Meanings of “America” Contest

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 (ruth.braunstein@uconn.edu) 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.

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