Forum for the Academy & Public presents "American Identity and the Ideal of Democracy in the 21st Century"

Department: History

Date and Time: February 9, 2018 - February 10, 2018 | 4:00 PM-5:00 PM

Event Location: Friday: Crystal Cove Auditorium, UCI Student Center & Saturday: EDU 1111, School of Law

Event Details

This event takes place on February 9-10, 2018. It is free and open to the public. Preregistration recommended. Visit to preregister.

The United States is facing a peculiar time in which it’s unusually difficult to take stock of ourselves. If we had to say what underpins America today, if we were forced to choose our core beliefs or values as a nation, it’s not clear that we could readily do so.

Do we still believe, for example, in liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness? That all men are created equal? Do we still believe in the right to religious freedom? In free speech and freedom of the press? How about our electoral system? Due process? Do we still believe in democracy and representative government? Do we still care, or even give lip-service to caring, about the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable at home and around the world? Do we still hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction?

These are all questions with which the Trump presidency, the rise of the extreme right, and recent gerrymandering lawsuits have forced us to reckon. Do we instead believe, with the president, that might and money should rule the country and the world? Do we believe that political parties have the right to shape the electorate to keep themselves in power? Do we believe that some Americans are more American than others?

Our keynote speaker and our panels, which comprise thinkers and visionaries from all over the world along with a diverse group of American experts, will focus on the many complicated ways to address and to answer the most important question of all: Who do we think we are?

“Who Do We Think We Are?” is presented by UCI’s Forum for the Academy and the Public and organized by Professor Amy Wilentz. It is co-sponsored by the School of Humanities, the School of Law, the Literary Journalism Program, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, Illuminations, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Keynote Speaker: Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. She writes about American history, law, literature, and politics. Her essays and reviews have also appeared in The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The Journal of American History, Foreign Affairs, the Yale Law Journal, The American Scholar, and the American Quarterly. The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014) was awarded the 2015 American History Book Prize.

Friday, February 9
Crystal Cove Auditorium, UCI Student Center

4:00 pm  Welcome and Opening Remarks

4:30-5:30 pm  Keynote address by Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman

5:30-6:30 pm  Panel | These Truths: Identity and the Founding Documents
    Jill Lepore; Sean Wilentz; Mark Danner; Annette Gordon-Reed
    Moderated by Jon Wiener, UCI History

Are the founding documents relevant in the US today, and what are our new uniting ideals? Has the paranoid style returned to American politics more virulently than ever? If so, why now? Deep questions continue to be raised about our flawed criminal justice system: how does that relate to our image of self? Are we United States? Or are we four or five warring regions or cultures, like old Europe?
Saturday, February 10
EDU 1111, UCI School of Law

10:00-11:30 am  Panel | Imagining Another America
Douglas Kearney; Cristina Garcia; Hua Hsu; Laila Lalami
Moderated by Hector Tobar, UCI Chicano/Latino Studies and Literary Journalism

How do non-hegemonic cultures in America, native-born and/or immigrant, imagine and experience the country? How is this reflected both in political speech and in art and writing and resistance?

11:30 am  Boxed lunches available on the patio (preregistration required)

12:00-1:00 pm  Lunch Talk & Performance
Talk: Mark Trahant, Trahant Reports; member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe
Performance: Doug Kearney, poetry and poetics, Cal Arts

1:30-3:00 pm  Panel | They’re Looking at Us
Xiao Qiang (China); Junko Terao (Europe); Dmitry Bykov (Russia); Carlos Rajo (Latin America)
Moderated by Jeffrey Wasserstrom, UCI History

How has our image changed in the past half-century? In the past year? Is there something the rest of the world looks to or hopes for from us? Possibly Trump’s bellicose and authoritarian tendencies are perceived as not so new, outside the US.  How is his leadership affecting attitudes about future world stability and loci of power, both military and economic? What’s the global future of human rights and press freedom? Are other countries or regions like Europe going to be able to take up the progressive flag on existential issues like climate change?

3:15-4:45 pm  Panel | Democracy and Technology
Paul Dourish; Jonathan Taplin; Craig Calhoun; Debbie Chachra
Moderated by Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Arewa, UCI Law

How are new technologies — not just the availability of social media but also biotechnologies and economic predictors and financial calculators and robotics — changing the way we view ourselves as individual actors within the national panoply? How has our idea of American individualism been affected by rising intelligent technologies? Because of social media, today everyone has access, at least theoretically, to a platform, and anyone can go viral. What are the political implications of this? Do social media set us free or do they imprison us?

4:45 pm  Closing words and thanks