Data and Democracy

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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.

  • 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 sold out. There will be a livestream of the event. Sign up to receive details about the livestream.

    If you wish you attend, please come to the music recital hall day-of, we will have an overflow line, and any open seats will be filled just prior to the start of the program.

    News Coverage:
    Wallace Bain, “Jaron Lanier to Santa Cruz: Quit Social Media Now,” Good Times

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

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

  • 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.


  • 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.”