Profs push for media studies

When students open their Blue Books next year, they will find a new section: “Media Theory and History.”

For the past two years, English professor Jessica Pressman has tried to organize a community of scholars interested in the growth of media studies, convening monthly discussions with professors from various disciplines about how their work intersects with media studies. Professors and students interviewed said they hope the presence of media studies on campus will continue to grow, and they said having a heading in the Blue Book is a “good first step.”

“[It will] get undergraduates more aware that this is something that is emerging and formalize faculty commitment to this as a field,” said Ryan Carr GRD ’13, who helps Pressman organize the meetings.

Pressman said the study of media is especially important now because so many forms of literature and communication have emerged from new technologies in recent decades. She added that media studies have always demanded attention because scholars should not only analyze the content of literature but also the medium in which it is presented.

Francesco Casetti, acting chair of the Film Studies Program, will teach a new course called “Theory of Media” next year — one of the film studies courses that will appear under the new heading. Casetti came to Yale last August from the University of Milan, where he founded a communication and media studies program in 2000. To develop the program, he said, he traveled around Europe to learn from experts about the best ways to teach the subject.

Interest in media studies must be rooted in the humanities instead of in technology, he said. He added that when he arrived at Yale, he was surprised to find Pressman’s group approaching media studies in a similar fashion.

“We have an opportunity to define this field of study in an original way,” he said.

Pressman said she does not want to assign a strict definition to “media,” but instead will allow professors to explore how they approach the subject in their different disciplines. Topics of previous meetings have included English, Film Studies and Law, and the latest gathering, which 12 professors and graduate students attended in Phelps Hall on Wednesday night, focused on how different forms of media affect politics.

Marianne LaFrance, a psychology professor who is a member of the group, said she has enjoyed learning that many professors are incorporating media studies into their research. She said these professors already offer many courses that address media studies, but she added that there is room to expand and potentially create a major in the field.

Joseph Gordon, Dean of Undergraduate Education, said there is currently no conversation about creating a media studies department or program, but he did not rule out the possibility.

“It depends on faculty interest and resources and putting together a coherent program,” he said.

Carr said the group would analyze strengths and weaknesses of media studies majors and minors at other universities, such as Brown.

Mary Ann Doane, chair of Brown’s Modern Culture and Media Department, said her courses focus on how modern culture interacts with different forms of media, adding that she considers media studies one of the most important fields right now.

Currently, many of Yale’s media-oriented classes are listed under film studies, along with psychology, political science and English. Brown does not have an independent Film Studies Department.

Samuel Huber ’13, who is taking Pressman’s course “New Media Theory,” said understanding media forms is a crucial part of being a responsible citizen.

“The field is much bigger and more diverse than may be apparent from the outside, but there are so many different approaches to take and threads to follow with media,” he said. “Yale’s current offerings really don’t do it justice.”

Pressman’s group will host a graduate student conference in April, where Yale graduate students will present their research related to media studies.

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