Comparative Media Studies

Established as a graduate program in 1999–2000, Comparative Media Studies (CMS) 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, and Political Science. Approximately 35 faculty members teach subjects in Comparative Media Studies.

The graduate program consists of 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.



CMS research themes cross academic disciplines and involve both traditional and emerging communications media, establishing a focus for public presentations, research agendas, and curricular initiatives. The primary research themes are: Creativity and Communication in an Interactive Age;—Childhood and Adolescence in a Hyper-mediated Culture; Informed Citizenship and the Culture of Democracy; Global Culture and Media; Media in Transition; and Transforming Humanities Education.


Over the past year, CMS established a number of research and educational projects. The MIT-Microsoft Games-to-Teach Project, run in partnership with the Learning Sciences and Technologies Group of Microsoft Research through i-Campus, focuses on the interactive, immersive, and narrative potential of digital games as an educational medium. Over the next year, CMS will explore new pedagogical models using games and apply these models to a series of conceptual game prototypes designed to support advanced high school and first-year college science and engineering curricula.

The Meta-Media Archive Project, funded by the d'Arbeloff Award for Excellence in Education, will develop a series of interactive archive models for use across a broader range of topics in the humanities and social sciences. Intended to serve as modules that teachers and students can use to explore rich subject areas, create rhetorical multi-media documents, and collaborate over the Internet. Meta-Media Archives could serve as models for new notions of textbook, research paper, and classroom.

In the Electronic Arts Creative Leaders Workshop series, CMS faculty conduct seminars for producers and other creative developers at Electronic Arts throughout the year. These seminars afford discussion around basic concepts for thinking about the interplay between character, plot, and emotion, drawing examples from both traditional arts (literature, theater, cinema, television, opera) and from contemporary computer and video games.

In addition to these sponsored research and educational programs, CMS will launch a research consortium this fall that explores broader questions under its thematic umbrella. Early consortium members such as FCB Advertising, British Telecommunications, and the World Economic Forum are interested in the complex relationships between people, companies, governments, and nations. Over the next year, research activities will focus on addressing key questions shared by CMS faculty and their commercial, industrial, and political peers.

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Professor Henry Jenkins is the Director of Comparative Media Studies. Professor William Uricchio is Associate Director. 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. Other committee members for 2000–2001 were: Professor Uricchio; 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; Senior Lecturer in Writing and Humanistic Studies Edward Barrett; and Senior Lecturer in Music and Theater Arts Martin Marks.

During 2000–2001, Comparative Media Studies had four active committees, besides the steering committee: the Curriculum Committee, co-chaired by Professor Thorburn and Senior Lecturer Marks; the Admissions Committee, chaired by Professor Diana Henderson; the Technology and Space Committee, co-chaired by Professor Donaldson and Professor Shigeru Miyagawa; and the Orientation Committee, chaired by Professor Christina Klein.

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CMS admitted five students for graduate study in its first year, 1999–2000. The following year, the Admissions Committee selected ten students, eight of whom entered in September 2000 while two deferred admission, until September 2001. This year we received more than 100 applications and admitted ten students. Of the ten CMS students admitted this year, five are women, and six are international students, from Bulgaria, People's Republic of China, England, India, the Czech Republic, and Singapore. This year CMS will realize an important milestone in its development by reaching our target population of 20 students.

Throughout 2000–2001, the program hosted a series of Information Sessions, which were designed to allow potential students to meet CMS faculty and students and evaluate opportunities through the program, and to sit in on classes and workshops. CMS also conducted online chat sessions to facilitate interaction with potential applicants who could not attend theses on-campus sessions; on-line sessions were particularly popular with a growing number of international applicants.

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Development activities yielded several major new and continuing sponsored research projects, as well as early members to the MIT Research Consortium in Comparative Media Studies. A primary goal of program activities this past year was to develop and implement sustainable and scalable business, teaching, and research models within which faculty and graduate students could explore interdisciplinary research themes and educational priorities. Grants from the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation supported a conference on Race in Digital Space in April 2001, which was co-organized by the University of Southern California.

As it continues to solidify its administrative and academic infrastructure, CMS will focus on cultivating a broader range of sponsored research and gifts from corporations, individuals, and foundations in 2001–2002. CMS has laid the groundwork for collaborating with the Office of Campaign Giving, Corporate Relations and Industrial Liaison Program, and Foundation Relations to secure both endowed and expendable gifts. Fundraising events for individual donors are anticipated in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Washington, and Boston through May 2002. Regional meetings of the MIT Research Consortium in Comparative Media Studies are expected in London (January 2002) and Chicago (June 2002).

On the international front, CMS has begun conversations with potential partners, corporate sponsors, and individual donors in Europe, Australia, and South America. The program will also reach out to southeast Asia in January 2002 when Professors Jenkins and Miyagawa make their first joint fundraising trips to Japan and Singapore.

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Undergraduate Education

The undergraduate program—established in 1982 under its former name, Film and Media Studies—serves 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 more than 50 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. CMS also hired five UROP students, for pay and academic credit, to work on research and educational projects like the Electronics Arts Workshops and the Educational Outreach program. In the coming year, CMS is expected to engage more than 20 UROP students in these sponsored research and consortium research activities like the MIT-Microsoft Games-to-Teach Project and the Meta-Media Project.

Current undergraduate student enrollments for the academic years 2000–2003 stand at ten majors, ten minors, and 48 concentrators. The undergraduate homepage is

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Communications Forum

Directed by Professor Thorburn, the Communications Forum sponsors lectures, panel discussions and conferences on all aspects of technology and communications, public policy, and media in transition. 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: "New Media and the Elections," "Female Entrepreneurs and Cyberspace," and "Trademark Wars—Corporations and Publics on the Web."

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Lectures, Outreach

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: "Deliberating Game Studies -- Pitfalls and Promises of a New Discipline" by Espen Aarseth; "Ceci N'est Pas Une Jeune Fille: Serious Play, Mimesis and Learning to Grow Up Female" by Dr. Gerry Bloustien; and "Fan Fiction on the Internet: New Venues for Women Writers and Readers" by Sharon Cumberland.

Professor Jenkins also spoke at a wide variety of professional and public conferences and forums, including the: Media Research Council (October 2000; Chicago, Illinois); ACM SIGGRAPH (August 2000; New Orleans, Louisiana); Game Developers Conference (March 2001; San Jose, California); and Pew Charitable Trusts Summit on Cultural Policy (May 2001; Little Switzerland, South Carolina).

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In 2000–2001, CMS organized three major conferences:

Part of an ongoing series of events focused on creativity in the digital age, the MIT Conference on Digital Cinema (November 2000) brought together filmmakers, critics, and media industry leaders to explore the nature of digital cinema and its cultural significance. The conference combined screenings of significant works in digital cinema with panel discussions centered on such issues as the political consequence of broadening media access, the shifting status of amateur filmmaking, the aesthetics of this emerging media form, and the economics of digital film production and distribution.

We've Wired the Classroom, Now What? (February 2001), a follow-up to the initial Wiring the Classroom conference at MIT held in May 1999, was designed to showcase the innovative work of classroom teachers in developing new pedagogical practices in response to the potentials of new media, including the Internet, CD Roms, digital photography; and streaming video and audio. Teachers were able to share their experiences with changing technologies in the educational environment, and to see effective uses of media that could be shared with a larger community.

CMS and USC's Annenberg Center for Communication hosted a three-day conference, Race in Digital Space, (April 2000) which explored current issues and celebrated the accomplishments of minorities using digital technologies. Additional information may be found at

Faculty Notes

Numerous faculty affiliated with Comparative Media Studies published books this year, including: Professor Susan Slyomovics, Women and Power in the Middle East, co-edited with Joseph Suad, University of Pennsylvania Press; Professor Irving Singer, Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique, paperback edition, MIT Press; Professor Singer, Feeling and Imagination: The Vibrant Flux of Our Existence, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.


Alex Chisholm was named Director of Communications and External Relations. Brad Seawell was hired as part-time Administrative Assistant to manage Communications Forum events and conference publicity. Robert J. Bain, Jr. was hired as Senior Editorial Assistant.

In March, CMS consolidated its offices and relocated to new headquarters space in Building 14N, Room 207.

Henry Jenkins

For more information on the Undergraduate and Graduate programs in Comparative Media Studies, contact the CMS Office, 14N-207, MIT, Cambridge MA 02139; telephone 617-253-3599; fax 617-258-5133; e-mail The Comparative Media Studies web site is

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