Questions That Matter


About the Project

Questions That Matter is a public humanities series developed by The Humanities Institute and the community of Santa Cruz. It brings together, in conversation, two or more UC Santa Cruz scholars with community residents and students to explore questions that matter to all of us. The series is a part of a strategic initiative of The Humanities Institute to champion the role and value of the humanities in contemporary life. At UC Santa Cruz, we understand that the humanities are a crucial element of any first-rate liberal arts education. Indeed, what distinguishes the best universities in the United States is the fact that the humanities are an integral part of their core curriculum, along with the arts and sciences.

Questions That Matter in the Time of Pandemic



February 4, 2020: Reporting the Middle East and the Future of Investigative Journalism
Featuring: Hannah Allam & Leila Fadel, Veteran NPR journalists & Jennifer Derr, History
What did journalists reporting the Middle East experience during the American invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring? What is it like to report from the United States when the field of journalism is under attack? How should journalists tackle fragmented and fabricated realities in the future? The UCSC community celebrated the launch of the new Center for the Middle East and North Africa with an evening of consequential conversation about the region.



January 29, 2019: Data and Democracy
Featuring: Pranav Anand, Linguistics & Lise Getoor, Computer Science and Engineering
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.



January 20, 2018: Freedom and Race
Featuring: Jennifer González, History of Arts and Visual Culture & Dean Tyler Stovall, History
America has famously been called “the land of the free,” and yet when the “Star Spangled Banner” was written, people of African descent were enslaved within its borders, including by the song’s own author, Francis Scott Key. Today, the relationship between freedom and race continues to vex the United States and the rest of the world.




October 26, 2017: Anger in Politics: From the Bard to the Donald
Featuring: Daniel Wirls, Philosophy, Deborah Gould, Sociology & Sean Keilen, Literature
What place does anger have in public life? Should we welcome the expression of anger in our elections and political deliberations, or does the common good depend on the existence of political institutions and processes from which anger and other strong emotions are excluded? Has the failure of those institutions and processes prompted much of the acrimony, hostility, and rage that we have witnessed (or felt)? What does the theater understand about such questions that politics does not understand?




March 1, 2016Play: Games, Life, and Death
Featuring: Kimberly Lau, Literature & Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Computational Media
Over the past decade, the revolution in gaming has created new communities, identities, and careers. Games can now help detect early dementia, reduce pain felt by burn victims, and may help speed healing from concussions. They also have many of us obsessed with playing them, providing countless hours of entertainment for both kids and adults alike. What is gained and what is lost as a result of the current “gamification” of life? Is play mostly about having fun or does it also have a higher purpose? How are games shaping the future and what it means to be human?




January 27, 2015: Making the Cosmos Local
Featuring: Minghui Hu, History & Anthony Aguirre, Physics
For millennia, people across the globe have searched the sky for answers. They have imagined and reimagined the cosmos, from an infinite and eternal backdrop full of other worlds, to a young Earth encircled by nearby planets and crystal spheres of stars. What is the relation between our lives here on Earth and the wider realm of nearby planets, distant stars, unfathomably faraway galaxies, and a potentially infinite universe—or swarm of universes? Where do we find, or create, meaning in such a picture?