Undergraduate Education

The Center for Documentary Studies offers undergraduate courses that supplement and enrich students’ work in a broad range of academic disciplines. Undergraduates connect their educational experiences and creative expression to broader community life through documentary fieldwork projects, while they also examine the theoretical, practical and ethical issues related to this work through readings, screenings and classroom discussion.

Taught by faculty members, adjunct instructors, visiting artists and professional documentarians (see current instructors), Documentary Studies courses provide community-based experiences using the mediums of photography, film and video, audio, narrative writing and new media.

Some courses may be taken as early as a student’s first year. If students choose, they may complete the Certificate in Documentary Studies, which requires a minimum of six courses and completion of a final project.

To see courses offered during a specific semester, please visit DukeHub and select Class Search. An at-a-glance list of current and upcoming courses is also available.

Mission and 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 Principles

  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 literature.
  • 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 experiential learning.
  • Students will communicate effectively with individuals and/or groups outside of Duke University and/or separate from their own personal experiences.

Interinstitutional Registration

Through an area interinstitutional program, students from the following universities may register for Duke courses, including those offered through CDS (listed as DOCST):

  • North Carolina Central University
  • North Carolina State University
  • University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill
  • University of North Carolina–Charlotte
  • University of North Carolina–Greensboro

Students from these universities should first contact the university registrar at their home campus for details about the process before contacting CDS. Interinstitutional registration is limited to those courses where spaces are available after a host institution’s students have registered.

The procedure for non-Duke graduate students to enroll in CDS graduate-level courses is:

  1. If there is space available in the course after August 1 (for fall semester courses) or December 1 (for spring semester courses), contact the course instructor and request a permission number. As priority is given to Duke students, please wait until the dates above to request permission to enroll in the course.
  2. Bring the permission number to your home university’s registrar’s office and request inter-institutional registration for the course.

Undergraduate Awards

Please visit the Awards page to learn about the John Hope Franklin Student Documentary Awards and the Julia Harper Day Award for Documentary Studies.

Lehman Brady Professorship

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 UNC–Chapel Hill, which brings a distinguished documentarian to teach on both campuses.


For more information about the undergraduate program at CDS or questions regarding registration, contact CDS Undergraduate Education Director Tom Rankin at tom.rankin@duke.edu or 919.660.3613.