Data and Democracy

Join us in 2018 – 2019 as we contend with Data and Democracy.

As our society navigates shifting definitions of fake news, targeted ad programs, and compromised voting systems, it is essential that we work to understand the complex and often obscured relationship between data and democracy. During the 2018 – 2019 Academic Year, The Humanities Institute will lead a community-wide conversation about this topic through a range of events focused on the ethics of social media, online privacy, big data, and algorithmic bias.

The Humanities are essential in helping us make sense of this changing world.

Let us consider together what it means to be human as technologies advance and transform the world around us. If social media can undermine our fundamental institutions and commodify our personal data to shape civil society, can these tools also spark better forms of civil discourse by connecting communities, building shared spaces, and raising our voices collectively? Can we imagine not only the dangerous consequences of artificial intelligence, but also technologies that lead to a better informed and engaged citizenry where data creates a shared understanding of policy implications, demographic shifts, and economic realities?

As technology increasingly shapes our habits and defines our access to knowledge, it is more important than ever that we understand how we got here and work to imagine a more inclusive, open, and transparent future.

This effort is part of our Expanding Humanities Impact and Publics project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  • Jaron Lanier, “How the Internet Failed and How to Recreate It”
    Baskin Ethics Lecture
    Monday, October 29, 7pm | Music Recital Hall

    The internet as it exists might destroy our world. In the developed countries, its arrival has corresponded to bizarre political dysfunction, while in the developing world, ethnic rivalries that had been waning have been re-ignited in the most grotesque fashion. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

    Our year-long discussion of Data and Democracy kicks off with Jaron Lanier—computer scientist, composer, artist, author, and internet pioneer—on Monday, October 29 at the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture.

    This event is past. A video recording will be available soon.


    News Coverage:


    Questions that Matter: Data and Democracy
    Tuesday, January 29 | Kuumbwa Jazz Center

    As our society navigates shifting definitions of fake news, targeted ad programs, and compromised voting systems, it is essential that we work to understand the complex and often obscured relationship between data and democracy. As technology increasingly shapes our habits and defines our access to knowledge, it is more important than ever that we understand how we got here and work to imagine a more inclusive, open, and transparent future.

    Join Pranav Anand (Linguistics) and Lise Getoor (Computer Science) for a conversation about Data and Democracy. Nathaniel Deutsch (Director, THI) will moderate.

    Event is Sold Out. Register for the Waitlist >


    Safiya Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism
    Tuesday, February 12, 7pm | Kresge Town Hall

    The landscape of information is rapidly shifting as new imperatives and demands push to the fore increasing investment in digital technologies. Yet, critical information scholars continue to demonstrate how digital technology and its narratives are shaped by and infused with values that are not impartial, disembodied, or lacking positionality. Technologies consist of a set of social practices, situated within the dynamics of race, gender, class, and politics, and in the service of something – a position, a profit motive, a means to an end.

    In this talk, Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble will discuss her new book, Algorithms of Oppression, and the impact of marginalization and misrepresentation in commercial information platforms like Google search, as well as the implications for public information needs.

    This talk is co-sponsored by Kresge College’s Media and Society Lecture Series, The Science & Justice Research Center, The Humanities Institute, and the Department of Sociology.
    The Hellen Diller Distinguished Lecture in Jewish Studies

    James Loeffler, “The Right to Be Heard – Jews, Human Rights, and Global Democracy”

    February 20, 2019 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
    At the Cowell Ranch Hay Barn

    The seventieth anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018 comes at a time of crisis for global democracy and growing questions about the liberal international order. In this talk, James Loeffler draws on his new book, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, to revisit the 1948 moment in which modern human rights was born together with the post-imperial nation-state. Questioning the standard narrative of human rights as a postwar response to the Holocaust, this talk will show how the rise of human rights represented a forgotten marriage between nationalism and internationalism, which raised new challenges and opportunities for minorities and stateless peoples to find justice in the global legal order.

    James Loeffler is Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History at the University of Virginia.

    RSVP Requested >

  • Matt Cook, “Depth-of-Field: Translating the benefits of Virtual Reality from the laboratory to the (higher-ed) classroom”
    Thursday, March 14 @ 4 | Digital Scholarship Commons, McHenry Library

    Increasingly accessible Virtual Reality technologies allow course content to be presented in context, at human scale, and responsive to the wide range of body-centered interactions. These representational characteristics, which define our engagement with real-world objects and environments, have been shown in the literature to improve performance on activities that overlap significantly with target learning outcomes across multiple disciplines. Yet, relatively few curricular interventions have made full use of VR (or have published on the results of such integrations). This talk will use case studies and associated implementation strategies to explore and narrow this gap in the research literature, thereby empowering participants to begin thinking about their own VR-based course integrations.

    Co-sponsored by the Digital Scholarship Commons, University Library and CITL.


    Digital Humanities Meet up 
    Conversation prompted by Zac Zimmer, “Cryptography, Subjectivity and Spyware: From PGP Source Code and Internals to Pegasus”
    Monday, October 8, 4 – 6 PM | Cowell Provost House

    Join the Digital Humanities campus community for a Fall Quarter Meet Up. This is an opportunity to meet digital scholarship practitioners across campus and connect as we start a new year. The Meet Up is informal: please invite colleagues interested in building a DH portfolio and learning more about digital scholarship.

  • Public Humanities Graduate Student Instructors (Applications now closed)

    We are seeking applications from qualified PhD students to serve as Graduate Student Instructors to teach a course in the Spring 2019 quarter as part of a new “Questions That Matter” course series. Over the past few years, The Humanities Institute (THI) has hosted a series of cross-disciplinary, humanities grounded conversations in downtown Santa Cruz about “Questions That Matter.” The course series expands the impact of these public events into the undergraduate classroom as part of the Mellon Funded Expanding Humanities Impact and Publics project

    This is an opportunity for graduate students to teach their own course and gain skills in course development. Selected graduate students will work with faculty mentors to develop a new undergraduate syllabus exploring the theme, “Data and Democracy.” Students will then teach this new course in one of 3 UCSC residential colleges with additional support from peer mentors.


  • May 17, 2019
    Mira Mirsky, “On social media, hate speech takes a dangerous turn
    “Online hate has been identified as a serious problem that has gotten out of hand. But whose is it to solve? Should the government step in more authoritatively, or do social media and tech companies need to take more responsibility? Do we turn to technological solutions or human ones? Or must speech be protected at all costs?What to do about online hate is a knotty question at the crossroads of ethics and technology. “These are questions that, again, go far beyond anti-Semitism,” said Deutsch, who co-led a discussion called “Anti-Semitism and the Internet” earlier this month in Mountain View. “But anti-Semitism is a big part of it.”


    May 13, 2019
    Rachel Myrow, “No Lone Shooter: How Anti-Semitism Is Winning New Converts on the Internet
    “Conspiracy theories have been at the core of anti-Semitism, and the internet is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theorists. Exactly how this genre is evolving was the subject of an event held last week at the Computer Science Museum in Mountain View by UC Santa Cruz’s Data and Democracy initiative.“Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest hatreds in the world,” said Rachel Deblinger, co-director of the Digital Jewish Studies Initiative and director of the Digital Scholarship Commons at UC Santa Cruz. “The internet provides the tools of creation and dissemination to everyone.”She argues, as do others, that social media platforms of all kinds are effectively resurrecting and refreshing ideas and visual tropes — or “memes” — stemming back to Medieval Europe.”


    April 11, 2019
    Scott Rappaport, “‘Hi-Phi Nation’ philosophy podcast host to launch humanities residency at UC Santa Cruz
    “Barry Lam—an associate professor of philosophy at Vassar College and host of the philosophy podcast Hi-Phi Nation on Slate—is coming to UC Santa Cruz this week to begin a two-week residency.Lam comes to the campus as part of The Humanities Institute’s Scholars-in-Residence program. He is the writer, editor, and producer of Hi-Phi Nation, billed as the first podcast weaving philosophy with narrative storytelling, investigative journalism, and sound design. It is also the first philosophy show to be picked up by a major podcast network.”


    February 14,2019
    Scott Rappaport,Diller Lecture to feature talk on the history of Jews, human rights, and global democracy

    Loeffler will revisit the history of the modern Human Rights movement and examine the relationship between the Holocaust, the legal framework of Human Rights, and the struggle to find justice on a global scale.

    His lecture will also address the challenges and opportunities for minorities and stateless peoples by focusing on Jewish human rights pioneers who saw the Jewish state as an expression of global democracy.


    January 28, 2019
    James McGirk, “Lise Getoor talks Data Science at UC Santa Cruz in advance of public lectures

    As the risks and benefits of insights developed by data science spread through society, Getoor sees a growing need for data science literacy and recognition that there are serious limits to what artificial intelligence and algorithmic insights can have.

    “Algorithms aren’t a magic bullet for all society’s ills,” she said. “Doing good data science requires a collaborative and curious outlook so you’re collaborating with the people who know how users will be affected by the decisions, and understanding what the powers and limitations of data science are. And it’s important to communicate that at all levels.”


    January 18, 2019
    Scott Rappaport, “Questions That Matter public humanities series to spotlight ‘Data and Democracy’ at Kuumbwa Center”

    The Questions That Matter series is designed to bring together UC Santa Cruz faculty with community residents and students to explore the big questions that matter to everyone. It is part of a strategic initiative of The Humanities Institute to champion the role and value of the humanities in contemporary life.

    “We’re going to look at what are some of the core elements of modern democracy, the way that data has changed and who has access to it, and how this has the potential to transform our democracy,” said Deutsch. “I think there has to be a collaboration between humanists and technologists to address these issues,” he added.

    October 30, 2018
    Nick Ibarra, Social media is destroying Democracy, tech pioneer tells Santa Cruz audienceSanta Cruz Sentinel

    Ahead of the scheduled evening lecture, Lanier met with a small group of first year students from the College Scholars Program and, at one point, invited the students to quit social media for six months as an experiment. But, the students weren’t necessarily on board. Ibarra writes, “Kora Fortun, a freshman linguistics and math major, told Lanier that she agrees with many of his premises but sees a different path forward. ‘I see more hope in a new generation of social media users being aware and thus maintaining some control of the platforms we use,’ Fortun said.”

    October 19, 2018
    Scott Rappaport, “Visionary tech pioneer Jaron Lanier to deliver Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture” UCSC News

    Event kicks off a year of programming on ‘Data and Democracy’ by The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz

    October 17, 2018
    Wallace Bain, “Jaron Lanier to Santa Cruz: Quit Social Media Now,” Good Times

    “On Monday, Oct. 29, Lanier comes to UC Santa Cruz as part of the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture Series, co-sponsored by UCSC’s Humanities Institute and Bookshop Santa Cruz, with a message that cannot be better articulated than the title of his book. He’s making the case that the social media world robs people of free will, distorts relationships, creates destructive addictions, destroys political compromise and progress, and alters the functioning of the human mind, particularly young and developing minds. The most efficacious way out of this emerging hellscape is to delete your social media accounts. All of them. Permanently. Right now.”