. Cane
  • King, George. Goin’ to Chicago: Personal Stories of the Great African American Migration (film, 1994).
  • Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns
  • Burnett, Charles. To Sleep With Anger (film, 1990)
  • Williams, Spencer. The Blood of Jesus (film, 1941)
  • Petty, Audrey. High-Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing
  • Lee, Spike. Crooklyn (film, 1994)
  • Stahl, John. Imitation of Life (film, 1934)
  • Scarborough, William et al, Between the Great Migration and Growing Exodus: The Future of Black Chicago?


Miriam J. Petty is Associate Professor in Radio/TV/Film. She writes and teaches about race, stardom, performance, reception, adaptation, and genre and is especially interested in the history of African American representation in Hollywood film. Her first book, Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood (University of California Press, 2016) seeks a historical recalibration of early Hollywood film stardom, via its meditation on Black actors of the era. Could Black performers, who appeared in marginal, stereotyped roles be “movie stars?” If so, what did their stardom look like, how did it function, and to whom did it speak? The study also pays copious attention to the viewing practices of Black moviegoers, and to the politics and possibilities of Black spectatorship during this pivotal moment in early 20th century cinema history. Stealing the Show won the 2017 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Best First Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Krasna-Krausz Foundation’s 2017 Best Moving Image Book Award. Petty is currently at work on a book manuscript examining contemporary media mogul Tyler Perry’s productions and his African American audiences' nostalgic investments in such cultural forms as folktales, music, literature, and religious practice.

Tracy Vaughn-Manley is Assistant Professor of African American Studies. Her current research examines the specific ways in which the distinctive aspects that define the Black Aesthetic quilting tradition—the assertion of individual and collective agency; the narrative aspects; and the social and historical significance of quilts—make them and the process of quilting a convenient trope for many Black women writers, specifically novelists Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Terri McMillian; poets Nikki Giovanni and Lucille Clifton: and playwright Lynn Nottage. These authors consider the connections between quilts, gender, race, culture and identity as well as the intersections between literature, history, and material culture to explore the interiority of Black life—specifically the lives of Black American women. By employing the quilt and the tradition of quilt-making as metaphors for history, community, and legacy, these authors are situating the production and preservation of American folk culture squarely in the hands of Black women.