Introductory Course: Documentary Studies

Introduction to Documentary Studies, AMST 707

This mixed graduate/undergraduate seminar surveys documentary work in three media—film, photography, and sound–since the 1930s, focusing on the documentary as both a cultural form with a history of its own and as a parcel of skill sets and story-telling and production practices to be studied and mastered. Readings and discussions will cover important scholarly approaches to documentary as a genre, as well as close readings of documentaries themselves and practitioners’ guides to various aspects of documentary work. Topics include major trends in documentary practice across the three media, documentary ethics, aesthetics and truth-claims, documentary’s relationship to the scholarly disciplines and to journalism, and documentary work as political activism. Class meetings include screenings/viewings/soundings of documentary works, and practitioner’s panels and workshops with Yale documentarians (eg: Charles Musser, Zareena Grewal, Elihu Rubin, Gretchen Berland, and Laura Wexler) and local New Haven documentarians such as Jake Halpern (“This American Life”). Students’ final projects may take the form of a traditional scholarly paper on some aspect of documentary history or a particular documentary producer, OR an actual piece of documentary work–a film treatment, a brief video, a set of photographs, a sound documentary or script.