The Comparative Media Studies program, which admitted its first graduate students in 1999, was the brainchild of several MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science faculty who argued there was a gap between the "mind" and "hand" of MIT's motto—or, really, in all of media studies education. You either studied media production, such as how to shoot a short film or write a journalistic feature, or how to analyze media as a literature scholar might, in preparation for a career in the academy.
Program co-founder Henry Jenkins (now at USC) and then-Dean Philip Khoury argued MIT should instead be the home of applied humanities—taking a mixture of humanities and social science theory and putting it to the test within research groups, whose funding, like in the sciences, would support graduate education. The goal, as one early backer cheekily put it, was "to prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist."
Skip ahead to today, and we can see how thoroughly that bet on applied humanities has paid off. Its model helped foresee the emergence of digital humanities, games for education, the fragmentation (and empowerment) of audiences, and much else besides. Visit startups, game studios, city governments, public media outlets, cross-disciplinary PhD programs—you'll find CMS grads. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we blush when we see how many other universities have adopted our approach.
Ultimately that success is why each spring CMS welcomes back some of its graduate program alumni to speak to prospective students, to describe their careers today and how the CMS program got them there.
That's the subject of this podcast. You'll hear from Margaret Weigel SM '02, who works in digital education. Dan Roy SM '07, whose take you can hear in the full recording of the panel, develops games for learning. Ilya Vedrashko SM '06 leads data-driven consumer research. Erik Stayton SM '15 is a PhD candidate in MIT’s program in History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society. And Chelsea Barabas SM '15 is an advisor to the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative.