What is CMS?
The academic study of media at MIT has a long, distinguished and eclectic history populated by the likes of Vannevar Bush (engineering), Ithiel de Sola Pool (social sciences), Norbert Wiener (mathematics), Harold "Doc" Edgerton (physics), Ricky Leacock (filmmaking), Noam Chomsky (Linguistics), and Nicholas Negroponte (media arts and sciences). In 1982, the Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences formed an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in Film and Media Studies, a move that would culminate in the formation of the two-year MS program in Comparative Media Studies (2000) and the BS program in Comparative Media Studies (2003). David Thorburn was the founding director of the Film and Media Studies Program. Henry Jenkins took over as director of the program in 1993. In 2004, William Uricchio joined Henry as director of the Comparative Media Studies program, staying on in the position after Henry's departure in 2009. As CMS transitions into a full-fledged section with Writing and Humanistic Studies, James Paradis has become Section Head.
from top: Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener and Noam Chomsky
Both the undergraduate and graduate programs manifest CMS's commitment to thinking across media forms, theoretical domains, cultural contexts, and historical periods. Both programs encourage the bridging of theory and practice, as much through course work as through participation in faculty and independent research projects.
The logic behind these programs is simple: a core of CMS-specific courses establishes the overarching logic and connections that enables students to make the most of a wide array of interdisciplinary electives available both at MIT and Harvard. Students are encouraged to develop a broad understanding of key issues surrounding media change which cut across different national borders and delivery techniques; they are also encouraged to develop an in-depth understanding of multiple media traditions, old and new. In this way, the program manages to provide coherence while being uniquely shaped to fit the needs of each student.
The goal of our program is not to replicate existing paradigms, but as an early CMS backer said, to prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist. We consult regularly with leaders in industry, the arts, public policy, journalism, education, and the nonprofit sector, trying to understand contemporary developments, identify job and internship opportunities, and pinpoint skills and knowledge which will help prepare our students for new opportunities. Our courses are designed to teach students to both make and reflect upon media and in the process, to acquire important skills in team work, leadership, problem solving, collaboration, brainstorming, communications, and project completion, which will prepare them for a broad range of academic and professional careers. A growing portion of our students are double majors, combining technical skills acquired elsewhere at MIT with the social and cultural expertise which has become the hallmark of the Comparative Media Studies Program.