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Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research

Dr. Scott Henkel, Director

The Cooper House

1000 East University Avenue

Department 4036

Laramie, WY 82071

Email: humanities@uwyo.edu

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Democracy Laboratory

Democracy Lab Launch Event

Register today for the Zoom webinar taking place on Tuesday, October 5th at 5:30 p.m. This event features Danielle Allen, MacArthur Fellow and the Director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, Political Theorist, Pulic Intellectual, Cultural Commentator.


Cosponsored by: Wyoming Humanities Council; Honors College of Wyoming; UW Alumni Association; Associated Students of the University of Wyoming; School of Culture, Gender, and Social Justice; English; American Studies; Philosophy and Religious Studies; School of Politics, Public Affairs & International Studies; University of Wyoming Libraries; UW Press


This event is free & open to the public!

Register for the Launch Event

Danielle Allen

The Democracy Laboratory, a Project of the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research

The Democracy Laboratory seeks to empower students, faculty, and the public using interdisciplinary methods drawn from diverse disciplines, such as anthropology, art, cultural studies, geography, history, literature, philosophy, and political science in order to connect our communities and to strengthen the quality of our democracy.

We draw inspiration and support from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “A More Perfect Union” initiative; the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship and its report Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century; and from the University of Wyoming’s Grand Challenges initiative.

The effort to improve the quality of democracy and equality in the United States has always been a central part of the Land Grant University mission, which we express in our research, teaching, and public engagement. Therefore, the Democracy Lab is a dynamic, interdisciplinary, intergenerational space devoted to one of the most difficult problems we face: how to make “liberty and justice for all” a fact of life rather than a distant dream.

A Grand Challenge: How to Make a “More Perfect Union”?

The United States is the longest standing democracy in the world. While Americans are generally very proud of their country, in 2019, only 32 percent of Americans were proud of their political system.[1] Public approval ratings for Congress are often in the teens.[2] According to the Freedom House democracy index, the quality of American democracy has declined significantly over the past decade, a fact reflected in the Economist magazine now characterizing the United States as a “flawed,” rather than a “full” democracy. What can be done?

Inspired by the preamble to the constitution, “We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union”, we, at the University of Wyoming’s Democracy Lab, seek to find ways to improve the quality of democracy at the local, state, and national levels. In a report for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Danielle Allen argues that educational institutions, such as the University of Wyoming, need to foster “participatory readiness” to prepare “young people for civic participation in their communities and in the country’s political institutions.” She continues that one of the key insights of the NEH commission “The Heart of the Matter” was that “of all the disciplines, the humanities and social sciences have a special contribution to make to civic education.”[3]

Democratic institutions in the United States have existed for over two centuries, a condition that assures a base level of public support and civil authority for the rule of law. An overwhelming majority of citizens, moreover, believe in the promise of liberal democracy and the juridical structures that propel the country forward politically and socially. Critical evaluation of past events provides an essential means to learn about the destructive capabilities of nationalism, racism, and oppression. In the language of The Federalist Papers, without an engaged citizenry, laws and institutions risk becoming mere “parchment barriers.” Therefore, the Democracy Lab is an anchor institution in the civic ecosystem of the Rocky Mountain region, engaging people in a broadly-inclusive effort to build a durable infrastructure in which people learn about ethics, empathy, perspective, and context; critical, creative, and analytical thinking; and how the history of race, class, and gender have shaped our systems and institutions. The Democracy Lab will help people to identify problems in their communities and empower them to come up with creative ways to solve them.

To address these questions, problems, and opportunities, the Democracy Lab is building a pipeline for current and rising leaders--a structure which harnesses the innovation and energy of students and deploys the wisdom of senior researchers, teachers, and public servants--to improve the quality of civil society in Wyoming and therefore the quality of democracy in the United States.


[1] Megan Brenan, “American Pride Hits New Low; Few Proud of Political System” Gallup, 2 July 2019 https://news.gallup.com/poll/259841/american-pride-hits-new-low-few-proud-political-system.aspx retrieved July 12, 2021.

[2] Congress and the Public, Gallup, https://news.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx retrieved July 12, 2021.

[3] Allen, D. (2016). The future of democracy: How humanities education supports civic participation. Humanities: The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities 37(2) (Spring). Retrieved from https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2016/spring/features/the-future-the-humanities-democracy.

 

 

Contact Us

Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research

Dr. Scott Henkel, Director

The Cooper House

1000 East University Avenue

Department 4036

Laramie, WY 82071

Email: humanities@uwyo.edu

Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research Logo
Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window) Find us on Instagram (Link opens a new window) Find us on YouTube (Link opens a new window)

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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