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Course Descriptions

Program in Media Studies

142 Cabell Hall
University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400866
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4866
(434) 243-8855 Fax: (434) 243-8869

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, film, and electronic modes). Also of concern are 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. The Program explores 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 are currently several faculty members with joint appointments in Media Studies and other fields, including the Director. In addition there are numerous faculty from other disciplines 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 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 Center also houses a significant and expanding collection of video recordings including classic cinema, television programs, and other video materials regularly used in Media Studies classes and research projects. 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 University of Virginia Art Museum, 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 should take MDST 110 and 201 (exceptions are made only at the discretion of the Media Studies director and only when logistically necessary). 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 web (www.virginia.edu/mediastudies); the deadline will be on or about March 15. 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 MDST 110 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 3.400 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 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 or approved equivalent); 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 declare a concentration in a particular area of Media Studies by taking at least four electives in that area (e.g., film studies, media policy, or any other focused topic approved by the Director). 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 are encouraged to study abroad, however, all majors must be present in the Fall of their junior year and the Spring of their senior year to take required courses for the major.

Distinguished Majors Program in Media Studies Students with superior academic performance are encouraged to apply for the program’s Distinguished Majors Program in which they write a thesis or complete a substantial project with appropriate documentation demonstrating independent study of high quality. The requirements for admission to the DMP are:

  1. satisfaction of all College requirements as stated in this Record with a GPA of at least 3.400 in all university courses;
  2. a GPA of at least 3.400 in all courses taken as part of the Media Studies major;
  3. completion of at least 12 units of advanced work in the major (300 level and above, with at least one 400- or 500-level course);
  4. approval of the faculty committee in Media Studies, and willingness by one of the faculty to take on the responsibility of supervising the thesis or project.

Students must apply for the DMP with a proposal for their thesis or project. After obtaining approval of the faculty committee in Media Studies (generally proposals will be reviewed at the beginning of the Fall semester for students graduating at the end of the academic year, but in exceptional cases, a thesis could be undertaken with approval at the start of the Spring semester in which the student will graduate) students can register for three credits of Media Studies 497. Students will produce either a thesis of approximately 10,000 words, which must be approved by two members of the faculty (one may be outside the Media Studies core faculty), or a project (film, digital work, or other media project) with appropriate intellectual accompaniment (an essay or research statement of 3000-5000 words). Copies of all theses and projects will be deposited in the Media Studies office and students will be expected to make a presentation of their thesis or project in a DMP symposium at the end of the spring semester. In awarding honors, the Media Studies faculty considers the quality of the student’s overall performance in the major as well as the work done on the thesis or project.

Students may receive distinction (but not high or higher distinction) if they have not enrolled in or have discontinued enrollment in the DMP but have completed their degree with a grade point average of at least 3.600.

Minor There is no minor in Media Studies.

Additional Information For more information, contact the Media Studies Program, 142 Cabell Hall, P.O. Box 400866, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4866; (434) 243-8855.

Course Descriptions


MDST 110 - (4) (Y)
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) (Y)
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 285 - (3) (Y)
Media, Culture and Society
Explores the relationships among various forms of mass communication, social institutions and other dimensions of social life from a sociological perspective.

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 331 - (3) (IR)
Women and Television
Prerequisite: MDST 201 or instructor permission.
Examines how television addresses women, how it represents women, and how women respond to the medium. Explores the relationship between the female audience and television by focusing on both contemporary and historical issues. Areas of particular concern include: how women have responded to television as technology; how specific genres have targeted women; how female-focused specialty channels have addressed women; and how specific programming and genres have mediated the changing status of women from the 1950s to the present.

MDST 341 - (3) (Y)
Media Ethics
Prerequisite: MDST 201 or instructor permission.
This course provides students a familiarity with the terrain of moral philosophy, improves students’ awareness of the complex ethical issues and dilemmas in journalism and other areas of mass media, and engages students in the process of critical thinking, moral reasoning and problem solving in media communications.

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 355 - (3) (Y)
Topics in the History of Media
Prerequisite: MDST 201 or instructor permission.
This course serves to fulfill the History of Media requirement in Media Studies. Topics have historical breadth and cover the historical development of media institutions, technology, or forms in areas of television, journalism, graphic media, film, print and publication history, digital media or other relevant areas. These courses may be repeated for credit if course content is sufficiently distinct to merit. Decision about repeated credit is at the discretion of the Director of Media Studies.

MDST 361 - (3) (IR)
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 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 411 - (3) (IR)
Theory of Digital Media
Prerequisite: MDST 110 or instructor permission.
Addresses key points of contact between contemporary digital media and cultural studies/critical theory. Examines the Internet, with some attention to related phenomena including the computing environment, PC operating systems, and computer games. Other cultural concepts explored with regard to digital media include race, gender, globalization, alternative media, language, art and writing.

MDST 420 - (3) (IR)
Global Media
Prerequisite: MDST 201 or instructor permission.
Examines the dynamic global transformations in print, broadcast, and digital media in an international and comparative context. Considers historical, institutional, and textual factors that impact media in local and global contexts. Examines the critical role of media in the long history of globalization and focuses on a number of cultural, technological, and economic issues addressed by media and globalization at the turn of the twenty-first century.

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.

MDST 497 - (3) (Y)
Distinguished Majors Thesis Writing or Research Project
Prerequisite: Acceptance to the Media Studies DMP.
Independent research, writing or production under the supervision of the faculty DMP thesis readers, toward the DMP thesis or project.

MDST 498 - (3) (Y)
Distinguished Majors Thesis Writing or Research Project
Prerequisite: MDST 497
Writing of a thesis or production of a project with appropriately researched documentation, under the supervision of the faculty DMP thesis readers or project supervisor.

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