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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


The Democracy Laboratory is a project of the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research. We seek to empower students, faculty, and the public using interdisciplinary methods 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 UW’s Grand Challenges initiative. In the best spirit of the Land Grant University mission, the Democracy Lab is an incubator where researchers, students, and the public can gather, discuss issues, discover and experiment with new ideas, and learn from one another.

For a challenge of this scope and nature, thinking in terms of decades is insufficient. Therefore, the Democracy Lab is designed as an inter-generational enterprise. In a decade, our current students will be the thought leaders in their communities. The Democracy Lab is building a pipeline for rising leaders--a structure which channels the innovation and energy of students; deploys the wisdom of senior researchers; and builds from the talents, skills, and needs of our community members to transform the civic networks throughout Wyoming and the world.  

Each spring, the Democracy Lab calls for participants in its cohort program. For details on the Democracy Lab cohort curriculum, please see below.

Democracy Lab Cohort Curriculum


Democracy Lab Advisory Committee

Scott Henkel | PI, director, Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research, departments of English and African American and Diaspora Studies

Stephanie Anderson | Head, School of Politics, Public Affairs, and International Studies

Adam Blackler | History, College of Arts and Sciences

Cathy Connolly | Gender and Women’s Studies, School of Culture Gender, and Social Justice, and member of the Wyoming House of Representatives

Sara Flitner | Flitner Strategies, former mayor of Jackson, WY, and Lead Facilitator of the ENDOW initiative

Jennifer Harmon | Family and Consumer Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Shawn Reese | Executive director, Wyoming Humanities Council and former Policy Director to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead

Stephanie Stull | Project Coordinator, Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research

Riley Talamantes | UW undergraduate and former ASUW President

Samantha Vandermeade | Gender and Women’s Studies

Chen Xu |Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center



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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