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An Open Book on ‘Us vs. Them’

First Year Book Explores Rhetoric of Demagogues

By Sala Levin ’10

“Demagoguery and Democracy” books

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

The 2019–20 First Year Book, “Demagoguery and Democracy” by Patricia Roberts-Miller, addresses how powerful people use language that stokes a mentality of “us vs. them” and how we can avoid and confront this kind of political discourse.

Two words swirling at the center of national conversation for the last few years will resonate more than ever on campus through the 2019–20 First Year Book, Patricia Roberts-Miller’s “Demagoguery and Democracy.”

Courses, lectures, living-learning programs and student groups this academic year will all take up its core message of how powerful people, consciously or unconsciously, use language that stokes a mentality of “us vs. them.”

Roberts-Miller, a professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin, addresses what we as citizens can do to avoid and confront this kind of political discourse.

Lisa Kiely, assistant dean for undergraduate studies and head of the First Year Book Program, hopes that this year’s selection will be particularly relevant to students’ day-to-day lives. “We want students and the university community as a whole to speak respectfully when they challenge folks or don’t agree; this is the perfect book for that,” she said.

Since 1993, the program has provided first-year undergraduate students with a book that aims to create a shared intellectual experience for the campus. Students, faculty members and staff can nominate books, of which a committee of faculty and students selects one.

Past books have included “The Refugees” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Signal and the Noise” by Nate Silver and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. Each author also visits the campus. Roberts-Miller is scheduled to speak at Maryland on Nov. 7 and 8.

Sarah Croco, associate professor of government and politics, will be using the book in her course, “Scope and Methods for Political Science Research.” Part of the course focuses on data literacy and exploring how people can misuse data to manipulate others; the book offers insight into understanding how to evaluate the quality and method of a political argument, Croco said.

“People can look at the same set of evidence or same event and have totally different interpretations of it based on their worldview. If people have been taught by a demagogue what to think, that has really dangerous implications for how we as a society move forward,” Croco said.

Schools & Departments:

Office of Undergraduate Studies

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