Media and Society


Linda Robertson

HWS is among the first liberal arts colleges in the country to offer a major in media studies. From its inception in 1996, the focus of the Media and Society Program has been to foster a critical analysis of the media's pervasive influence on society and the individual.

The program's two fundamental goals include: to engage students in the critical analysis of the influence of the mass media on society, from both the sociopolitical and cultural/artistic perspectives; and to stimulate students to use their creative imaginations through self-expression in writing, videography, and editing the visual and plastic arts.

Media and Society majors are required to choose a concentration from one of four core areas: techniques of performance and creativity, use of imagine technologies, critical analysis or media theory, or cultural history of the fine arts or mass media.

The program offers a interdisciplinary major, a B.A., and minor.

For more information, visit the Media and Society FAQ webpage.


If you'd like to view a full listing of our course options in Media and Society or any other subject, please visit the Online Course Catalogue.

Click for the Course Catalogue


Requirements for the Major (B.A.)

interdisciplinary, 12 courses, plus language competency

Megan Colburn '13 studies for her senior
seminar on the “Films of Spielberg” with
Professor Les Friedman.

The Media and Society Program offers an interdisciplinary major and minor. Media and Society majors explore three core areas before deciding on a concentration. All majors are required to take at least one production course in the creative arts. Majors are required to complete cognate courses in American history or social consciousness and social or political theory. The major culminates with a required Senior Seminar. All courses to be counted for the major must be taken for a letter grade. To remain in good standing as a MDSC major, all courses must be completed with a C- or better. The internship is an elective which may be counted as part of any concentration.

The complete list of requirements for the major is:

• MDSC 100 (Introduction to Media and Society);
• MDSC 400 (Senior Seminar);
• In addition to MDSC 100 and 400, students must take at least four other MDSC classes (or approved equivalents).
• One course in each of three core competencies (a course used to fulfill a core competency cannot be used to fulfill the concentration requirements);
• Five courses to comprise a concentration
• Two cognate courses. A cognate course is one that supports the study in the major, but is not a course in the mass media or the arts. One cognate course must be in American history and social consciousness (listed below). The second cognate course must be a social or political theory course (listed below).

Media and Society majors are also required to complete one college-level course in a foreign language. Students who have studied a foreign language in secondary school may have met this requirement; students for whom English is a second language may have met this requirement; students with a certified statement from a counselor or physician that a learning disability prevents them from learning a foreign language may petition for a waiver. Students should consult with their adviser about this requirement.

Download the form for the Major.

Requirements for the Minor

interdisciplinary, 6 courses (three of which must be MDSC classes or the equivalent)

MDSC 100; one course in the study of the cultural history of the fine arts or mass media; one course in critical analysis or media theory. Three additional courses drawn from approved electives, one of which must be in the creative arts if not already included. Minors are not required to develop a concentration in a specific area of Media and Society. All courses to be counted for the minor must be taken for a letter grade.

Courses taken Credit/No Credit are not accepted for the major or minor, with the exception of MDSC 499.

Download the form for the Minor.


Our students choose from a variety of introductory and advanced courses, each designed to provide students with an understanding of the way the media influences society and the individual.

Below, you'll find a sampling of some of our most popular classes, as well as suggestions for making Media and Society a part of your larger interdisciplinary experience at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

MDSC 203 History of Television


Take an in-depth look at television history, from TV's theoretical beginnings to its current incarnation as a turbulent mirror for "reality." Examine television texts and criticism of the medium as entertainment, and as a contested force in social and cultural practices. Then, apply your knowledge as you focus on modern topics of social concern in PHIL 150, Philosophy and Contemporary Issues: Justice and Equality.

MDSC 308 Cinematic Effects


Delve into special effects and motion graphics using industry-standard compositing software, and learn basic compositing techniques, such as green screen, rotoscoping and matchmoving, within the context of the history and art of visual effects. Once you've mastered cinematic effects, enroll in MDSC 305, Film Editing, and learn basic editing techniques for narrative and documentary film as well as film sequences.

MDSC 313 Global Cinema


Investigate contemporary global cinema and its intersections with various national cinemas, including the cinemas of the U.S., Italy, India, China, Mexico, Japan, Senegal, Iran, Peru, and Canada, among others, while considering the impact of international film festivals, trade policies, immigration, transnational stardom, piracy, translation, and censorship. Next, enroll in PHIL 230, Aesthetics, and find answers to questions such as: What is the nature of artistic creativity? What role should critics play? Is there truth in art?

MDSC 130 Intro to Global Animation


What is animation? How can we discuss animation as a visual medium and as a cultural expression? How can we understand the global circulation of contemporary animation industry? To answer these questions, we will explore the production, distribution, and consumption of animation as a global phenomenon. Through various case studies, we will consider how local, national, regional, and transnational perspectives contribute to the historical trajectory of animation at a global scale. We will also consider the role of new technologies in the development of animation not only in films but also in other medium such as video games; and the function of animation in political spaces.


Spectral Stardom
Professor Lisa Patti, Fall 2018, MDSC 400-01

Andy Warhol reportedly predicted, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” This seminar explores the enduring resonance of that prophecy in contemporary media cultures. We will situate an investigation of contemporary stardom and celebrity within the history of industrial star systems. Our foundational analysis of individual star images – including Greta Garbo, Marlon Brando, and Michael Jackson, among others – will focus on the production of stardom, the political ramifications of celebrity cultures, and the reception and transformation of star images by fan cultures. We will then examine forms of “spectral” stardom – from stunt performances to archival films – that challenge popular assumptions about the production and consumption of star images. This writing-intensive course will include a series of essay assignments that incorporate research, writing, and production skills and that establish the foundation for the production of a multi-modal capstone project.

Shoot Like Spielberg: The Poetics of the Blockbuster and Other Narratives
Professor Marilyn Jimenez, Fall 2018, MDSC 400-02

In this course, we focus on the narrative and visualization techniques that have made Steven Spielberg one of the most influential filmmakers of our time. We explore how composition, camera movement, lighting etc. express the content of a film with an emphasis on the narrative/dramatic function of these elements. We will, for example, go beyond identifying camera movement by type--pan, tilt, dolly--and focus on the dramatic purpose of the camera move, since a dramatic or narrative function such as a reveal can be achieved in a number of ways. Additionally, we will probe the influence of Spielberg's techniques on other filmmakers--J.J. Abrams, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Robert Zemeckis to name a few--and other forms--animation, videogames etc. and even political advertising. Finally, we will take a close look at the 'reimagining' of Spielberg's themes, characters and narrative techniques in 'Stranger Things,' by the Duff brothers. This course includes practical visualization exercises, visual essays and written assignments.

Contemporary Television
Professor Leah Shafer, Spring 2019, MDSC 400-01

In this seminar we will investigate contemporary American television practice by researching, discussing, and analyzing television as: a textual form, an everyday practice, a representation of culture, a commercial industry, a technology, and a social institution. Our focus will be on mapping the connections and disjunctions between these elements of television’s circuit of culture in order to gain a clearer picture of television’s role in contemporary American society. Our particular task will be to analyze the mockumentary style and the way that reality television aesthetics have affected new television production. We will reinforce, situate, and problematize this primary investigation by asking questions about power, image, and truth on television and by drawing from examples of recent television. Special attention will be paid to strategies for researching and reflecting upon both primary and secondary documents that engage contemporary American television.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.