Overview

Documentary work is creative and artistic, driven by personal motivations and talents; it is also a public process of engagement and a powerful tool for communication and for fostering understanding and change. Documentary Studies courses allow undergraduate students to connect their educational experiences and creative expression to broader community life through documentary fieldwork projects, while they also examine theoretical and practical issues related to this work through readings, screenings, and classroom discussion. Taught by CDS staff, faculty members, and adjunct instructors, these courses provide community-based experiences using the mediums of photography, film and video, audio, and narrative writing.

CDS undergraduate courses at Duke University supplement and enrich students’ work in a broad range of academic disciplines. Some courses, with permission of the instructor, may be taken as early as freshman year. If students choose, they may complete the Certificate in Documentary Studies, which requires a minimum of six courses, including the survey course Traditions in Documentary Studies (DOCST 101) and the capstone course Seminar in Documentary Studies (DOCST 480S), and completion of a final project.

The survey course Traditions in Documentary Studies looks at documentary work through an interdisciplinary perspective, with an emphasis on twentieth-century practice. The course introduces students to a range of documentary idioms and voices, including the work of photographers, filmmakers, oral historians, folklorists, musicologists, radio documentarians, and writers. The course also stresses aesthetic, scholarly, and ethical considerations involved in representing other people and cultures.

Other courses are more specifically involved with documenting local communities through the use of a particular medium, such as The Documentary Experience: A Video Approach, Literacy Through Photography, Introduction to Oral History, American Communities: Introduction to Documentary Photography, and Documentary Photography and the Southern Cultural Landscape.

Additional special topics courses are offered each semester. These have included explorations of children and the experience of illness, farmworker advocacy, immigration, reframing Asian America, black women in the Jim Crow South, large format photography, and the documentary imagination, among other topics.

For more information about the undergraduate program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies: Charles Thompson, education and curriculum director, at 919.660.3657 or cdthomps@duke.edu.

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