Would a dissertation committee approve a multimedia dissertation?


At least it is possible at Harvard University.

In “Scholarship Beyond Words,” Cordon Ireland writes, “Text-heavy dissertations . . .  are artifacts of a medieval university culture that gave the printed word scholastic pre-eminence. .  . But Harvard anticipates scholarship that goes beyond the written word. It welcomes film, photo, audio, and other means of cultural expression, without abandoning the traditional rigor of academic investigation. . . For the first time, doctoral students can now incorporate video, film, photography, exhibition, hypermedia, the Internet, and other sources of nontextual information into their academic work. In a few years, Harvard will graduate its first Ph.D.s who create these scholarly hybrids. The article ends with this quote: “Print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced. Knowledge assumes multiple forms.” http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/02/scholarship-beyond-words/

I could say, “Amen,” or “Duhhhhh,” or “I told you so,” but what matters most is “Why isn’t everyone thinking this way?”

Of course, some universities are. The University of York, for example, offers a PhD in “Theatre, Film, and Television by Creative Practice” that requires three products: an academic dissertation; a professional portfolio or reflective journal, and a portfolio of creative work. http://www.york.ac.uk/tftv/postgraduate/phd/ In addition, the Media and Communications Department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, offers an “AVPhD.” Doctoral candidates “submit as part of their thesis a portfolio of practical work (such as photographs, video, film or other audio-visual material) alongside a reduced textual component.” A key criteria states: “The practical component should also not be merely illustrative of the theory, but must make an original contribution in its own right, which relates back, in an integral fashion, to the theoretical component of the thesis.” http://www.gold.ac.uk/media-communications/research/avphds/

And I say, “Of course,” and “Would you hire me?”

I invite you to consider three questions: “Do universities need professors who can both conduct traditional AND produce original multimedia products?” “If universities need such professors, why aren’t they creating PhD programs that produce such professors?” “If (more) such programs existed, would students enroll?”

To me the answers are obvious. Universities need multimedia scholars because they are offering more and more multimedia courses and because so much research is needed into all aspects of multimedia communications. Universities are not creating such programs because a) they seldom embrace innovation; and b) they are scared to invest in new faculty positions without a guarantee of both enrollment and research funding. Answering the third question is trickier only because I’d be predicting the future, but, I am sure that many people about to enroll in a PhD program would recognize the value of an AVPhD (or something similar) AND they would enjoy working in such a program.

E-mail me if you have an opening or are considering beginning a hybrid PhD program.


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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