Master’s Degree in Digital Humanities

Media Studies Program

University of Virginia 





America’s culture, and its cultural heritage, is migrating very rapidly to the World-Wide Web.  To manage that migration, and to take advantage of the new intellectual and creative possibilities it offers, we need trained professionals who understand both the humanities and information technology, and we need them in a number of different areas—museums, libraries, teaching, scholarship, publishing, government, communications, and entertainment, to name a few.  We can already see that this is true: the Library of Congress is putting millions of items in its collection online; every major art museum now has a Web site; computers have become part of the teaching of literature, history, religious studies, and other disciplines; the next generation of scholarly editions of major American authors will be electronic editions, and the next generation of paperbacks will be E-Books.  The Master’s Degree in Digital Humanities prepares graduate students to meet this immediate cultural need, and offers them the training to apply information technology to the intellectual content of the humanities, and to experiment with the analytical possibilities that information technology offers the humanities.  At the end of the first year of this program, students should have a broad but practical sense of the challenges that one must overcome in making humanities content tractable to computational methods.  By the end of the second year, students should be able to meet such challenges, even if doing so requires building new tools or inventing new methods. 


The Master’s degree in digital humanities provides students with experience in recognizing and articulating problems in humanities computing and working collaboratively to solve them, as well as providing hands-on experience in designing and creating digital media.  Students who have completed this degree might go on to further graduate work, for example a Ph.D. in a traditional discipline of the humanities, or they might elect to seek employment in publishing, communications, commerce, cultural institutions, or any of a number of other areas in which their skills and intellectual training would have immediate value. 



Structure and Requirements:


The course of study for the MA in Digital Humanities is a two-year cycle of core courses and electives: in order to complete the program, a student will take at least 27 hours of coursework at the 500-900 level.  In addition, a one-credit internship and a one-credit teaching seminar are required, and students will enroll in several non-topical research courses, for a total of 48 credit hours.  Successful completion of this MA program requires students to have, or to acquire, a working familiarity with major computer operating systems (PC, Macintosh, Unix) and software more specialized than the usual office applications (e.g., visual programming software, multimedia authoring tools, databases), as well as with markup languages (e.g., SGML, XML) and programming languages (e.g., Perl, Java).  Working with a faculty advisor, each student will develop a thesis project that consists partly of work in team-based environments and partly of individual writing and reflection. In addition to their course work and thesis project, students are required to complete internships: most will also lead discussion sections for MDST 110.  The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences allows no transfer credit toward the M.A.


Concentration Electives:  The purpose of these electives is to provide each student with in-depth graduate course work in a humanities subject area, as a context for that student’s humanities computing—for example, a student with background and research interests in medieval literature might choose to take these electives in medieval literature, medieval history, and linguistics, might choose to intern with an ongoing faculty research project in medieval studies, and might design a thesis project that applies humanities computing tools and techniques to a research problem with a particular medieval text.  Students will complete at least three humanities electives during the course of study for the M.A.. These courses must be at the 500-900 level and they must be chosen in consultation with the faculty advisor.  These courses may be chosen from approved humanities offerings outside the College of Arts and Sciences (for example, in Architecture, Education, or Law).


Programming Language Requirement: Entering students should be able to demonstrate competence in at least one computer programming language by passing a ninety-minute examination, administered by the Computer Science department at the University and designed to ascertain the student’s understanding of basic concepts and principles of computer programming. For students entering without this competence, an intensive summer course will be offered in conjunction with Computer Science; other options for acquiring this competence include taking an undergraduate course in the College of Engineering (e.g., CS 201, Software Development Methods) provided that prerequisites are met, taking a course at Piedmont Virginia Community College (e.g., CSC 201, Computer Science), or learning through project-based self-instruction.   Whatever course is chosen, students must pass the competency exam no later than the beginning of the third semester.



The Course of Study:


All MDST courses listed are required, and they should be taken in the sequence described below.  500-level courses are introductory courses that overlap with a field outside the College of Arts and Sciences—Architecture, in the case of MDST 501, and Computer Science, in the case of MDST 585.  700-level courses are supervised and applied work, for example as a participant in a faculty research project (MDST 700) or as the pedagogy workshop (MDST 701).  800-level courses are seminars or supervised independent research projects and, with the exception of MDST 898, emphasize working in teams.

Fall, Semester I:

9 hours of coursework plus 3 hours of non-topical research.  Coursework is aimed at introducing students to the concept of design as it is understood in both computer science and the humanities, and to the topic of knowledge representation, as a practical issue in domains as diverse as artificial intelligence and text-encoding.  This semester also includes, the first humanities concentration elective, in which students study a particular humanities problem-area.


MDST 501: Design in the Context of Information Technology

MDST 831: Knowledge Representation I (Seminar)

Humanities Concentration Elective

MDST 897: Non-Topical Research



Spring, Semester II:

9 hours of coursework (including the advanced seminar on knowledge representation, 6 hours of humanities concentration electives), a one-hour internship with an ongoing faculty research project in the area of humanities computing, and two hours of non-topical research.  By the end of this semester, students will have a solid background in the problems of knowledge representation in general, a good idea of what such a problem looks like in a particular humanities discipline, and some hands-on experience working with such a problem in a research context.


MDST 700: Internship Projects: Design and Implementation

MDST 832: Knowledge Representation II (seminar)

Humanities Concentration Elective

Humanities Concentration Elective

MDST 897: Non-Topical Research



Fall, Semester III:

6 hours of coursework, plus five hours of non-topical research, plus a one-hour teaching internship.  By this point in the program students will have passed a programming-language competency exam, and some of their coursework in this semester will focus on how to build software tools for solving humanities research and teaching problems.  Also in this semester, students will take a seminar that will provide them with the background they need, as they need it, to teach MDST 110.  They will also take part in a one-credit pedagogy seminar, and begin work on their year-long thesis project.


MDST 585: Software Engineering for the Humanities

MDST 810: Cultural Issues in Information Technology (Seminar)

with MDST 701: Teaching Media Studies

                        [First semester of teaching MDST 110]

MDST 897: Non-Topical Research



Spring Semester IV:

This semester 3 hours of coursework—a final seminar that both sums up intellectual issues in humanities computing and digital media, and allows students to talk with their professor and peers about the intellectual issues raised in their year-long thesis projects.  9 hours of non-topical research in this semester permit students to complete that project, and to reflect upon it (in MDST 898).  Students also teach a second semester of MDST 110.


MDST 811: Intellectual Issues in Humanities and Computing (Seminar)

MDST 897: Non-Topical Research

MDST 898: Non-Topical Research

            [Second semester of teaching MDST 110]




Course Descriptions:


MDST 501 –  (3.0) (Y) Design in the Context of Information Technology

This course takes a case-study approach to the analysis of design within information technology and digital media, with emphasis on fundamental principles of structure, organization, and interface.


MDST 585 –  (3.0) (Y) Software Engineering for the Humanities

[Prerequisite: Completion of the Computer Programming Competency Exam.] Client-based approach to developing software for the humanities; projects and assignments will be based on actual needs and examples, students will design software for ongoing research projects.


MDST 700 –  (1.0) (Y) Internship Projects: Design and Implementation 

Internships will be in ongoing projects in the application of digital media and information technology to the humanities, preferably at the University of Virginia but possibly elsewhere.  Progress in the projects will be assessed and discussed on a regular basis.  In many cases, internships will continue through summer as employment opportunities.

MDST 701 –  (1.0) (Y) Teaching Media Studies

Co-requisite: MDST 810

This workshop provides training in pedagogy for students serving as teaching assistants in MDST 110: Information Technology and Digital Media.  Issues of pedagogy and the use of information technology in the teaching environment will be addressed.  This course should be taken in conjunction with MDST 810.


MDST 810 –  (3.0) (Y) Cultural Issues in Digital Media and Information Technology

This seminar focuses on the cultural premises and effects of information technology and digital media. It is preparation for teaching in Media Studies 110, and it should be taken in conjunction with MDST 701 (though it is also open, as a stand-alone course, to graduate students not teaching MDST 110).


MDST 811 –  (3.0) (Y) Intellectual Issues in Humanities and Computing

This seminar will discuss critical issues and theoretical concerns that emerge from the intersection of humanities research and teaching with the tools and concepts of computational approaches to analysis and interpretation.


MDST 831 –  (3.0) (Y) Knowledge Representation I

This seminar provides a forum for study and discussion of materials in the history, theory, and conceptual understanding of classification systems.  Topics include logic, philosophy of language, visual representation, bibliographic methods, information design, visual and textual models of epistemology, aesthetics and metaphysics of form.


MDST 832 –  (3.0) (Y) Knowledge Representation II

Prerequisite: MDST 831

Seminar with continued discussion and examination of materials in the history, theory, and conceptual understanding of classification systems.               


MDST 897 –  (1.0 – 12.0) (Y) Non-Topical Research Thesis Project I

This course is intended for students working on a Master’s thesis project.  Students are supervised by faculty in tutorial, with occasional group discussion and analysis.


MDST 898 –  (1.0 – 12.0) (Y) Non-Topical Research

Co-requisite: MDST 897

Each student will draft a paper analyzing the implications, problems, successes, and issues that arise from their research projects. This is meant to be an opportunity to reflect self-consciously upon some aspect of epistemological inquiry that arises from the project work. Students will be required to give a public presentation of their thesis during the final semester.



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This page was created on 10 August 2002.