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5 Things with Will Duffy, English professor & Director of Graduate Studies at University of Memphis

On promoting democratic communication
Published onNov 28, 2022
5 Things with Will Duffy, English professor & Director of Graduate Studies at University of Memphis

Two weeks after the election, and two weeks until the end of the fall semester, I’ve been preoccupied with two seemingly unrelated things: first, the spread of antidemocratic populist discourse, and second, the graduate course I’m teaching in the spring called Theory and Practice of Online Teaching. There is a point of connection, actually, and it’s the issue of access. 

 As someone who researches communication ethics, I recognize the importance of not just teaching but also modeling public rhetoric that insists on expanding voting rights and protecting democratic processes. And as an advocate for open educational resources (OER), I’m interested in ways that instructors can draw on databases, public journalism, interactive media, and other digital resources to enrich their teaching. 

 In short, democracy and learning both require access. The following are five resources that rely on and promote the importance of history, public advocacy, and teaching democratic communication.


1 // Internet Archive's Democracy's Library

I just coauthored an essay about the importance of doubt as a democratic virtue for the forthcoming volume Democracies in America: Keywords for the 19th Century and Today, so I was pleasantly surprised when the Internet Archive recently announced its newest database, Democracy’s Library. “A free, open, online compendium of government research and publications from around the world,” this collection is nothing short of a treasure trove of material history documenting democracy in action.

The Internet Archive’s Democracy’s Library: 


2 // MLK50

This nonprofit launched in 2017 with the mission “to report on the intersection of poverty, power and policy, and to bear witness to movement making and lived experiences.” While many of MLK50s reports have made national headlines, the impact of its advocacy for working class  Memphians has been undeniable. This site is both a resource and a model for how journalism and advocacy meet through public rhetoric. 


3 // Facing History & Ourselves

This organization draws on the knowledge and experience of a global network of educators committed to promoting civic engagement while combating bigotry and hate. While I’ve only just discovered it, their Resource Library has thousands of open-access resources that touch on topics ranging from human and civil rights, equity and inclusion,  propaganda, racism, and The Holocaust. 

Screenshot of two resources of “Facing History & Ourselves.” The left is a collection entitled "Survivors and Witnesses: Video Testimony" that features accounts of the Holocaust cold by survivors, rescuers, and wetnesses, selected from USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive. The right is a unit called "Identity & Community: An Introduction to 6th Grade Social Studies," which explores themes of identity by using students' knowledge of the Memphis Tennessee community.

Screenshot of two resources of “Facing History & Ourselves.”

4 // Uncivil Religion: A Curated Resource of Media from the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021

This interactive digital resource offers a unique perspective on what transpired on the ground at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Uncivil Religion combines interpretative essays and various media—including  photos and videos recorded by those participating in the insurrection as it occurred—to create an educational resource rich in both its design and scope. It also wonderfully models the potential for public humanities scholarship.  

5 // Write to Vote Project

Write to Vote Project Logo: green background with text "Write to Vote Project | Scribens, docens, democratia" and a cartoon ballot being checked by a pencil.

“Rarely does the public speak so clearly on such a precise issue,” Brennan Center for Justice’s Michael Waldman said in a recent column about the 2022 election results. “Voters care enough about democracy to reject those who would undermine it.” As much as I want to agree with this assessment, the best I can muster is a fleeting sense of relief. On the same day as Waldman’s column, CBS News published an analysis that included this sobering statistic: “at least 60% of the Republican candidates who raised unfounded doubts about the validity or integrity of the 2020 election results — 185 of 308 — are projected to win their midterm races.” Elections matter, and the only way to keep them fair and equitable is to make sure voters have access to the polls. That’s why I’ve joined the team of the Write to Vote Project, a new initiative aimed at encouraging teachers to promote the value of public writing about voting rights. An online publication, email list, and resource library, the Write to Vote project is a venue faculty and administrators can use if they want to learn about designing public writing assignments with a real-world audience.

— William Duffy

English professor & Director of Graduate Studies at University of Memphis

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