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Course Descriptions

Program in Media Studies


Overview Media Studies is an interdisciplinary program focused on the forms and effects of media (radio, film, television, photography, print, digital, and electronic media), including the study of aesthetics and form, individual perception, and the history of media (primarily mass-circulation prints, journals, and newspapers, recorded media, communications and broadcast media, and electronic modes). Also of concern is the ethics and effects of media in the arena of policy studies, the social impact of media on public opinion, and the relations between media and the law with regard to free speech issues, as well as the commerce and regulation of media in the public sphere. The program is critically engaged with creative analysis, production, and research into traditional and emerging forms of media. It emphasizes digital media through approaches to its history, theory, and technology, and their impact upon contemporary life.

Media studies considers the transformation of the public sphere and individual imagination through the effects of media upon social practices. It also takes, as a prime topic, the concept of mediation, or the production of social relations, cultural values, and political forces. In doing so, the program provides intellectual tools for understanding the rhetoric and influence of media in their construction of illusion and reality. It draws on methodologies across the humanistic disciplines of sociology, history, critical theory, philosophy, art history and visual studies, the creative arts (video, photography, music, print, film, and digital media), anthropology, technology, political science, computer science, commerce, and law.

Internships and courses in media production provide opportunities for first hand experience in journalism, video, digital arts, business, and other areas. Media studies is a single, synthetic major constituted by the substantive examination of media in their aesthetic, historical, and cultural dimensions. The program is not a vocational, pre-professional training course in journalism, broadcast, or communications. Rather, the major has a strong commitment to emphasizing the fundamental values and skills of critical thinking, research, writing, and intellectual inquiry essential to a liberal arts education.

Faculty  There is currently one faculty member (the director) with a joint appointment in Media Studies and English (Drucker); in addition there are numerous faculty from other disciplines (Korte, Horne, Voris, Balogh, Freedman, Sapir, Wicke, McGann, VanderMeulen, Belanger, Carlson, Jost, Seneviratne, Drame, Herskowitz, Pfaffenberger, Kinney, Unsworth) whose courses are cross-listed with media studies; these represent a range of scholarly and teaching interests that explore the forms and effects of media from various disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.

Students from across the University are encouraged to explore the offerings in Media Studies as part of their undergraduate experience. Those wishing to focus on production or creative arts, law, commerce, policy, research at an advanced level, or in development and research applications of digital technology, should use media studies as the first step toward a master's or doctorate degree in their fields. Graduates can expect to find work in publishing, radio, television, digital media, and the business environments of traditional and new media.

Special Resources  The University of Virginia has a number of special resources that enrich the Media Studies Program. The newly constructed Robertson Media Center in Clemons Library is equipped with viewing stations, study rooms for group viewing and discussion, and classrooms with film, video, and computer equipment. The Digital Media lab in Clemons Library provides drop-in work stations for image capture and editing, and video cameras are available for student use upon certification. A widely distributed system of labs, workstations, and digital classrooms are also available for student use. The electronic centers of the University Library (the E-text center, Special Collections, and the Geospatial and Statistical Data Center) offer considerable resources in digital formats. Moreover, the University has been a leader in digital technology and the humanities at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the Virginia Center for Digital History. Both engage students in their activities on a project by project basis. The Bayly Museum of Art, the Virginia Foundation for Humanities, the Women's Center, the various on-Grounds publications, and other institutions affiliated with the University or part of the Charlottesville community offer possibilities for internships and work experience in media production.

Requirements for the Major

Prerequisites  Before being accepted into the major, students must take MDST 110 and 201 (exceptions are made only at the discretion of the Media Studies director). In addition, during the first or second year of study, students should take introductory courses in the fields relevant to their broader interests in media (e.g., government, sociology, history of film, anthropology). Students are accepted into the major only upon review of their applications. This is a competitive process that takes into account the applicant's GPA and application essay, as well as other factors.

Application Information  Applications should be completed in the spring semester (normally that which coincides with the student's fourth semester). Deadlines will be posted in the Media Studies program office and on the Website (www.virginia.edu/mediastudies); the deadline will be on or about March 31. In exceptional cases, students who have not taken MDST 110 and 201 may apply for the major by petition to the program director. If admitted, they are required to take MDST 110 and 201. With the director's approval, third-year students who have not yet taken MDST110 and 201 may transfer into the major on a space available basis. However, the requirements for completion of the major may preclude this approval except in very special cases. Students are expected to have a GPA of 3.4 at the time of application.

The application consists of a description of courses taken, with grades; a one-paragraph statement of purpose delineating career plans and goals; and a plan of study briefly describing the student's objectives for the major. This should not be a list of courses to be taken, but an outline of intellectual goals to be achieved through course work in the field of media studies. A statement such as "I like to watch films" is insufficient; however the following formulations, accompanied by a description of the means to achieve these goals, would be sufficient: "I'm interested in the evolution of the studio system," or "I want to trace the relationship between notions of intellectual property and Internet law."

Requirements include a total of 9 courses (approximately 27 credits) comprised of three upper-level core courses (MDST 301, 350, and 401). In addition, five courses must be taken to fulfill breadth requirements. Of these five, at least three must be from the group of primary electives and at least three taken at the 300 level or above (exceptions may be made with the advisor's approval). The balance of courses may be fulfilled with either primary or adjunct electives. A list of these electives (which change each semester) is available through the Media Studies Program office and is meant as a guide only. Finally, students must either take one course in the practice of media (from offerings suggested below) or a 3-credit internship, which may be completed in the summer by arrangement with the program director. Only in rare instances, and at the discretion of the Director of Media Studies, will more than one course in the practice of media count toward the major.

Core courses include MDST110 (Information Technology and Digital Media); MDST 201 (Introduction to Media Studies); MDST 301 (Theory and Criticism of Media); MDST 350 (History of Media); and MDST 401 (Fourth-Year Seminar).

Media Studies students are strongly urged to choose electives according to an individual plan of study. Students should consider the broad range of topics relevant to a full understanding of media studies: media aesthetics (rhetoric and the shape of argument in media, formal analysis, media criticism, and theory of a specific medium); the history of media (film, photography, television, digital and print media); the individual experience of media (psychology and sociology); the social experience and effects of media (political science and government, law, or public policy, anthropology, and sociology); and the economics and business of media.

Students may also choose to create a more specialized focus (e.g., the history and theory of film, the study of media as a force in public opinion and policy, or any other focused topic). Specific courses cross-listed with media studies may not always be available on a regular basis. The plan of study should be founded on intellectual goals and be flexible with respect to fulfilling them through course requirements. In all cases, students must develop their program of study in consultation with a faculty advisor. Media Studies' majors should not plan to be absent for study abroad unless such study is relevant to the major and has been approved in advance by an advisor.

There is no minor in Media Studies.


Course Descriptions


MDST 110 - (4) (S)
Information Technology and Digital Media

The history, theory, practice, and understanding of digital media. Provides a foundation for interrogating the relation of digital media to contemporary culture and understanding the function, design, and use of computers. Introduces students to the fundamentals of quantitative analysis and qualitative use of computing in the humanities, information search, retrieval, and design.

MDST 201 - (3) (S)
Introduction to Media Studies

Introduces students to the topics, themes, and areas of study that are central to an understanding of media in contemporary society. Focuses on the forms, institutions, functions, and impact of media on local, national, and global communities.

MDST 301 - (3) (Y)
Theory and Criticism of Media

Prerequisite: MDST 201 and MDST 110.
This course introduces students at the beginning of the major to theoretical and critical literature in the field. Topics range from the psychological and sociological experience of media, interpretation and analysis of media forms and aesthetics, theories of audience and reception, anthropological approaches to media as a cultural force, and contemporary theories of media from humanities and social sciences perspectives. The goal of the course is to provide a foundation for thinking critically about media and to give them a sense of media studies as a critical and theoretical field.

MDST 350 - (3) (Y)
History of Media

Prerequisite: MDST 201 and MDST 110 or permission of instructor.
This is a survey, lecture-format, course on the history of media forms, institutions, and technology from the origins of writing, invention of print technology, through the development of digital media. Attention to the specific characteristics of individual media, the changing role of media as a force in culture, and the continually transforming institutions and business of media will all be touched on. The role of media forms in the creation of pubic discourse and the social controls on media through censorship, legal constraints, and economic policies will also be examined, largely from within the context of the United States. Students will create a case study of a media work or artifact from a historical perspective.

MDST 401 - (3) (Y)
Fourth-year seminar in Media Studies

Prerequisite: MDST 301, MDST 201 and MDST 110.
This course serves as a capstone experience for students in the fourth year, final semester, of the major. The course requires synthetic, collaborative work and will draw on the students' acquired experience in the electives and core courses they have completed for the major. Students will read some classic works in media theory and history as well as recent publications in the field of media studies from a variety of perspectives (academic and scholarly press, popular work, and mainstream journalism among others). They will be involved in covering an ongoing event and looking critically at its coverage in the media during the semester of the class. Assignments will have a production component and each student will play a crucial role in the creation of team-based work as well as completing individual assignments in writing and editing some form of media.

MDST 361 - (3) (Y)
Film and Television in the 1960s

Prerequisite: MDST 201 or permission of instructor.
This is a course on film and television in the United States in the 1960s meant to introduce students to the specific problems attached to understanding media as force for social change within a particular decade of American life. The course has a strong emphasis on cultural history and theory as well as on the close reading of media artifacts in film and television from the 1960s. The course requires considerable commitment to viewing time as well as readings, writing, and research.

MDST 381 - (3) (IR)
Guided Independent Study in Media Studies

This course is designed to allow students to pursue guided independent study of a topic that is not contained within the course offerings of Media Studies. Students wishing to pursue a guided study must prepare a syllabus and reading list in consultation with a faculty member or the Director of the program. They should be very explicit about the milestones for assessment during the semester's work. The reading list and assignments should be comparable to those in any other 300-level course for Media Studies and terms for midterm and final grade evaluation on the basis of papers and final projects should be formalized at the time the student begins the course. Intermediate and advanced students have found this a particularly useful way to study an area in depth that cannot be accommodated in the course offerings of the program. In general, the more focused the proposal, the greater the likelihood of approval. Students may not use this course to substitute for core courses in the major, though in some cases this may count as a primary elective for credit towards the major requirements, on approval of the Director of the program.

MDST 496 - (3) (IR)
Advanced Independent Projects in Media Studies

This rubric is intended to provide an opportunity for students to get credit for advanced, independent projects and field work, including extra-mural sponsored projects and internships, in the area of media studies. Students must put a proposal together for the project with a faculty sponsor (or the Director of Media Studies) and the project must be approved before the end of the add/drop period for the semester in which the credit is taken. Application forms and guidelines for MDST 496 may be obtained in the Media Studies office.

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