Spring 2017 Programs

The Center in Paris will host four programs for undergraduate students in Spring 2017. The faculty and their courses are listed below.


Erik Shirokoff (Astronomy and Astrophysics) - Matter, Energy, Space, and Time
Welcome to Matter, Energy, Space, and Time, a course that will explore our contemporary understanding of the nature of the Universe and build a foundation for more specific investigations into astrophysical phenomena. During this course we’ll discuss the nature of science and measurement, review Newtonian physics and the laws that govern the world around us, and discuss the theoretical and experimental developments surrounding the modern physics revolution of the 20th century, including the birth of quantum mechanics and relativity. While history and facts will prove invaluable as we explore this topic, our primary goal will be to understand the arguments and quantitative techniques that make the scientific understanding of the physical world so compelling. Our driving question will be “how do we know” rather than “what do we know.”

Craig Hogan (Astronomy and Astrophysics) - Black Holes
“The black holes of nature are the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe: the only elements in their construction are our concepts of space and time. And since the general theory of Relativity provides only a single unique family of solutions for their descriptions, they are the simplest objects as well.”

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, “The Mathematical Theory of Black Holes”

Black Holes are the most exotic, extreme and paradoxical systems in the universe. They are the densest concentrations of energy, yet they convert all matter that falls in to a pure empty vacuum with extreme space-time curvature; they can radiate far more power than anything else, even though most of their radiation may not even be made of light; they are mathematically the most perfectly understood of any physical structure, but their enigmatic behavior is still the subject of a disagreement, even among experts, that highlights our ignorance of how quantum physics relates to gravity. This course will survey the physics of space and time, the nature of black holes, their effects on surrounding matter and light, the astrophysical contexts in which they are observed, and their importance in such frontier areas of research as quantum gravity and gravitational waves.

In Spring 2017, this course is being offered for the first time at the University of Chicago’s Center in Paris. It is intended as a general Physical Sciences course, accessible to students with no advanced background in science or mathematics.

Angela Olinto (Astronomy and Astrophysics) - The Big Bang
The Big Bang model is a powerful framework for the interpretation of a wide range of observations and for making detailed and precise predictions for new experiments. The key motivating observations include the expansion of the Universe and how it has changed with time; the existence of radiation indicating a hot and dense early phase; the abundance of the light elements; and how matter is organized over a wide range of physical scales. The model naturally incorporates dark matter and dark energy, components that govern the growth of structure over time under the action of gravity. The course will explore the consequences of the model as it is applied to the earliest moments after the Big Bang, as well as to the fate of the Universe in the distant future.

European Civilization

Arnaud Coulombel (Center in Paris) - European Civilization in Paris I
This course will provide students with an introduction to the European civilizations of the Middle Ages, with a particular emphasis on the region that would become France. We will use primary sources, both historical and literary, and critical works to facilitate our discovery of French History and culture.

Philippe Desan (Romance Languages and Literatures) - European Civilization in Paris II
This course is a hybrid: at once an introduction to European Civilization since the late Middle Ages and an overview of French history. We will have two objectives: on the one hand, to master the historian’s craft; on the other to integrate textual analysis with the discovery of a French history and culture. To do so, we will read historical documents and ‘classic’ texts, discuss and debate them in our four weekly meetings.

Paul Cheney (History) - European Civilization in Paris III
Part III of this course continues along the lines established in the previous section, serving as a generalized introduction to cultural, political and intellectual themes in European history, with a particular emphasis upon the French experience. We will begin by discussing old regime society, establishing the sources of stability and change; we then explore the Enlightenment, the final crisis of the old regime and—in some detail—the French Revolution itself. We conclude with an examination of Restoration society in order to weigh the social and political impact of the Revolution.


D. N. Rodowick (Cinema and Media Studies) - Contemporary Art in Paris
In this class, we will explore important institutions and contexts for exhibiting contemporary international art in the city of Paris. Our approach will be ethnographic as well as aesthetic and take place at various scales: from national museums to arts foundations, galleries, artist studios, and alternative spaces and artists’ “squats.” Of special interest will be how different architectures and spaces of installation affect our reception and understanding of art. Video and moving image installation will be a special emphasis where possible. Class work will include presentations and weekly contributions to a public blog. Possible field trips could include the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, la Cinémathèque Française, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Galerie Marion Goodman, Les Frigos, and the Paris Art Fair at the Grand Palais.

Kevin Davey (Philosophy) - Merleau-Ponty and the scientific view of the human
A major theme in modern philosophy is to try and understand the relationship between our view of ourselves as thinking, feeling creatures experiencing the world with our more scientific view of ourselves as mere biological creatures responding to environmental stimuli in accordance with the laws of physiology, physics and chemistry. Are these two views of human life at odds with each other? If not, why not? We will explore the views of the 20th century French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty on these and related questions, focusing on his seminal work, ‘The Structure of Behavior’.

Charles Cohen (Art History) - Leonardo da Vinci in France
The central focus of this course will be on the small, damaged and disputed body of paintings that Leonardo has left to us, the wealth of his drawings that help us make sense of that problematic heritage and provide the most direct route into his creative thinking, and the hundreds of pages of text in the form of notes in mirror-image handwriting that comment on art and so many other subjects. Paris is the best single place to directly engage the artist and his oeuvre since the Louvre contains by far the most important collection of his pictures and a major collection of his drawings. The Louvre’s holdings will also permit us to study the context of Leonardo’s artistic career through the examination of original works, including his sources (Verrocchio, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio), contemporaries (Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael) and the many artists of succeeding generations who were influenced by him (Giorgione, the Milanese School, Sarto, Pontormo, Rosso).


Howard Masur (Mathematics) - Hyperbolic Geometry and Discrete Groups

Jitka Stehnova (Mathematics) - Introduction to p-Groups

Frank Calegari (Mathematics) - Elliptic Integrals, Generating Functions, and Pi

View the Mathematics course descriptions (PDF).