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Classes Overview

The Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University offers courses through three main programs: undergraduate education, a Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts, and continuing education, including workshops and institutes that are appropriate for students who wish to engage in documentary educational opportunities of short duration at CDS. In its approach to education, CDS emphasizes documentary fieldwork, collaborative partnerships, and a balance between individual artistic expression and community goals. Courses include instruction in photography, audio, film/video, and narrative writing along with an examination of documentary traditions, practices, and ethics.

Undergraduate Education in Documentary Studies

CDS offers undergraduate courses in Documentary Studies to students enrolled at Duke University in a variety of disciplines. Students enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, at North Carolina Central University, and at North Carolina State University may also take these courses for credit through reciprocal arrangements among these schools. Undergraduate instructors at CDS include faculty members, visiting artists, and professional documentarians. Students at Duke have the option of completing requirements for an undergraduate Certificate in Documentary Studies, which involves a minimum of six approved courses and completion of a final project. As part of its undergraduate education program, CDS created and hosts the Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professorship in Documentary Studies and American Studies at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which brings a distinguished documentarian to teach on both campuses each year.

Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts

A unique initiative, the new MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts (MFAEDA) at Duke University couples experimental visual practice with the documentary arts in a two-year program.

Guided by first-year advisors and a faculty thesis committee, students will explore a curriculum that blends studio practice, fieldwork, digital production, and critical theory, culminating in the completion of a thesis paper and an MFA exhibition. Students will work with faculty from the program’s three founding units: the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, the Center for Documentary Studies, and the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image, as well as from the University at large.

MFAEDA students will create work that has impact – art that matters – including pioneering hybrids of documentary expression, experimental media, and new technologies. The program seeks applicants from across the arts spectrum, whether based in traditional fine arts such as painting, sculpture, documentary arts, writing, photography, and film, or so-called experimental practice such as computational and new media, sound work, performance, and installation.

Continuing Education in the Documentary Arts

CDS offers a wide range of short courses, institutes, and workshops for adults who are interested in learning to do their own documentary work. These documentary arts courses, available through flexible admission with reasonable fees, involve instruction in photography, film and video, audio, and writing. Special topics and such subjects as documentary traditions, techniques, fieldwork theory, and ethics involved in conducting and presenting documentary work are included. The hands-on courses at CDS help adults achieve their goals of completing a first project or refining an ongoing project. All courses are designed to help students explore concepts in documentary arts and apply them to their own work. This open-admissions adult education program includes the option of completing a Certificate in Documentary Arts, which requires three courses and roughly four electives for a total of 112 course hours, as well as the completion of a final documentary project. Most courses are offered during the evening or on weekends, to accommodate the schedules of working adults. Students who maintain full-time jobs should expect completion of the certificate to take about two years, though it is possible to complete the program more quickly.

Summer intensive institutes and weekend courses offer both local students and those who live in other areas the opportunity to participate in the CDS documentary arts program. Photo, video, audio, nonfiction writing, and Literacy Through Photography institutes and an Intensive Introduction to Documentary Studies course are available during the summer months. Students may receive continuing education credit toward the Certificate in Documentary Arts for these institutes and workshops. Examples of work produced in these institutes are posted on the CDS Vimeo website and CDS Porch.

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Image aboveCDS Video Institute (detail). Photograph by Chioke Brown.

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