After a recent name change to their program, students in Yale’s Film and Media Studies major expect to market themselves to a broader professional audience.
The program’s name was officially changed from Film Studies at the end of last semester. The change originates from the recommendations of an external review board from roughly five years ago. Film and Media Studies chair John MacKay said the name change marks a reflection of the interdisciplinary elements that already that characterize studies within the program, as well as a sign of constantly evolving media forms in today’s world.
“The most significant difference here is in our public profile,” he said. “This shows what we are not only open to doing, but what we are announcing ourselves as capable of doing.”
The program’s Director of Undergraduate Studies J.D. Connor said that marketing and accuracy were the primary reasons for the change.
In terms of marketing, he explained, the new name is intended to boost undergraduate and graduate student résumés in the job market. The change will make clear that the department does not focus solely on the film medium, Connor noted, adding that the change aims to more accurately reflect the already interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum. He pointed out that most Film and Media Studies faculty members are appointed in other departments, such as Art History, Slavic Studies and English.
According to Connor, the external review board report stated that the name change would make the program match up with programs at peer institutions, most of which included some form of “media studies” in their title. Harvard’s program, for example, is called “Film and Visual Studies,” while University of Chicago’s is “Cinema and Media Studies.”
“We needed our name to catch up with where the discipline already was,” Connor said.
Joseph Kuperschmidt ’17, a Film and Media Studies major, said the name’s broader connotation would allow for greater academic flexibility for those students that wanted it. But, he added, he thought it would also be possible for others to continue to focus solely on film studies without delving into other forms of media.
Students and faculty members interviewed said that the change would be beneficial in the professional world. Henry Zatarain ’18, a prospective Film and Media Studies major, said that he believes the new name will sound more attractive to a potential employer.
“A lot of companies today are based entirely on different kinds of media,” he said, referring to social media networks like Facebook. “They might want you to produce a film, but they might want you to produce other kinds of media as part of your job description.”
Connor and MacKay said the types of media that will be covered in the curriculum will include television, or even more condensed media forms such as tape recorders or YouTube videos.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said that the change reflected the technological and cultural shifts in modern society.
“At places like Yale, it’s always important to balance studying things that have survived the test of time — things that have been important to human beings for a long time — and to always pay attention to what’s happening now, and what might happen in the future,” Holloway said.
He added that while some groups criticize schools like Yale where professors may teach courses about pop culture and social media, such topics can address broader cultural issues such as the merging of capitalism and iconography.
Pawel Pawelczak, an independent filmmaker spending a year auditing a series of courses at Yale to enrich a post-graduate education, said the change was a double-edged sword.
“When film is commingled with anything else, I think its own weight is diminished,” Pawelczak said. “On the other hand, since I’ve gotten to Yale, I’ve realized that understanding film in the context of general art is really important, and probably how it’s supposed to be taught and appreciated.”
The medium of film itself, Connor noted, is a multidisciplinary endeavor that involves the visuals of fine arts, a literary script and sound in addition to the screen. At the same time, he said, the Film Studies program and the committee that approved the name change — the Working Group on Humanities and the Arts, a group under the Committee on Yale College Education — were in agreement about refraining from covering too many forms of media in the program.
“Essentially, they said, ‘You know all media don’t belong in Film Studies,’ and we said, ‘Thank goodness,’” Connor said.
MacKay agreed with this sentiment, saying that “maintaining coherence and focus” was and would remain an active concern as the program broadens its scope.
The Film Studies major was established in 1985.