About the Program
A Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Expression began in the fall of 2017 at the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture. The MFA is a two-year (30-hour) graduate program that combines coursework in Southern Studies and interdisciplinary fields with advanced training in photography, film, and audio production.
Coursework in cultural studies paired with advanced training in production will enable students to tell compelling and nuanced stories of a complicated region and world.
The MFA program requires students to already have an MA degree in the humanities, social science, or journalism. The class entering in 2017 includes students from a range of backgrounds, with MA degrees in Southern Studies, journalism, anthropology, and language study.
The Center for the Study of Southern Culture has a long history of engaging in documentary work, beginning with the Center’s founding in the 1970s by documentarian William Ferris, who explored southern culture through film and photography. Today, many of the Center’s interdisciplinary faculty use documentary methods in their own research and teaching, and undergraduate and graduate students have produced photography and a number of films and oral histories.
Faculty and staff at the Southern Documentary Project and the Southern Foodways Alliance play a major role in instructing and mentoring students in the MFA program.
For examples of the Center’s work, see the multimedia documentary website Mississippi Stories at mississippistories.org, the films of the Southern Documentary Project, and the films, podcasts and oral history work of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
A completed application includes the following:
- completed electronic application through the UM Graduate School;
- transcripts from all previous institutions attended, sent directly from the institution to the UM Graduate School;
- GRE scores;
- two letters of recommendation;
- a writing sample and a sample of any previous documentary work the applicant would like to share with the admissions committee;
- and a 500-word statement of purpose that articulates why joining the program is the next best step for the applicant.
The MFA Curriculum
The MFA requires 30 hours of coursework: 15 hours of content-based classes and 15 hours of thesis credit. (Note: students who enter the program with an MA in Southern Studies from UM complete only 9 hours of additional content-based courses because they may apply 6 hours of their earlier degree to this one. They may not repeat classes taken for credit while earning the MA.) MFA students must complete the following classes: SST 601, 533 (Fieldwork & Oral History), and either 534 (Documentary Photography) or 537 (Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking).
Students may begin taking thesis hours upon arrival, provided that the Admissions Committee finds their project idea to be sufficiently developed. MFA students complete a written prospectus (12-15 pages, plus bibliography) and have it approved by their three-person supervisory committee by the end of their second semester in the program. Final projects may take the form of still photography, film, oral history, audio recordings, or some combination thereof, plus a written component, approximately 50-75 pages in length, that both addresses the writer’s process and situates his or her project within relevant scholarly discourse. As with the MA, students pass an oral defense in order to complete the degree.
Classes available to MFA in Documentary Expression would include
SST 533. Studies in Documentary Fieldwork
SST 534. Documentary Photography
SST 535. Anthropological Film (pending approval)
SST 537. Documenting the South in Film
SST 538. Advanced Documentary Film in the South
SST 555. Foodways and Southern Culture
SST 560. Oral History of Southern Social Movements (pending approval)
SST 598. Special Topics
SST 601. Graduate Seminar I
SST 602. Graduate Seminar II
SST 605. Advanced Individual Study (6 hours maximum)
SST 611. Regionalism
SST 612. Globalization and the U.S. South
SST 697. Thesis.