Media Studies Program

Director: Tom Ellman (Computer Science) Steering Committee: Lisa Brawley (Urban Studies), Heesok Chang (English), Colleen Cohen (Anthropology and Women’s Studies), Robert DeMaria (English), Wenwei Du (Chinese and Japanese), William Hoynes (Sociology), J. Bertrand Lott (Classics), Mia Mask (Film), Molly Nesbit (Art), Thomas Porcello (Anthropology), Jeffrey Schneider (German Studies), Cindy Schwarz (Physics), Eva Woods (Hispanic Studies); Participating Faculty: David Bradley (Physics), Kristin Carter (American Culture and Women’s Studies), Eve Dunbar (English), Sarah Kozloff (Film), Michael Joyce (English), Amitava Kumar (English), Kathleen Man (Film), M. Mark (English), Leonard Nevarez (Sociology), Michael Pisani (Music), Harry Roseman (Art), Andrew Tallon (Art), David Tavárez (Anthropology) Adelaide Villmoare (Political Science), Silke Von der Emde (German Studies)

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, communications 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: 14 units, including Media Studies 160, 250, 260, 300, and 310. The additional 9 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:

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:

  1. 200-level course work from a minimum of three different departments or multidisciplinary programs;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. one practice-based course. If the course is not selected from the list of Approved Courses, a Junion 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, a senior project under the supervision of a member of the program faculty.

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

I. Introductory

160a 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. Mr. Ellman, Ms. Cohen.

II. Intermediate

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

(Same as Asian Studies and Japanese 222) This course examines the characteristics of Japanese narratives in written and cinematic forms. Through selected novels and films that are based on the literary works or related to them thematically, the course explores the different ways in which Japanese fiction and film tell a story and how each work interacts with the time and culture that produced it. While appreciating the aesthetic pursuit of each author or film director, attention is also given to the interplay of tradition and modernity in the cinematic representation of the literary masterpieces and themes. No previous knowledge of Japanese language is required. Ms. Qiu.

Prerequisite: one course in language, literature, culture, film or Asian Studies, or permission of instructor.

250b. 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. The program faculty.

May be repeated for credit if the topic has changed. Prerequisite: Media Studies 160 or by permission of instructor.

Topics for 2009/10: Television. Exploration of the medium of television as a focus of cultural, ideological, economic and political production and consumption. The history of television's complex circuit of transmission and reception are examined, with a focus on the ways in which television's modes of address, and rapidly changing technologies of representation and access, can be said to constitute, enforce, transform, and potentially resist dominant discourses of race, gender, class, and citizenship. Students address these questions by developing a set of critical tools for evaluating television in old and new formats and genres, and at the end of the semester "produce" their own critiques in both written and televisual form. Ms. Carter.

Serious Play: Computer Games in Contemporary Culture. This course explores the medium of computer and video games, as a form of play and entertainment, as an important economic and cultural force, and in relation to other narrative forms, such as fiction and film. Questions raised in the course focus on how games work, what kinds of games are being produced (and not produced); why people play video games, who plays them, and how video games affect behavior; the economic structure of the gaming industry and tie-ins to other industries such as entertainment and military; the representational content of games and the broader and differential impacts of games on culture and society. Students address these questions by playing, observing and critically evaluating popular video games, as well as games of their own creation, in the context of theoretical and critical readings on the gaming phenomenon. Mr. Ellman.

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. Ms. Brawley.

Prerequisite: Media Studies 160 or by permission of instructor.

[ 264b. The Avant-Gardes, 1889-1929 ](1)

(Same as Art 264b)

Not offered in 2009/10.

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

(Same as Art 265a) Instructor to be announced.

[ 266b. Indigenous and Oppositional Media ](1)

(Same as Anthropology 266b) Ms. Cohen.

Not offered in 2009/10.

268b. The Times: 1968-now(1)

(Same as Art 268b) Instructor to be announced.

285a. 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.

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. Senior Project Preparation(0.5)

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. Mr. Ellman

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.

302b. Adaptations(1)

(Same as College Course 302b) Ms. Mark.

Special permission.

One 3-hour period.

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. Mr. Joyce.

Prerequisite: Media Studies 250 or Media Studies 260.

352b. The City in Fragments(1)

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

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

(Same as Sociology 356) Mr. Hoynes.

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 362b. The Thousand and One Nights ](1)

Not offered in 2009/10.

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

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 382b. The Theory and Practice of Latin America and the Media ](1)

(Same as Latin American Latino/a Studies 382b)

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 385a. 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.

Not offered in 2009/10.

Vassar College, Third Year Abroad

Vassar College, Third Year Abroad: New Media Program, London, UK

Students enrolled in Vassar's New Media Program in London, UK spend a fall semester in London. They take four classroom courses focused on media in Europe and the UK (for 3.5 units), and one internship (1.0 units) in a new media enterprise. The program is open to Vassar students majoring in any discipline.

232. The Network Metaphor and the New Renaissance(1)

The network as an idea; an artistic space; a common territory between art and science; and a symbolic representation of the transformation inherent in a new renaissance. The course examines the impact of networks on our conceptions of space and the organizational patterns of our communities, drawing upon literature in art and technology, cinema studies, philosophy and sociology of science, neuroscience, cognitive science, chaos, religion and psychoanalysis. The course is a first step in addressing the network both as a paradigm and as a tool becoming more and more a part of our daily professional and personal lives. Mr. Foresta.

234. London: City as Material(1)

The role of the city as a media object, in particular as material for artistic experimentation and creation in particular site-specific "interventions". The course examines ephemeral, time-limited performances or installations in urban space. Only inadequately understood as "public art", these projects produce public space where it does not exist, foster new modes of urban citizenship and participation; render legible the force of political and financial power shaping the global city; expose the mutability of "public" and "private" entailed by new media transformations of social space; create alliances between varied urban stakeholders; challenge the zero-tolerance policies of the increasingly securitized city; and broaden the repertoire of political resistance and direct action. In addition to contemporary practice the course looks back at the rich histories of urban intervention by artists in London and elsewhere. Mr. Lane.

236. A Practitioners Guide to Networked Media Arts in London: The Maps and the Territories(1)

A practitioner's guide to the contemporary media arts scene in London. The course explores the new challenges and possibilities for artistic creation, distribution, participation and appreciation that arise with the ubiquity of mobile technologies, personal computers, and the internet. It considers how contemporary media arts practice (from grass roots to institution) has engaged with these challenges in London and beyond. Through case studies, the course examines artists mapping, navigating and re-routing the power of the state and corporations with the aid of network technologies. Recurring themes include the organization of art on network principles and the changing modes of interaction, participation, and collaboration that ensue. Course activities include: presentations, seminars, films, discursive and expressive activities in online art spaces, visits to galleries, artists' studios and labs, geek-gatherings as well as walks and mapping. The course also serves as a framework and venue for students to examine and reflect upon their internship experiences in light of their Media Studies classroom courses. Ms. Catlow.

238. Introduction to British Cultural Studies(1/2)

The historical and conceptual underpinnings of British Cultural Studies. The course examines the emergence of culture as a field of contestation and resistance in the political and social climate of post-war Britain. It introduces key thinkers who have contributed to British Cultural Studies, such as Paul du Gay, Stuart Hall, Scott Lash, David Morley and Raymond Williams. It pays particular attention to how their theories can be applied to contemporary questions surrounding individual and collective practices of cultural production and consumption. Mr. Lesage.

275. Internship(1)

Working in collaboration with professionals at new media organizations in London. Possible activities include making and distributing media artifacts; planning and staging public art works and art events; evaluation of events and programs; and limited amounts of publicity and promotion. The internship gives students a practical context in which to examine and interpret issues and concepts they have studied in their Media Studies classroom courses.