Certificate in Documentary Studies


The Certificate in Documentary Studies at Duke University is a program of undergraduate study involving community-based research and fieldwork. Working in one or more documentary mediums—photography, filmmaking, writing, audio, performance, among others—students explore a particular issue, community, family, or individual. Completion of a minimum of six courses and a documentary project that each student exhibits, presents, publishes, or otherwise disseminates to the public is required.

The program includes introductory courses in documentary mediums, special topics courses, and cross-listed courses in other departments. All coursework is intended to guide students toward completion of their final documentary projects.

Certificate courses are taught by instructors and staff members of the Center for Documentary Studies, along with professors of art and art history, history, public policy studies, education, African and African American studies, cultural anthropology, religion, the University Writing Program, African and Asian literature and languages, women’s studies, the Divinity School, and the Arts of the Moving Image program.

The Certificate in Documentary Studies program is directed by Christopher Sims, Undergraduate Education Director at the Center for Documentary Studies and Associate Professor of the Practice.

Certificate Requirements

Completion of the Certificate in Documentary Studies includes two required courses and a minimum of four electives selected from a range of courses offered by CDS and by a number of departments and programs at Duke. Required courses include the interdisciplinary survey course Traditions in Documentary Studies (DOCST 101) and the Seminar in Documentary Studies (DOCST 480S), a capstone course involving directed work toward completion and public presentation of a final documentary project. Courses may be taken in any order, with the exception of the Seminar in Documentary Studies, which must follow the survey course and at least four electives.

Student projects may range from, for example, a selection of black-and-white prints exhibited in the community to a short video about a topic of interest, a written piece based on oral history recordings, or an audio documentary suitable for broadcast. Ideally, work on a final project will begin in other certificate courses, well before enrolling in the capstone Seminar in Documentary Studies.

Graduation With Distinction

Documentary Studies Certificate students who have an overall GPA of 3.3 or above may apply for Graduation with Distinction outside their major. Distinction, whether in the major or not, is an honor noted on the student's transcript that represents a high point in the student's academic career and can be beneficial to subsequent scholarly pursuits.

When accompanied by an additional fifteen-page paper and overseen by a committee of three faculty members, final documentary projects completed for the capstone Seminar in Documentary Studies may qualify. Interested students must apply for Graduation with Distinction by September 15 of their senior year. To apply for this program, please see the Trinity website.


Pathways through the DOCST Certificate Program.