Latest HumIn Focus episode examines history, complexities of American democracy

September 09, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — What exactly is a democracy? How do we define it, how do we achieve it, and how do we learn from past struggles to refine and improve it?

These are just some of the bigger questions considered in “Who Counts: The Complexities of Democracy in America,” which will debut on WPSU-TV and stream simultaneously at at 9:30 p.m. EDT this Thursday, Sept. 10. A panel discussion showcasing faculty in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts who are featured in the episode will be broadcast online following the premiere at

“Who Counts” is the latest installment in the HumIn Focus series created by the Penn State Humanities Institute and produced by WPSU. The Humanities Institute created the series in 2018 in an effort to showcase the social value of humanities research and to spark dialogue between humanities scholars and members of the community on topics of pressing social importance. Confederate monuments and immigration were the focal points of the series’ first two episodes.

“One of the institute’s central missions is to show the profound social relevance that humanities scholarship has in our world — a commitment that has given rise to our Public Humanities Initiative in general and the HumIn Focus series in particular,” said John Christman, Humanities Institute director and Penn State professor of philosophy, political science, and women’s studies. “The latest episode of the series and the panel discussion that follows show how our scholars help deepen and broaden our conversations about the most urgent public issues.”

“Who Counts” chronicles the history of American democracy since the framing of the U.S. Constitution and examines the accomplishments and struggles that have helped define it since then. The Three-Fifths Clause, the passage of the 14th and 19th amendments, momentous U.S. Supreme Court cases such as Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education, and landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act are among the topics discussed during the episode.

“Because of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the ongoing fight to ensure that all Americans are granted equal access to democracy, we wanted to explore the history of the struggle to achieve the aspirations articulated in the America’s founding documents,” said Matt Jordan, Penn State associate professor of media studies and executive producer of HumIn Focus. “What we are seeing in the news today are echoes of things that have happened before, and we wanted to show how the barriers to equality have been — and can still be — overcome once again.”

“Who Counts” and the panel discussion will both be available at following the Sept. 10 premiere. A longer version of the episode, as well as the “HumIn Focus on Immigration” and “HumIn Focus on Confederate Monuments” episodes that aired previously are also available online at

HumIn Focus was one of the first projects to receive a seed grant in support of Penn State’s 2016-2025 Strategic Plan.

Last Updated September 14, 2020