New liberal arts program
in media studies launched at U.Va.
Drucker's three decades of work as an artist and creator of
experimental artists' books, which are in major collections
in the United States and Europe, will be exhibited at an international
conference on "Transformations of the Book and Redefinitions
of the Arts & Humanities" Oct. 11-14 at SUNY-Albany.
She will be a featured speaker along with the influential
French philosopher Jacques Derrida and other theorists and
University is launching a comprehensive interdisciplinary program
this semester that focuses on electronic, print, digital and film
media, including their history, effects and impacts, production
methods, and ways of being perceived. The new Media
Studies major will have a strong emphasis on emerging digital
U.Va. program differs from many elsewhere in that "it's a
liberal arts program that takes as its object of study the fundamental
role of media in our culture," said director Johanna Drucker,
the Robertson Professor of Media Studies who also holds an appointment
in the English department.
Because it emphasizes critical thinking, "our students will
be prepared to do anything they want to do," said Drucker,
an authority on the history of written forms of language and visual
are so pervasive in our lives that "we forget that they are
cultural artifacts," she added. "It's all coded and
organized according to various rituals."
the word only came into use in its popular sense with the growth
of mass media in the mid-20th century, "media" began
with the earliest writing and drawing, Drucker points out. She
defines the term as any means of transcribing, encoding or recording
language, images or data in any sort of material such as paper,
film or electrical signals. Media studies is concerned with understanding
how media function rhetorically, structurally, psychologically
and in other ways in our cultural life. Students in the program
will examine closely the effects of media on public policy, free
speech issues, and commerce and regulation of media.
20 students a year are being allowed into the major, beginning
in their third year, and they will need a 3.4 grade-point average
to be considered. The first group will be selected later this
fall and interest is running high, said Drucker. Prerequisite
courses include "Information Technology and Digital Media,"
a general introduction for first-year students taught by Bryan
Pfaffenberger, associate professor of Technology, Culture and
Communication, that examines the nature of new technology and
how it is changing the world.
courses will include media theory and criticism, history of media,
a range of advanced electives in numerous fields, and at least
one course or internship in the practice of media in any of its
studies electives feature a wide range of long-established courses,
from anthropology and art to psychology and photography, and from
"Mass Media and American Politics" to "The Impact
of Printing." They show not only that U.Va. has been offering
"media studies" for years but also how broad the scope
of its inquiry is, said Drucker, who is also an avant-garde artist,
creative writer and publisher of fine-press books, many using
experimental typography (one recent title: Night Crawlers on the
Web). She previously taught at SUNY-Purchase, Yale and Columbia
before joining the U.Va. faculty last year.
of the many media studies offerings that are also traditional
courses are the newswriting seminars taught by English lecturer
William Fishback, who emphasizes that he tries to do what he has
always done: "teach students to think and write effectively."
required "Introduction to Media Studies," being taught
this year by visiting English professor Michael Quinn, looks at
media institutions and provides an overview for understanding
media's powerful role in contemporary society. It includes a segment
on "defamiliarizing media," or learning how to analyze
them beyond their everyday familiarity.
Future plans for media studies
With media studies as an important component, the University is
also planning what would be the country's first master's degree
in digital media in the humanities. John Unsworth, director of
the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, is spearheading
the planning for the program, in an area in which U.Va. is an
international leader: using digital technology to aid in research
and understanding in fields such as literature, art, archaeology
and history, by uncovering new patterns, employing quantitative
analysis and linking vast amounts of related material. The master's
program would be in collaboration with the Engineering School
and would need state approval before it begins.
A University committee is also planning a center for "computing,
cognition and culture" that would link the media studies
program, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities,
the Electronic Text Center
and other new-technology centers to examine the ways technology
is transforming education and society. The center would be a place
to reflect critically on digital media, something that "needs
to happen," says Drucker. Among other projects, Media Studies
is planning a major conference next fall on "McLuhan and
Beyond," looking at how thinking about media has evolved
since the influential work of media theorist Marshall McLuhan.
Media Studies program was planned with active involvement of students,
and today's techno-savvy students are deeply involved in new media,
setting up electronic publications and networks, Drucker said.
One student group, for example, is currently creating a Web site
linking all the arts projects in the Charlottesville area. "The
best resource of this University is our students," said Drucker,
adding that the Media Studies program will be arranging internships
for them with media organizations, both locally and beyond, as
well as setting up a network of alumni active in media.
time was clearly ripe for U.Va. to create a formal program in
media studies, she said. "The awareness of the role of media
on our society is high and people want understanding."