Introduces New Liberal Arts Program In Media Studies
19, 2000 -- The University
of Virginia is launching this semester a comprehensive interdisciplinary
program 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 media.
U.Va. program differs from many elsewhere in that "its
a liberal arts program that takes as its object of study the fundamental
role of media in our culture," says director Johanna Drucker,
the Robertson Professor of Media Studies who holds a joint appointment
in U.Va.s highly rated English department. Because it emphasizes
critical thinking, "our students will be prepared to do anything
they want to do," says Drucker, an authority on the history
of written forms of language and visual representation.
are so pervasive in our lives that "we forget that they are
cultural artifacts," she adds. "Its 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 support such as
paper, film or electrical signals. Media Studies is concerned with
understanding the ways 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
this fall. 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 forms.
many Media 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, says Drucker, who in addition to her
wide scholarship on media history and theory 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.
Typical 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 medias
powerful role in contemporary society. It includes a segment on
"defamiliarizing media," or learning how to look beyond
their everyday familiarity.
Media Studies as an important component, the University is also
planning what would be the countrys first masters 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 masters program would be in collaboration
with the Engineering School and would need state approval before
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, thinking 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 itself was planned with active involvement
of students, and todays techno-savvy students are deeply involved
in new media, setting up electronic publications and networks, Drucker
points out. 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,"
says 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 says. "The awareness of the role of media in our
society is high and people want understanding."
Robertson Professorship in Media Studies and the Robertson Media
Center, a state of the art multi-media facility in Clemons Library,
are both funded through a gift from alumnus Timothy B. Robertson,
president of International Family Entertainment of Virginia Beach,
and his wife Lisa Nelson Robertson.
Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856