Media Studies Program

The Media Studies Program encourages the understanding and critical evaluation of new and old media technologies, the centrality of media in global and local culture, social life, politics and economics, and the contemporary and historical impact of media on individuals and societies. As defined by the Program, “media” includes all forms of representational media (oral/aural, written, visual), mass media (print, television, radio, film), new media (digital multimedia, the Internet, networked media), their associated technologies, and the social and cultural institutions that enable them and are defined by them.

The Program emphasizes several interrelated approaches to the study of media: multidisciplinary perspectives derived from the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences; the historical study of various forms of communication and the representation of knowledge; theoretical and critical investigation of how media shape our understandings of reality, and the dynamic interrelationship of media industries, cultural texts, communication technologies, policies, and publics; examination of global, as well as non-Western, indigenous, and oppositional media forms and practices; and practical work in media production and the use of media technologies.

Because the Media Studies concentration incorporates courses originating within the program as well as a wide range of courses from other programs and departments, students wishing to concentrate in Media Studies should consult with the Program Director as early as possible to design their course of study in consultation with a faculty adviser who will be drawn from the Program Steering Committee. Prospective majors will submit a “focus statement” outlining their interests, objectives, the proposed course of study, and a tentative senior project. The proposed course of study should be rigorous, well-integrated, and feasible in the context of the College curriculum. Focus statements should identify specific courses and provide a narrative explaining the linkages across departments/programs and curricular levels among the proposed courses, as well as their relevance for the proposed senior project. Focus statements will be evaluated by the Program Director, in consultation with the Program Steering Committee.

As the Steering Committee occasionally requests revisions of focus statements in consultation with the prospective major adviser and the program director, students who plan to spend one or both semesters of their Junior year studying abroad should submit their focus statement no later than the Friday following October break of their sophomore year. Students who intend to take courses at another domestic institution during their junior year should submit their focus statements no later than the Friday of the first week of classes of the spring semester of their sophomore year. All other students should submit their focus statements no later than March 1 of their sophomore year.

Requirements for the Concentration: 131/2 units, including Media Studies 160, 250, 260, 300, 301 and 310. The additional 8 courses will ordinarily be selected from courses cross-listed with Media Studies and the list of Media Studies Approved Courses, which is available on the program website:http://mediastudies.vassar.edu/courses/index.html, as well as the Media Studies office, New England 105.

Students wishing to apply other courses toward the Media Studies concentration should consult with their adviser before petitioning the Program. All petitions must be approved by the Program Director. The additional courses must be distributed as follows:

  • 200-level course work from a minimum of three different departments or multidisciplinary programs;
  • a minimum of two 300-level courses, from more than one department or program, and which must reflect the intellectual path set by previous coursework;
  • a minimum of one course on multicultural media practices or issues. Students should consult with their faculty advisers to identify appropriate courses from the list of Approved Courses;
  • one practice-based course. If the course is not selected from the list of Approved Courses, a Junior Year Away or Field Work course may satisfy the requirement upon approval of the Program Director. While students are encouraged to pursue further practice-based coursework or internships, a maximum of two such units may be applied toward the concentration.

After declaration of the concentration, no courses applied toward the concentration may be elected NRO.

Senior-Year Requirements: Media Studies 310, Senior Seminar; Media Studies 300 and 301, a senior project under the supervision of 2 members of the program faculty, 1 of whom should be a member of the steering committee.

Advisers: Students will consult with the program director to select an adviser from the steering committee or participating faculty.

I. Introductory

110b. Science of Sound (1)

(Same as Physics 110b.)

160. a and b. Approaches to Media Studies (1)

This course explores concepts and issues in the study of media, attentive to but not limited by the question of the "new" posed by new media technologies. Our survey of key critical approaches to media is anchored in specific case studies drawn from a diverse archive of media artifacts, industries, and technologies: from phonograph to photography, cinema to networked hypermedia, from typewriter to digital code. We examine the historical and material specificity of different media technologies and the forms of social life they enable, engage critical debates about media, culture and power, and consider problems of reading posed by specific media objects and processes, new and old. We take the multi-valence of "media"—a term designating text and apparatus of textual transmission, content and conduit—as a central problem of knowledge for the class. Our goal throughout is to develop the research tools, modes of reading, and forms of critical practice that help us aptly to describe and thereby begin to understand the increasingly mediated world in which we live. Ms. Woods Peiró. and TBA.

II. Intermediate

222b. Narratives of Japan: Fiction and Film (1)

(Same as Asian Studies and Japanese 222b.) Ms. Qiu.

Not offered in 2011/12.

250. a and b. Medium Specificity (1)

Medium specificity is a consideration of what makes a medium a medium. The emergence of so-called new media has called attention to the ways in which new forms borrow upon or "remediate" older forms. By asking what aspects a particular medium can surrender to another without losing its particularity, we can form provisional representations of the essential aspects of a given medium, new or old, which differentiate it from others. The course considers old and new media including literature, photography, film, television, computer games, immersive computer environments, new media art, and digital image manipulation, sometimes viewing them comparatively in order to isolate those cultural, economic, and ideological structures which have led to the construction, identification, and conservation of a specific medium.

Topic for 2011/12a: Virtual Worlds and Utopia. Virtual Worlds and Utopia explores experimental and critical forms of game design and game space. Engaging the concept of the "virtual," readings and discussions will move from ideas about the virtual in the context of utopia in the thinking of More and Plato to concepts of critical utopia and its dystopian underside. We examine Deleuze's non-technical concept of the virtual as "potentiality" as well as more explicitly media-based definitions of the concept. The goal is to question techno-utopian concepts of progress and to explore alternative models of virtual space.

Topic for 2011/12b: The Book as Medium. A study of the rise of print technology in the west and its impact on the development of the book. Insofar as possible, the method of the class is empirical; class meets in the special collections seminar room where printed books of all sorts are available for inspection. There are also field trips to other rare books libraries. In addition to studying the book as object, the course treats questions concerning the sociology of texts, the influence of books on the nature of reading, the relations between form and content in printed books, and the effects of publishers and printers on the construction of literature. Mr. DeMaria and Mr. Patkus

May be repeated for credit if the topic has changed.

Prerequisite: Media Studies 160 or by permission of instructor.

260b. Media Theory (1)

This course aims to ramify our understanding of "mediality"—that is, the visible and invisible, audible and silent contexts in which physical messages stake their ghostly meanings. The claims of media theory extend beyond models of communication: media do not simply transport preexisting ideas, nor do they merely shape ideas in transit. Attending to the complex network of functions that make up media ecologies (modes of inscription, transmission, storage, circulation, and retrieval) demonstrates the role media play not only in the molding of ideas and opinions, but also in the constitution of subjectivities, social spheres, and non-human circuits of exchange (images, information, capital). Texts and topics vary from year to year, but readings are drawn from a broad spectrum of classical and contemporary sources. Mr. Chang.

Prerequisite: Media Studies 160 or by permission of instructor.

263. Anthropology Goes to the Movies: Film, Video, and Ethnography (1)

(Same as Anthropology 263) Ms. Cohen.

264a. The Avant-Gardes, 1889-1929 (1)

(Same as Art 264a.) Ms. Nesbit.

265b. Modern Art and Mass Media, 1929-1968 (1)

(Same as Art 265b.) Ms. Nesbit.

266b. Indigenous and Oppositional Media (1)

(Same as Anthropology 266b) Ms. Cohen.

268b. The Activation of Art, 1968 - now (1)

(Same as Art 268) This course studies the visual arts of the last thirty years, here and abroad, together with the collective and philosophical discussions that emerged and motivated them. The traditional fine arts as well as the new media, performance, film architecture and installation are included. Still and moving images, which come with new theatres of action, experiment and intellectual quest, are studied as they interact with the historical forces still shaping our time into time zones, world pictures, narratives and futures. Weekly screenings supplement the lectures. Ms. Nesbit.

Prerequisite: Art 105-106.

Two 75-minute periods and one weekly screening.

280a. The Middle East in Cinema and Media (1)

(Same as Film 280) This course examines visual texts (primarily film and television) in which the Middle East is represented. Taking the Iranian revolution of 1979 as our historical starting point, we will look at issues of representation (both national and personal); religion; nationalism; gender; and ethnic identities. In addition to critically, aesthetically, and culturally analyzing films from the Arab, Persian, Turkish and Hebraic Middle East, we will also look at Western cultural production about the Middle East. We will focus on auteurs such as Kirostami of Iran and Chahine of Egypt as well as the political economies of the culture industries that frame their work. Along the way we will be guided by cultural studies and post-colonial theorists such as Edward Said, Stuart Hall, and Homi Bhabha and the Israeli intellectual Ella Shohat. Mr. Elseewi.

Prerequisites: Film 175 or 210 and permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods plus outside screenings.

281b. Transnational Television (1)

(Same as Film 281) This class examines transnational television and global media (including internet production) from aesthetic, economic, political and theoretical perspectives. We look at the role that television plays in enculturating its viewers within and across physical, cultural and linguistic borders. We critically explore the intersection between globalization and television by focusing on specific ‘travelling’ texts such as Dallas, Friends, Lost, Big Brother, and the Eurovision song contest. Textual examples from Japan, India, the Middle East and Latin America are also examined. With an eye towards avoiding simplistic binaries such as East/West, Global/Local, or Good/Bad, we explore the complex and contradictory impulses of global culture and globalization from multiple theoretical perspectives. To this end, we are guided by theorists Benedict Anderson, Edward Said, Stuart Hall, Arjun Appadurai, Koichi Iwabuchi, Manuel Castells, Mikhail Bakhtin and Dipesh Chakrabarty. Mr. Elseewi.

Two 75-minute periods, plus outside screenings.

285. Media Geography (1)

This course is designed to introduce students to the spatial analysis of communication media. Media geography is a new and growing field, combining the tools of history, media studies, and urban studies to examine the dynamic interaction of communications technology and the landscape. Students will examine the often surprising patterns that emerge with the spread of networks, ranging from the telegraph to cable television, as well as the dissemination of cultural products like books and sound recordings over space. Although much of the discussion will center on the United States, the course will analyze global flows of media and consider historical examples in the Soviet Union, China, the Middle East, and other regions.

286a. TV History and Criticism (1)

(Same as Film 286a.) This course is a survey of the history, technology, regulation, audience, and economics of television and related electronic media from the 1920s until the present. This class focuses on both the historical development of the medium and its texts as well as on the theoretical frameworks scholars have used to study television. The course approach television primarily through the lens of its relationship with American culture with an ongoing focus on issues of race, gender, class and the political process.

Prerequisites: Film 210 and permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods plus outside screenings.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

Permission of the director required.

298a or b. Independent Study (1/2 or 1)

Permission of the director required.

III. Advanced

300a or b. Senior Project Preparation (1/2)

The Senior Project may be a full-length thesis or a (multi)media project. During the fall semester, students carry out the following independent work under the supervision of the Program Director and participating faculty: formulating a project topic; identifying suitable faculty advisors; writing a project proposal and bibliography; presenting the proposal at a poster event; and developing a work plan. Ms. Woods.

301b. Senior Project (1)

Students carry out the Senior Project during the spring semester, under the supervision of their two project advisors. All students present their projects at a public symposium at the end of the semester. The projects become part of a permanent Media-Studies archive. The program faculty.

302b. Adaptations (1)

(Same as College Course and English 302) If works of art continue each other, as Virginia Woolf suggested, then cultural history accumulates when generations of artists think and talk together across time. What happens when one of those artists radically changes the terms of the conversation by switching to another language, another genre, another mode or medium? What constitutes a faithful adaptation? In this course we briefly consider the biological model and then explore analogies across a wide range of media. We begin with Metamorphoses, Ovid's free adaptations of classical myths, and follow Medea and Orpheus through two thousand years of theater (from Euripides to Anouilh, Williams, and Durang); paintings (Greek vases and Pompeian walls to Dürer, Rubens, Poussin, Denis, and Klee); film and television (Pasolini, von Trier, Cocteau, Camus); dance (Graham, Balanchine, Noguchi, Bausch); music (Cavalli, Charpentier, Milhaud, Barber, Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Glass); narratives and graphic narratives (Woolf, Moraga, Pynchon, Gaiman); verse (Rilke, Auden, Milosz); and computer games (Mutants and Masterminds, Fate/stay night). We may also analyze narratives and graphic narratives by Clowes, Collins, Ishiguro, Groening, Joyce, Lahiri, Malcolm X, Mann, Millhauser, Nabokov, Pekar, Shakespeare, Spiegelman, Swift, Tanizaki, and Wilde; films by Bharadwaj, Berman/Pucini, Camus, Dangarembga, Ichikawa, Ivory, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Lee, Lyne, Mendes, Nair, Sembene, Visconti, and Zwigoff-, remixes by DJ Spooky and Danger Mouse; sampling; cover bands, tribute bands; Wikipedia, wikicomedy, wikiality; and of course Adaptation, Charlie and Donald Kaufman's screenplay for Spike Jonze's film, based very very loosely on Susan Orlean's Orchid Thief. Ms. Mark.

By special permission.

Not offered in 2011/12.

310a. Senior Seminar (1)

Special topics course for all senior Media Studies majors, providing a capstone experience for the cohort. This course is taught in the fall semester each year. Ms. Mark.

Prerequisite: Media Studies 250 or Media Studies 260.

317. The Printed Bible (1)

(Same as History 317)

Not offered in 2011/12.

352b. The City in Fragments (1)

(Same as Urban Studies 352). Ms. Brawley, Mr. Chang.

356a. Culture, Commerce, and the Public Sphere (1)

(Same as Sociology 356) Mr. Hoynes.

379b. Computer Animation: Art, Sciences and Criticism (1)

(Same as Art 379b. and Computer Science 379b.) An interdisciplinary course in Computer Animation aimed at students with previous experience in Computer Science, Studio Art, or Media Studies. The course introduces students to mathematical and computational principles and techniques for describing the shape, motion and shading of three-dimensional figures in Computer Animation. It introduces students to artistic principles and techniques used in drawing, painting and sculpture, as they are translated into the context of Computer Animation. It also encourages students to critically examine Computer Animation as a medium of communication. Finally, the course exposes students to issues that arise when people from different scholarly cultures attempt to collaborate on a project of mutual interest. The course is structured as a series of animation projects interleaved with screenings and classroom discussions. Mr. Ellman, Mr. Roseman.

Prerequisite: Art 102-103, or by special permission of instructors.

Two 2-hour periods.

Not offered in 2011/12.

380b. Special Topics in Media Studies (1)

(Same as Anthropology 380) Mr. Porcello.

Permission of instructor

382a. Latin America and the Media (1)

(Same as Latin American Latino/a Studies 382a.) Ms. Woods.

Not offered in 2011/12.

385b. Media and War (1)

Senator Hiram Johnson's 1917 remark "The first casualty when war comes is truth" is often repeated. But the processes through which (mis)information and images circulate in wartime are less well known. This course explores the role of popular media in the production and circulation of knowledge about war. Drawing on both news and entertainment media, we examine how war is represented and remembered in various media, including newspapers, photographs, radio, television, film, and online. Through a series of historical and contemporary case studies, we explore topics such as the practices of the war correspondent, strategies of news management by military planners, the relationship between media images and public attitudes toward war, media as a propaganda tool, and the role of popular media in constructing and contesting national myths and memories of war. Mr. Hoynes.

Prerequisites: Media Studies 160 or by permission of instructor.

389b. Computer Games: Design, Production and Critique (1)

(Same as Computer Science 389) Investigates all stages of the game development process, including conception, design, physical and digital prototyping, implementation and play-testing, among others. The course emphasizes the integration of formal, dramatic and dynamic game elements to create a specific player experience. The course also examines various criteria and approaches to game critique, including issues of engagement, embodiment, flow, and meaningful play. Course work includes a series of game development projects carried out in groups, along with analysis of published games and readings in critical game-studies literature. No previous experience in media production or computer programming is necessary. Mr. Ellman

Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.

399. Senior Independent Work (1/2 or 1)