Within my academic discipline, public sociology is an approach that reaches out beyond classrooms and academic journals in attempt to engage with the broader world. I’m excited to be taking a small step down this path with a regular spot in the newspaper blog lineup for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel of central Maine. My first post there, already published, considers why Augusta’s status as a city might lead to an elevated report of its crime rate. Look for another post next month that discusses gender in the Maine State Legislature.
Maine friends and colleagues: I’ll be delivering a public lecture this upcoming Wednesday at the University of Maine at Augusta Katz Library. The subject is the Open Maine project, an effort to bring Maine state legislative information into the open information age. I’d love your feedback — and as usual for the UMA Research and Pedagogy series there will be nibbles.
Open Maine: Making Politics Social
A Presentation in the Research and Pedagogy Colloquium Series
James Cook, Assistant Professor of Social Science
Wednesday, April 22, 12 noon
University of Maine at Augusta Katz Library
“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.” — Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia
For most of Maine’s history, the records of its state politics have been officially accessible but practically unavailable. Before the internet age, information about the legislature was kept in side rooms and libraries at the State House in Augusta, making our collective decisions available only to those who had the time and money to stalk about the stacks.
In recent decades, the website of the Maine State Legislature has taken great strides toward making information about the Pine Tree State’s legislature, our legislation and our legislators available to all. Some roadblocks remain, however:
- Maine legislative information isn’t easily shared through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media;
- Maine legislative information isn’t easily mixed and downloaded for analysis by academics, journalists, citizen bloggers or the curious;
- It isn’t easy for us to engage in conversation about legislation and legislators in the same environment where raw information is made available;
- It isn’t easy for us to create, post and share our assessments of our legislators based on transparent and verifiable standards.
This RaP colloquium at the University of Maine at Augusta will present the result of a Presidential Research Grant kick-starting Open Maine, an online civic engagement and education project to make Maine legislative politics shareable, mixable, downloadable, conversable, assessable and transparent. Presentation of the new platform and research outcomes will be followed by discussion and a brainstorm on future development. Students, staff, faculty and members of the public are welcome.
#LetMatthewTeach is a hashtag protesting the firing of a Nebraska Catholic school teacher for being gay. Last week, #LetMatthewTeach was one of the top three Twitter hashtags used by state legislators in Maine, two thousand miles away from the scene of the kerfuffle. Clearly, social media can bridge distance in some interesting ways. I describe some other trends in social media use by Maine state legislators last week in a post to the Open Maine Politics Blog.
Over the past year, I’ve been developing an Open Maine Politics website to mix, share and make social a variety of kinds of information about the Maine State Legislature. Campaign finance profiles for legislators are part of the developing picture, but this weekend I’m hitting a speed bump as inconsistencies in the Maine Ethics Commission’s official dataset force me to look more closely at each case and fix errors one by one. Cleaning the data feels like spring cleaning. At least the season’s right.