Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

A new focus on film and media

Want to know the meaning of “amphisbaena”? Go to wordia.com, and not only can you read the definition, but you also can watch a video of a professor explaining it and his first encounter with the word as a boy. And, you can upload your own video explanation.

Talking dictionaries? Clearly, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Wheaton knows that and is preparing students for the constantly evolving media landscape with the creation of a new major—film and new media studies. The program explores the rapid digitization of culture, and the increasingly central role that technology plays in most of our lives by exploring the theoretical, historical, aesthetic and global dimensions of film and new media. It expands and connects the current curriculum to create a coherent whole.

The term “new media” refers both to the emergence of new information and communication technologies as well as to the convergence of formerly distinct media—print, photography, cinema, radio, television—in digital environments.

“The social, psychological, cultural, political, economic and environmental impact of these new media has become increasingly consequential. So has the need to identify, study and responsibly contribute to that impact,” says Josh Stenger, associate professor of film studies and English, and the coordinator for the new major. “Our new program stresses the importance of combining critical inquiry, creative innovation, technical competency, and responsible practice in order to be more fully empowered agents in a digital culture.”

Along with studying the technical and creative aspects of film and new media, students will explore the “big picture,” discussing topics such as the history and future of the Internet; the digitization of art, literature and film; the relationship between media technologies and race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality and nationality; and the role of new media in globalization and political movements.

The course list includes classes in film, music, computer science, English, politics and psychology, which is in keeping with the college’s focus on interdisciplinary study that emphasizes connected learning across departments and divisions.

“From a studio arts perspective, the new major encourages integration of diverse disciplines and a combination of skills in research, analysis and creativity, and creates a formal path for students to attain the most complete media-focused course of study available at Wheaton,” notes Jake Mahaffy, a filmmaker and associate professor of film and art.

Computer science professor Michael Gousie says he is most excited about the technical aspects of the major, which will encourage students to learn computer science skills that will help them pursue their creative ideas using sophisticated software, or by programming their own applications.

Ken Kristensen ’92, who majored in creative writing and created his own independent study in documentary film while at Wheaton, is now an award-winning screenwriter for film and television, a TV director-producer and a graphic novelist. He applauds Wheaton’s new major, saying that having such a comprehensive program could be integral to launching a career in Hollywood.

“As a professional storyteller, I think the new major is essential for Wheaton,” Kristensen says. “From what I’ve seen and read, film and new media are top areas of interest for college students across the country and around the world…. Over the next five years, the distribution outlets of theatrical projects, TV and new media will continue to merge, and the audience will continue to grow, globally. The term ‘Hollywood career’ will remain, but its scope will broaden. That means there will be a greater demand for content producers. So, preparing Wheaton students to enter the world with the creative tools and theoretical knowledge of how to produce substantive content for a burgeoning distribution market means more opportunity for Wheaton graduates.”

Illustration by David Laferriere

About Sandy Coleman

Sandy Coleman is the editor of the Wheaton Quarterly and Senior Associate Director in the Communications Office.