Paris: Humanities

Early App Deadline: 
Friday, April 23, 2021
Final App Deadline: 
Friday, November 5, 2021
Language Requirement: 
Kylie Poulin
Core Credits: 
Arts Core

The College’s Spring Humanities program in Paris provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to devote themselves intensively to the humanities at the University of Chicago’s Center in Paris. This is a broadly conceived program, designed not for students from specific majors, but for all students, regardless of major, with an interest in the humanities and a desire to pursue this interest in the capital of France, a city rich in cultural resources and artistic traditions. This program normally includes upper-level courses in philosophy, art history and another humanistic discipline such as literature, music or linguistics. Program participants will also take a French language course, which runs at a normal pace through the quarter and is designed to help students connect with French (and Parisian) culture.

Apart from classroom work, the spring Humanities program offers a series of excursions to sites of artistic and historic interest within and in the vicinity of Paris. Indeed Paris itself, with its wealth of museums, libraries and theaters, its lively art and literary scene, its rich traditions of creation and critique, plays a central role in the program and students will be expected to make full use of its cultural resources.


French Nineteenth-Century Painting – Martha Ward (Art History)
Over the course of the “long nineteenth-century,” from the Revolution in 1789 to the outbreak of WWI, French painting underwent a series of extraordinary changes in subject, technique and range of affect. From large-scale paintings of historical scenes, meant to inspire civic values in public exhibitions, to intimate representations of domestic interiors, aiming for subliminal effect, innovative art also changed in ostensible purpose, venue and audience. Its trajectory both responded to and helped to shape societal and political developments and notions of Frenchness. Despite the dramatic changes, however, there was still continuity over this period in what we might call the “deep structure” of picture-making, that which made meaning possible, involving fundamental practices related to composition, temporality, and the very nature of beholding. We will explore these changes and continuities first-hand by studying paintings in Paris museums. Emphasis will be placed on developing fundamental skills in pictorial analysis through close looking. We will focus on a few important works by each of our key artists, including Théodore Géricault, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Manet, Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. Students will be required to write several short papers on paintings in local collections.

Pascal and the Pensées – Michael Kremer (Philosophy)
This course will center on a close reading of significant parts of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, a famous set of meditations on knowledge, faith, and human nature, culminating in his famous “wager” for Christian religious faith. In the first half of the course, we will begin by providing some intellectual context, with selections from Montaigne’s essays (“That to philosophize is to learn how to die,” “Of physiognomy,” and excerpts from “Apology for Raymond Sebond”) and Descartes’s Discourse on Method (Parts 1-4). We will also briefly consider the writings of Pascal’s sister Jacqueline (“On the Mystery of the Death of our Lord Jesus Christ”) together with Pascal’s “Memorial” to understand Pascal’s own religious conversion, followed by a discussion of his “Discussion with Monsieur Saucy” and “The Art of Persuasion” to contrast his method in philosophy with that of Descartes. The second half of the course will then be devoted to a close reading of selections from the Pensées, chosen to emphasize the themes most important for a proper critical understanding of the wager argument. Students will write two essays of 6-8 pages, post discussion questions on Canvas regularly, and participate in class discussion.

Frenchness: Histories of Identity, Race, and Republic – François Richard (Anthropology)
Over the last two decades, questions of national identity -- Who is a (real) French person and who isn’t? Who can legitimately claim belonging in France? What concessions must be made to participation in the nation? What/who threatens the national community? -- have come increasingly to the fore in France, despite (or because of) the country’s prevailing rhetoric of colorblind indivisibility. These issues are becoming ever more pressing on a background of increasing multiculturalism, economic crisis, racial discrimination, Islamophobia, and ethnopopulist feelings in Europe. The purpose of this course is to offer analytical perspectives about these critical tensions and their ripples across the landscape of contemporary French politics. Using readings from a wide variety of fields, we will unpack the histories that have shaped the politics of national identity and difference in France since the late 18th century. We will see that ‘Frenchness’ has been a contested domain, intimately bound up with the country’s history of colonialism and decolonization; with its Republican ideology; with matters of law, government, and citizenship; with issues of religion and secularism; with debates on sexuality and sexual rights; with longstanding anxieties about immigration, multiculturalism, and race; and with white malaise and resentment stirred by the growth of right-wing extremisms. In the course of our examinations, we will also reflect on how histories of race, identity and politics compare and differ in France and the United States.

Center in Paris

Headquarters for the College’s study abroad programs in Paris is the University of Chicago Center in Paris, the University’s research and teaching arm in Europe. Situated in the thirteenth arrondissement, the Center in Paris is part of an ambitious intellectual project along the river Seine, including the Bibliothèque Nationale and a new home for Université Denis Diderot (University of Paris VII). The Center in Paris features classrooms, offices for faculty and graduate students, computer facilities, a small library and an apartment for the faculty director. For participants in Chicago’s programs, the Center in Paris provides a focus for academic activities, a central meeting place and a continuing Chicago “presence” within one of the major capitals of Europe.


Students in the Paris Humanities program are housed in a residence hall within the Cité Internationale Universitaire (Cité). The Cité, a park-like residential complex in the fourteenth arrondissement, is the international student campus in Paris, though French students also live there. Students reside in single rooms with a private bath and have access to Cité facilities, including a library, theater, laundry, and athletic facilities. Students will have access to common kitchens in the residence halls and can purchase inexpensive meals at the Cité’s restaurant universitaire.

Credits and Registration

Participants in the Paris Humanities program remain registered as full-time students in the College. They receive one credit for each of the four courses offered through this program. If one of the humanities courses falls within a student’s major subject, he or she may use this course in their major without special petition. The use of these courses in related or interdisciplinary majors is also frequently possible, though for this students will have to submit a specific petition to the appropriate program chair. The art history course offered through this program is often accepted as a credit toward the general education requirement in the arts. The language course will normally count as an elective. Course titles, units of credit and grades are placed on the College transcript.


Study abroad students pay regular College tuition, a program fee, and a nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee. The tuition and program fee are paid in conformity with the home campus payment schedule, and the nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee is submitted when accepting a place in a program. Precise figures for the Paris Humanities program during the 2021-2022 year are listed below:

Spring tuition: as set by the Bursar’s Office

Study abroad administrative fee: $675

Paris Humanities program fee: $4,975

Program fee includes: Out-of-pocket expenses include:
accommodation round-trip airfare to and from the program site
instruction transportation on site
student support meals
program excursions course materials
emergency travel insurance (ISOS) personal entertainment and travel
  communications (including cell phone usage)
  health insurance and upfront payments for care
  other miscellaneous expenses

Previous program participants report spending in the range of $200 to $250 per week on meals and incidentals while on the program, though frugal students may spend less, and others could spend much more. Bear in mind that the cost of living in Paris is relatively high and that, while it is possible to live frugally, it is also possible to run short of money if you are unwary. It is therefore essential that you budget your funds prudently, apportioning your resources so that they last for the duration of the program. If you are planning to travel before or after the program or on weekends, you should budget accordingly.

Study abroad students retain their financial aid eligibility. For more information about financial aid resources, please see our Tuition, Fees, and Funding section. 

Eligibility and Application

The Paris Humanities program is open to University of Chicago undergraduate students only. Applications from outside the University are not accepted.

The program is designed for undergraduates in good standing, including first-year students. While the program stipulates no minimum grade-point average, an applicant’s transcript should demonstrate that they are a serious student who will make the most of this opportunity. Because the humanities courses are taught in English, there is no language prerequisite, although students are encouraged to take French on campus before the program begins.

Each application is examined on the basis of the student’s scholastic record, personal statement and academic recommendation. If you are interested in applying for this program please fill out the online application.

Further Information

To discuss the Paris: Humanities program and the possibility of participating in it, please contact Kylie Poulin.

Learn more about the
Center in Paris.

What you’ll see: