Call for Submissions: Meanings of “America” Multimedia Contest

Call for Submissions: Meanings of “America” Multimedia Contest Open to Current UConn Students — $500 prize
Submission deadline: November 28, 2021

The Meanings of Democracy Lab under Dr. Ruth Braunstein (Sociology) invites all current UConn undergraduate and graduate students to participate in the Meanings of “America” Multimedia Contest. Submissions may include but are not limited to: short essays (800 words max), creative writing, poetry, photography, or other forms of original artwork that answer the following question: What does “America” mean to you?

In 1937, Harper’s Magazine published a call for participants in a similar contest entitled “The American Way.” They wrote, “Our American traditions and ideals need to be restated and reinterpreted in the light of new economic and social conditions…They are often misinterpreted by people who have axes to grind, political or otherwise. Words and phrases like ‘democracy,’ ‘liberty,’ … and ‘constitutional government’ mean different things to different people.”

Sound familiar? While much has changed since 1937, those living in the United States today are facing a similar moment of reckoning, reflection and reinterpretation. Spurred by political division, economic transformation, and catastrophic events, people across the political spectrum are offering competing visions of what it means to be an “American” today. It is the mission of the Meanings of Democracy Lab to take stock of such moments, and use them as opportunities for community reflection on the failings of the past and the ideals that will guide the country into the future. And who better to steer us toward the future than today’s college students?

We encourage submissions that respond to our call “simply and freshly and explicitly, and if possible so as to rally enthusiasm,” as the 1937 contest put it. We are not looking for submissions that merely restate national mottos, but rather those that complicate or rework prominent symbols and ideas in light of new knowledge, personal experiences, and the like.

The first place winner will receive a $500 prize, and up to five honorable mentions will each receive a $100 prize. The winning submission will also be displayed in a public exhibition on the Storrs and Stamford campuses, alongside those of other finalists, and will be submitted for publication in the Daily Campus.

Instructions for Contestants: Please access the submission form where you can upload a pdf copy of your submission no later than November 28th. The results of the contest will be announced at the end of the semester. Please contact Dr. Ruth Braunstein ( with any questions or concerns.

Selection Committee
Selections will be made by a committee of judges including Professor Susan Herbst (Political Science), Professor Ruth Braunstein (Sociology), and the Fall 2021 Meanings of Democracy Lab Undergraduate Research Team. Many thanks to the UConn Humanities Institute and the Sociology Department for their support for this project.


Interested in running a Meanings of “America” Multimedia Contest at another institution?
We would love to partner with you! Contact Dr. Ruth Braunstein at

Introducing our Fall 2021 Team

This Fall, the Meanings of Democracy Lab welcomes its first class of Graduate Research Fellows and Undergraduate Research Assistants!

Sociology PhD candidates Amy Lawton and Nabil Tueme join the Lab as Graduate Research Fellows.

Six Undergraduate Research Assistants — Gvantsa Ambokadze (Major: Political Science); ; David de Siqueira Campos McLaughlin (Major: Computer Science); Colin Sullivan (Major: Applied Mathematics and Statistics); Owen Silverman (Major: Philosophy/Human Rights); Rebekah Wesler (Major: Political Science); and Mary Wirpel (Major: Political Science) — comprise our inaugural Research Team.

The team brings a diverse mix of research skills and interests, and will be sharing the results of their work together throughout the semester through the Lab’s website, so stay tuned!

Work with us!

The newly formed Meanings of Democracy Lab, directed by Professor Ruth Braunstein of the Sociology Department, is offering five research assistantships for interested, high-achieving undergraduate students. Research Assistants will work with Dr. Braunstein on research related to the contested moral and cultural foundations of American democratic life, including on ongoing projects on the moral meanings of taxpaying and on battles over American history and identity.

Students’ activities could include collecting and analyzing data and reviewing existing research, as well as disseminating information through social media and podcasts. No specialized research skills are required, but extra consideration will be given to students with the following skills/interests:

  • web data collection/scraping
  • digital storytelling

We will meet virtually on Mondays from 11:00am-12:30pm during Fall 2021.

Students will receive three units of 3000-level independent study credit.

The positions are open to rising sophomores and juniors. Preferred GPA is 3.6 or higher. Students from any campus are welcome to apply.

To apply, please fill out this application:

Meanings of Democracy Lab Launched

We are excited to announce the launch of the Meanings of Democracy Lab, founded and directed by UConn sociologist Dr. Ruth Braunstein. Several big questions animate how Americans engage in civic and political life: Who counts as a “real” American? What is required of a “good” citizen? Is American democracy flourishing or floundering? In today’s deeply polarized America, the answers to these questions depend on who you ask, but the ways that different people answer them matter for us all.

The newly launched Meanings of Democracy Lab engages students and partners in collaborative research on and discussion about the contested moral and cultural foundations of American democratic life. Current projects focus on the moral meanings of taxpaying and on battles over the roles of race and religion in American identity and history.

If you are interested in participating in or collaborating with the Meanings of Democracy Lab, email Dr. Ruth Braunstein at