In 2008 President Barack Obama rode a wave to the White House on what was claimed to be the most data-driven campaign ever. In 2016 inaccurate polling, email security, and social media trolling were in the headlines and led to an election result that reflected a new set of experiences for citizens in the digital age. This course will ask how new technologies, changes in our approaches to data, new forms of social communication, and dramatic changes in the way we get our news have fundamentally changed the experience of being a citizen. Students will be reading about the transition of old media to new and the change in journalistic practices and news consumption that have resulted. The course will delve deeply into the positives and negatives of social media on the experience of the public sphere and political discourse and look at the power of online spaces to enable organization and political protest. It will also closely consider how maps and polls both reveal political structures and become filters by which the experience of being a citizen is delineated.
The course will accomplish these goals through readings and discussion, and also through a close integration of the upcoming 2020 presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections into the readings and assignments. Students will research important elections and choose a particular race to follow. They will report back to the class on multiple occasions throughout the semester to the class, relating how the history, ideas and concepts we will be learning about in readings and discussion are playing out in the day-to-day studies of their election race. They will also report about the way they hear about political news and elections in their daily lives and reflect on how that chatter influences their view of the world in the digital age. This semester-long assignment will ask students to study and reflect on citizenship and the electoral process from both a critical research perspective and as an individual within the machinations of the government and media.
To connect students more directly to the practices of digital media the class will include visits from experts in fields such as qualitative social media textual analysis, digital mapmaking and geographical information systems (GIS), and online activism and organizing. These sessions will help students to both better understand how these technologies and practices influence contemporary politics and to gain some tangible skills in utilizing these technologies and practices in their own research and writing.