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2016–2019 Algorithms, Models, and Formalisms

The Franke Institute has been awarded a three and half year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support research on the relationship between algorithmic techniques and academic disciplines. Building on the "Disciplines & Technologies Project," this program will continue the important work of understanding the nature, course, and consequences of the interaction between new technology and disciplinary practices, this time focusing on algorithms, models, and other formalisms.

The project leaders are Adrian Johns (History and Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science), James Evans (Sociology and Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science), and James Chandler (English Language & Literature and Cinema & Media Studies). This program will fund nine residential scholars, twenty-eight short-term visitors, collaborative projects, and conferences.

2015–18 Studies in Climate Change: The Limits of the Numerical
The Franke Institute has been awarded a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a three-year international, interdisciplinary, and collaborative project entitled “Studies in Climate Change: The Limits of the Numerical.” The Franke will host two, three-year postdoctoral scholars pursuing in-depth studies of the role numbers do and do not play in the humanistic understanding of environmental problems related to climate change. Greg Lusk joins us from the Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto to analyze how methods of quantification in climate change science encode ethical and political values. Elizabeth Chatterjee joins us from International Development at Oxford to explore the rhetoric and practice of target setting, a key and ubiquitous phenomenon in climate change.

The umbrella project - “The Limits of the Numerical” - covers three main strands of social policy. In addition to the climate change strand at Chicago, there will be a healthcare strand at Cambridge, and a higher education strand at the University of California at Santa Barbara. These three areas of empirical research share a far-reaching set of questions about the under-appreciated tension between moral, social, and political judgments of value in the formation of social policy and quantification as a form of evaluation. What is the effect of the pervasive introduction of numerically based quantification into all aspects of social evaluation? How do numbers as a system of evaluation clash with social values that cannot be quantified?

2015–2019 Musical Pasts Consortium
The Franke Institute has been awarded a four-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the Musical Pasts Consortium, a collaboration with Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, and King’s College London. This project asks the question of what it means to place music at the center of inquiry into the human past.

The project leaders at the University of Chicago are James Chandler (English Language & Literature and Cinema & Media Studies), Martha Feldman (Music), and Alison Winter (History and Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science). The Chicago contribution to the consortium will include a graduate seminar co-taught by Martha Feldman and Alison Winter on the topic of techné, body, and memory through the Center for Disciplinary Innovation.

Humanities Faculty Publications
The fruit of years of research, collaboration, creation, and writing, the publications of Humanities faculty members - books, CDs, musical scores - are celebrated every other year at a special reception for them and their colleagues, toasted by the Dean of the Humanities and the Provost of the University. For this occasion, the publications are also gathered together and displayed at the Institute. The event takes place in the winter quarter for publications from the previous two years. A bibliography is prepared that lists these new publications by department. See right side of page for links.

Big Problems/Capstone Curriculum in the College
Link: Big Problems Curriculum Site
Sponsored by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations

The Big Problems program in the College offers a growing number of capstone experiences offered as electives to fourth-year students in the College. Under special circumstances involving senior project needs, third-year students may petition for special permission to register for a Big Problems course.

"Big problems" are characteristically matters of global or universal concern that intersect with several disciplines and affect a variety of interest groups. They are problems for which solutions are crucially important but not obviously available.

Big Problems courses emphasize process as well as content: learning how to creatively confront difficult intellectual and pragmatic problems wider than one's area or expertise and to consider how to deal with the uncertainty that results. This often points to the importance of working in groups. If the core curriculum provides a basis for learning and the majors develop more specialized knowledge, the Big Problems experience leads to the development of skills for thinking about and dealing with the important but unyielding issues of our time.

The 2003-2006 Mellon Project
New Perspectives on the Disciplines: Comparative Studies in Higher Education

Link: The 2003-2006 Mellon Project Site
Sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Over three years, the Mellon Project's conferences, lectures, and workshops, in conjunction with its fellows, faculty steering committee, colleagues and graduate students, are investigating these questions:

  • How do we best understand the disciplinary history of the Humanities and related Social Sciences in the American university over the last century and a quarter? How is this disciplinary history shaped by earlier theorists of the modern University in (say) Germany, France, Britain, and America?
  • How did the area studies paradigm emerge and how do we assess its continued validity? What has this paradigm to do with cultural studies as a new formation and with the host of other "studies" that have emerged?
  • How do postcolonial and globalization studies as fields bear on area studies and the various modes of cultural studies? What intellectual and institutional pressures does this new array of fields exert on disciplines such as criticism, anthropology, history, and philosophy?
  • What happens to "humanities" globally in the context of the push for globalization? Does cultural studies take its place?
  • Can universities outside the West — or even those in Western countries — construct "classics" in a non-Eurocentric manner? Do they need to?
  • What can we learn or advise about educational structures and pedagogical practices now being developed in changing societies such as South Africa and Russia? In Central and South American universities, has the "technical streamlining" of higher education spelled doom for the Euro-American model of "liberal education"?
  • How do high-powered university systems in, say, France, Britain, and America differ in the way in which academic intellectuals relate to their publics? What might be learned about area-specific disciplinarity from a comparative study of public intellectuals in cultures dominated by academic institutions?

We pursue these questions with regard to three general themes: "Disciplines, "Studies," Area Studies"; "Area-Specific Disciplinarity: Case Studies," and "Comparative Studies in Higher Education: Dimensions of a Field."

Archive of Past Sawyer Seminars


Light from the windows
Photo Credit: Mai Vukcevich

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