Searching for Democracy (2012)

  • Programs
  • About
  • Partners
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How do we create a healthy democracy in a time of political polarization? How do we carry out our responsibilities as citizens in an increasingly interdependent world?

To help us answer these questions—together—Cal Humanities has launched Searching for Democracy, a statewide initiative designed to animate public conversation on the very nature of democracy through a wide range of public programs leading into the 2012 elections and beyond. With partners from across the state in communities large and small, we will provide Californians with many different ways to explore how the humanities provide insights and opportunities to have conversations that matter about the needs and state of our democracy.

How do we forge a common good in a state of uncommon diversity of opinion, values, and cultures?


California Reads

How do we come together to talk about things that matter to us all? California Reads provides a springboard to think about and discuss ideas that are critical to you and to life in our state using a diverse set of five thought-provoking books.

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Community Stories

Each of us has a story. Giving expression to the extraordinary variety of histories and experiences of California’s places and people moves us closer to finding our commonalities, appreciating our differences, and learning something new about how to live well together.

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Public Conversations with Zócalo

Cal Humanities is joining forces with Zócalo Public Square to bring community members and top public thinkers together to explore issues vital to our democracy. Join the conversations.

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Teaching Democracy

How do we learn to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship? Do our schools teach us that the system works—or what to do if it doesn’t?

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Wherever There's a Fight Exhibition

Learn about the hidden stories of unsung heroes and heroines throughout California who stood up for their rights in the face of social hostility, physical violence, economic hardship, and political stonewalling.

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About Searching for Democracy

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Leading into the national 2012 elections, Searching for Democracy is a two-year initiative that provides Californians with various ways to explore how the humanities can provide insight and opportunities to have conversations that matter about the nature, state, and needs of our democracy. Cal Humanities and its partners will explore these complexities—through a series of local, regional, and statewide activities that have humanities at their core—to accomplish a greater understanding of what is needed to sustain a healthy democracy in an increasingly interdependent world.

Students, families and people from all walks of life will explore—online and in person—what discoveries and lessons lie in works of fiction and nonfiction, provocative cultural exhibits, and public conversations. This website will be an online hub for all activities, where participants in events, readers of the initiative’s books, and people new to our effort can learn more and share what they have discovered. 

You can watch videos from some of our Searching for Democracy programs—and the forum that started it all—HERE on UCTV.



What is the initiative?

Searching for Democracy is a two-year‐long initiative that provides Californians with many different ways to explore how the humanities provide insights and opportunities to have conversations that matter about the nature, state, and needs of our democracy. Students, families and people from all walks of life will explore—online and off—what discoveries and lessons lie in works of fiction and nonfiction, provocative cultural exhibits, and public conversations. Our website will be the online hub of all activities, where participants of events, readers of the initiative’s books or people new to the effort can share what they have discovered in the humanities regarding democracy.


Why are you doing this?

The progress of America’s democracy requires broad, thoughtful, and ongoing conversations about who we are and what we value collectively—and an examination of our rights and responsibilities. We believe that searching for democracy, through the humanities, will enable us to examine the evolving nature and needs of our democracy in a meaningful but accessible way.


What are the “humanities”?

The humanities explore what it means to be human. Whether through history, literature, philosophy, the arts or other forms, the humanities are how we engage the wisdom of our cultures, the experiences of individuals, and the values that define and guide us. The humanities invite us to examine the world through different perspectives—and to discuss what matters to each of us.


Why now? How does this relate to the 2012 election?

What better time to explore the humanities’ contribution to, and lessons about, democracy than in a presidential election year? While voters may be searching for a candidate in 2012, participants of Searching for Democracy will focus not on the names on the ballot but rather on what is required for a healthy, inclusive, vibrant democracy.


Is this part of a larger national effort?

No, this is a statewide initiative unique to California.


What are the different programs related to the initiative?

Click on the "Programs" tab above to read more about the many different pieces of our Searching for Democracy initiative and all the ways you get become involved and engaged.


Cal Humanities is honored to be partnering with this diverse array of organizations to create different programs of the Searching for Democracy initiative:

California Center for the Book is part of a network of Centers for the Book in every state of the Union, all affiliated with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. A non-profit reading promotion agency that provides services and resources to librarians throughout the state, the California Center for the Book develops statewide programs that celebrate California's rich literary heritage, encourage reading and discussion, and promote libraries as centers for community engagement and lifelong learning.


California History-Social Science Project is a K-16 collaborative dedicated to increasing student achievement in history-social science by developing materials to teach historical thinking, providing professional development to teachers, and partnering with low-performing schools. A special focus of their work has been meeting the needs of English learners, native speakers with low literacy, and students from economically disadvantaged communities in order to reduce the achievement gap. CHSSP works with more than 4,000 teachers at approximately 1,500 schools annually.


Exhibit Envoy (formerly the California Exhibition Resources Alliance, or CERA) provides high quality, affordable, traveling exhibitions and professional services to museums and other host venues throughout California. Its mission is to build new perspectives among Californians, create innovative exhibitions and solutions, and advance institutions in service to their communities. Created in 1988 by Cal Humanities as a consortium of small community‐based museums, CERA became a separate non‐profit organization in 2002 and changed its name in 2011.


Zócalo Public Square blends on-the-ground events and on-line journalism to connect people to ideas and to each other in an open, accessible, non-partisan and broad-minded spirit. Through a web publication, lectures, panels, screenings, and conferences, Zócalo explores ideas that enhance our understanding of citizenship and community—the forces that strengthen or undermine human connectedness and social cohesion. Zócalo is committed to welcoming a new, young, and diverse generation to the conversation. 

Searching for Democracy and its many programs are made possible with the generous support of our funders—the California State Library, which has provided assistance from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, through its Federal-State Partnership program as well as the Chairman’s Special Initiative: Bridging Cultures. Additional funding has been provided by The BayTree Foundation, the Seedlings Foundation, and the Whitman Institute.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the US Institute of Museum and Library Services, the California State Library, Cal Humanities and/or its funders and no official endorsement by any of these institutions should be inferred.




Thank you for joining.

Join the Initiative

Interested in taking part in our Searching for Democracy initiative? Attend one of the many events featured here on our website and join the conversation, in person or online.

To find out more about upcoming events and opportunities related to the initiative, sign up below to receive Cal Humanities communications via email. If you include your full address, we’ll also send you our publications via post.