MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


Established as a graduate program in 1999—2000, Comparative Media Studies aims to integrate the study of contemporary media (film, television, digital systems) with a broad historical understanding of older forms of human expression. The program embraces theoretical and interpretive principles drawn from the central humanistic disciplines of literary study, history, anthropology, art history and film studies, and aims as well for a comparative synthesis that is responsive to the distinctive emerging media culture of the 21st century. Students in the program are taught to explore the complexity of our media environment by learning to think across media and to see beyond the boundaries imposed by older medium-specific approaches to the study of audio- visual and literary forms.

The comparative and cross-disciplinary nature of both the graduate and undergraduate programs is embodied in a faculty drawn from Art and Architecture, Anthropology, Foreign Languages and Literatures, History, Literature, Music and Theater Arts, Philosophy, Writing and Humanistic Studies, Science Technology and Society, Media Arts and Sciences, Political Science. Approximately 35 faculty members teach subjects in Comparative Media Studies.

The graduate program comprises a two-year course of study leading to a Master of Science degree. The program aims to prepare students for careers in fields such as journalism, teaching and research, government or public service, museum work, information science, corporate consulting, media industry marketing and management, and educational technology.


Five encompassing themes are at the center of the CMS program. These themes cross academic disciplines and involve both traditional and emerging communications media, establishing a focus for public presentations, research agendas, and curricular initiatives. The four primary research themes are Interactivity/Narrative/Hypertextuality; Childhood and Adolescence in a Mediated Culture; the Informed Citizen and the Culture of Democracy; Global Culture and Media; and Media in Transition.


Professor Henry Jenkins is the Director of Comparative Media Studies. The program is under the auspices of three Humanities sections–Literature, Writing and Humanistic Studies, and Foreign Languages and Literatures. Administratively, CMS is housed in the Literature Section.

The program is governed by a Steering Committee, chaired by Professor Jenkins, which also includes Professor Peter S. Donaldson, Head of Literature; Professor Isabelle de Courtivron, Head of Foreign Languages and Literatures; Professor James Paradis, Head of Writing and Humanistic Studies; Professor of Literature David Thorburn; Professor of French and Film Studies Edward B. Turk; and Senior Lecturer in Music and Theater Arts Martin Marks.

During 1999—2000, Comparative Media Studies had five active committees, besides the steering committee: the Tenure Committee, chaired by Professor Jenkins; the Curriculum Committee, co-chaired by Professor Thorburn and Senior Lecturer Marks; the Admissions Committee, co-chaired by Professor Jenkins and Senior Lecturer Edward Barrett; the Technology and Space Committee, co-chaired by Professor Donaldson and Professor Shigeru Miyagawa; and the Orientation Committee, chaired by Professor Diana Henderson.


For its first hire, the Dean for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences authorized a Faculty search on the senior level. All efforts were made to recruit minority and women candidates through targeted advertising. After reviewing over 120 candidates, the CMS Search Committee unanimously agreed to offer the position to William Uricchio, who is Professor and Chairperson, film and television studies, new media and digital culture, at the Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands. CMS conducted a tenure case, and Uricchio’s appointment as Professor of Comparative Media Studies was approved this academic year and will be effective Fall 2000.


We admitted our first five students in Fall 1999. For Fall 2000, the Admissions Committee selected ten students. Nine of the students admitted are women, and four are international students, from Norway, Canada, England, and the People’s Republic of China. All ten students accepted offers of admission, but two chose to defer admission until Fall 2001, for personal reasons.

The program hosted a series of Information Sessions for potential students, which enabled them to meet the faculty and students, and better gauge the opportunities available to them in the CMS program.


Professor Jenkins traveled extensively during the year to introduce CMS to key contacts and donors in northern and southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and New York Metropolitan Area. Our development trips yielded gifts from corporate and individual donors for research initiatives and curricular development, and equipment; an endowed chair–The Greg Shaw (1975) Fund to support a Technologist-in-Residence; and Research and Workshop Projects for our faculty and students, such as the Electronic Arts Workshops in Character and Narrative. The focus of development for this year will be the identification of sponsorship for research projects, graduate support, and education programs.


The undergraduate program–established in 1982 under its former name, Film and Media Studies–can serve as preparation for advanced study in a range of scholarly and professional disciplines and also for careers in media or industry. The curriculum consists of some forty subjects arranged in three tiers and broadly subdivided into three areas or fields: comparative media, film, and digital studies. Concentrators, minors, joint-majors and majors may specialize in one of these areas or map a coherent combination of subjects across these borders.

CMS is also developing educational and research programs to provide additional opportunities for undergraduates to gain both academic and professional experience in media-related fields. In January, CMS coordinated a weeklong IAP event, "Adapting Linear Storytelling in an Interactive Age," with Sony Pictures Imageworks. Two undergraduates received internships at Sony Pictures Imageworks and Electronic Arts during the summer 2000. The Electronic Arts Workshop will involve one UROP for the coming year. UROP students have also played and will continue to be involved in conferences hosted by CMS and the Communcations Forum.

Current undergraduate student enrollments for the academic years 2000—2003 stand at five majors, five minors, and 25 concentrators.

The undergraduate homepage is found at


In 1999 the MIT Communications Forum relocated from the Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development in the School of Engineering to the School of Humanities and Social Science where it became the conference and outreach component of the CMS program. Directed by Professor Thorburn, the Communications Forum sponsors lectures, panel discussions and conferences on all aspects of communications.


CMS sponsored weekly colloquia designed to give our graduate students, and the academic community at MIT, a rich and challenging intellectual experience, and opportunities to interact educationally and socially. Topics included: "Barbie and Popular Culture," by Erica Rand; "Photography and Childhood Innocence" by Anne Higonnet; and "German Experiments in Digital Literature," by Roberto Simanowski.

The Communications Forum sponsored several panel discussions that attracted a large audience from the academic community at MIT and in the Boston area. Topics included: "The Digital Library,""The Science in Science Fiction," and "Youth in a Digital Era." The Communications Forum also sponsored a series of readings by science fiction authors, including Nalo Hopkinson and Ben Bova.

In addition, Professor Jenkins visited a dozen high schools throughout the country between March and May, engaging students and teachers in discussions about popular culture and media convergence. These presentations were intended to inform and enlarge discussions about media literacy and the relationships youth develop with media during sustained coverage and concern following the tragedy at Columbine High School in April 1999. Roughly 1,500 students and teachers participated in these presentations in schools in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Professor Jenkins also spoke at a wide variety of professional and public conferences and forums, including the Kidscreen Media Conference (New York, New York), Free Speech Network (Washington, D.C.), Camden Technology Conference (Camden, Maine), Freedom Forum (Washington, D.C.), Game Developers Conference (San Jose, California), MIT On The Road (Seattle, Washington), American Library Association’s National Conference (Chicago, Illinois), and SIGGRAPH (New Orleans, Louisiana).

In January, CMS graduate students spent a week visiting media companies and professionals in Los Angeles and San Francisco; students were introduced to television and film writers, Internet entrepreneurs, and entertainment theorists and researchers at such companies as Disney Imagineering, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, FirstLook, and Cheskin Research.


CMS sponsored two major conferences in 1999—2000. In October 1999 we hosted the Media in Transition Conference. This event, which was the culmination of a three-year grant by the Markle Foundation and served as the official launch of CMS, focused on the role media have played throughout history and created a forum for discussion among 250 scholars in the humanities and social sciences about the past, present, and future uses of media. Organized by Professors Thorburn and Jenkins, this international conference featured more than 60 speakers at 45 presentations, panels, and screenings. Many of the papers from the conference have been published on the Media in Transition web page:

In February 2000, MIT hosted a second conference: Computer and Video Games Come of Age. Co-sponsored by MIT and Interactive Digital Software Association, and organized by Professor Jenkins, the conference focused on the first 25 years of the computer and video games industry and explored vocabularies that game developers, publishers, professionals, and scholars could use as the industry continues to mature and emerge as an art form. The two-day event featured 20 speakers who spoke on a variety of panels that critically discussed the state of the industry and art. More than 350 people attended the event; attendees came from a variety of backgrounds, including the games industry, software development firms, scholars, and students from high school to the graduate level.

CMS also began planning activities for four major conferences in 2000—2001: Digital Cinema (November 2000); Wiring the Classroom II (November 2000); and Race in Digital Spaces, which is being co-organized by the University of Southern California (April 2001); and Television in the Post-network Era (Spring 2001).


Numerous faculty members affiliated with Comparative Media Studies published books this year. These include: Associate Professor Jeff Ravel, The Contested Parterre: Public Theater and French Political Culture, 1680-1791, Cornell University; Professor Michael Fischer and George E. Marcus, Anthropology as Cultural Critique, second edition, University of Chicago Press; Professor Edward B. Turk, Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette McDonald, paperback edition, University of California Press; Gilberte Furstenberg Dans un Quartier de Paris, an interactive documentary on CD-ROM, Yale University Press; Dean William Mitchell E-topia: Urban Life Jim — But Not As We Know It, MIT Press; Professor Irving Singer, George Santayana: Literary Philosopher, Yale University Press.

Forthcoming works include the Media in Transition Series, published by MIT Press. These books will publish works by humanists and social scientist who wish to speak not only across academic disciplines but also to policy makers, to media and corporate practitioners, and most of all, to their fellow citizens. Professor Thorburn is editor in chief; and Henry Jenkins and Edward Barrett are associate editors.


Sally Richter was hired as Senior Editorial Assistant and Douglas Purdy was hired as Senior Office Assistant. The program is currently in the process of hiring a part-time Administrative Assistant to manage Communications Forum events and conference publicity.

For more information on the Undergraduate and Graduate programs in Comparative Media Studies, contact the CMS Office, 14N-430, MIT, Cambridge MA 02139; telephone 617-253-3599; fax 617-258-5133; e-mail The Comparative Media Studies’ website is found at

Henry Jenkins

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000