Mission & Learning Outcomes

Residing at the nexus of the documentary arts and active engagement in broader society, the mission of the undergraduate program in Documentary Studies is to allow 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.

Core Principals

  1. An understanding of fieldwork as a theoretically grounded mode of research that includes ethics and theory regarding interactions with and representations of various community members who become subjects of students’ work;
  2. Engagement in the lives, experiences, and histories of communities, challenging students to develop effective written and visual communication skills and to synthesize fieldwork-based knowledge to reach a larger public audience, thereby fostering mutual respect, in-depth understanding, and original interpretations;
  3. Cross-cultural fluency in a variety of different cultural settings;
  4. Ethics, accountability, and civic responsibility, which are covered in our courses and discussed throughout students’ work in communities;
  5. Social and community sensitivity and action. Through documentary work, students who are active in communities can leave tangible work of lasting value—whether an oral history, film, or photograph—in the hands of local residents.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will identify and explain the major traditions of documentary studies for the past 100 years.
  • Students will become proficient in one or more of the following documentary methodologies: photography, film, audio/radio, and oral history/narrative writing.
  • Students will engage in critical thinking regarding fieldwork as a responsible and theoretically sound mode of research that can be used effectively in a variety of settings and related directly to academic research in a variety of disciplines. Using their chosen methodology, students will produce professional-quality documentary work, including at least one major project with a public presentation.
  • Students will connect their field-based experiences with appropriate archival sources and literatures.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to make informed decisions about representational and ethical matters regarding the subjects of their documentary work, as they show in-depth understanding of the intricacies of collaboration, self-knowledge as it pertains to documentary work, and service learning.
  • Students will communicate effectively with individuals and/or groups outside of Duke University and/or separate from their own personal experiences.


Pathways through the DOCST Certificate Program.