About the program
The UM graduate program in Southern Studies offers an intense interdisciplinary curriculum for a Master of Arts degree touching on many facets of Southern life, history, and culture.
Reflecting the program’s interdisciplinary study of the South, students enroll in seminars on Southern history, literature, music, religion, and other topics; take independent study courses that enable them to work closely with faculty; and participate in documentary methods workshops, such as oral history, photography, and filmmaking. Some students pursue internships that provide supervised work experience in cultural institutions.
A completed application includes the following: *GRE waived for fall 2021 admissions due to COVID-19
- 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 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 MA Curriculum
One can pursue an MA in Southern Studies following one of three tracks described below: thesis, documentary, or internship. All students select courses from at least two academic disciplines with a maximum of twelve hours in any single discipline. If you have questions, please contact Jessie Wilkerson.
The thesis degree consists of a minimum of 30 total hours of coursework, including SST 601 and 602, 18 separate hours of content classes, and a minimum of six thesis hours (SST 697). Coursework incorporates at least three disciplines (one may be Southern Studies) and may include two Independent Studies (SST 605). A thesis is a presentation of original scholarship in the form of written work (80–120 pages), accompanied by a final oral defense. Students should think about the thesis early in their programs: using seminar papers to formulate a thesis project helps facilitate research and can contribute to timely completion of the master’s degree. View a list of thesis topics pursued by M.A. students over the years.
The documentary track is similar to the thesis track in that it requires SST 601 and 602, 18 hours of additional coursework including 533 (Fieldwork & Oral History), either 534 (Documentary Photography) or 537 (Introduction to Documentary Film-Making), and at least 6 hours of thesis. (NOTE: SST 533 is a prerequisite for both SST 534 and 537.) The student presents a final documentary project—using audio, still photography, film, or a combination thereof—along with an essay (50-60 pages) that chronicles the evolution of the student’s thinking regarding the documentary process and the development of his/her final project. Students on this track assemble a three-member committee to oversee their work, just as students on the thesis and internship tracks do.
This option requires a minimum of 36 hours of graduate coursework, which includes SST 601, 602, and 30 additional hours. The non-thesis option requires an internship for at least six credit hours (SST 603), an internship paper (40-50 pages), and a colloquium presentation growing out of the internship. A student interested in pursuing this track should make arrangements with a suitable institution to set up the internship. Faculty members may participate in this process, but it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to secure the position. Internships may not be completed as part of a student’s regular employment. An on-campus faculty member will advise the student and generally oversee the project. A representative of the sponsoring institution will supervise the intern on site. Students will hold the internship for the duration of an entire semester, working approximately 20 hours a week. Students on the internship track assemble a three-member committee just as students on the other two tracks do. View a list of internships completed by past students.
course description for grad-level courses
533 Fieldwork and Oral History: Analysis of fieldwork techniques and examination of the contemporary South through oral history.
534 Documentary Photography: An exploration of the contemporary South through documentary photography.
535 Anthropological Films: This course introduces students to visual and virtual anthropology, subfields that bridge the humanities and social sciences to document and analyze social interactions, human behavior, and cultural life through audiovisual arts and media production. Graduate work will emphasize study of the American South.
597, 598, 599 Special Topics: Interdisciplinary study of specialized topics in Southern culture. May be repeated once if the topic varies.
536 The Southern Environment: This course will look at the ways the Southern Environment has been discussed in scholarship, literature, film, music, art, and other ways that we uncover together. As part of a broader environmental history survey we will spend a good bit of time discussing place and space in the South. I expect you to reflect on your personal sense of place in classroom discussion, written assignments, and your class project. We will also put the Southern Environment into context by looking at comparative works.
537 Documenting the South in Film: (Prerequisite is SST 533) This combines the philosophy and ethical responsibilities of documentary work with the technical aspects of film making. The course incorporates reading assignments and films to establish a well-rounded foundation, while students will also be trained in shot composition, lighting, and audio for film.
538 Advanced Documentary Film: (Prerequisite is SST 537) This course is a one-semester production workshop building on skills learned in SST 537, Documenting the South in Film. Goals include developing advanced documentary practices and completing several assignments intended to illustrate these practices in documentary filmmaking.
555 Foodways and Southern Culture: This class explores questions about ownership and access; inclusion and exclusion; and what it means to grow, cook and eat in the 21st century South. Themes include: the region’s culinary history—considering the crucial importance of climate and both voluntary and involuntary migration for shaping southern food, the trenchant but evolving relationship between food and regional identity, labor in the southern food system, the various “imaginaries” that circulate around and through southern food, and the ways in which food can (and cannot) be understood as indicative of a changing South.
556 Cultural Heritage Tourism: A multidisciplinary seminar for students who wish to employ theoretical and practical approaches to examining the movements of heritage site tourists within Southern regional spaces. The class gives special attention to issues of power and politics.
560 Oral History of Southern Social Movements: In this course, you will learn the basics of oral history methodology in historical scholarship. Our focus will be on recent social movements in the South and how they have shaped society and individual lives. Students will become familiar with interdisciplinary scholarship on oral history and learn the historiography that intersects with their project. They will learn to design an oral history project, conduct and transcribe oral history interviews, interpret oral history evidence, assess that evidence in relationship to published and archival records, and use and contribute to a university archive or community history project. This process will demand and strengthen a wide range of skills: active listening, close reading, analytic thinking, self-awareness, and teamwork. Beyond that, it will ask you to develop responsible, respectful, and mutually productive relationships with people outside the campus and to conduct your work in such a way that it will be of value to other scholars and to the people who share their stories with you. Finally, students will work in teams to create a documentary project that will be exhibited late in the semester.
601 Graduate Seminar I: Multidisciplinary reading and research seminar in Southern Studies. Students will read and discuss a common core of readings while pursuing research in their individual areas of interest.
602 Graduate Seminar II: Reading, discussion, and research and writing course focused on exploring various perspectives on Southern society, its development and its institutions, social classes, and ethnic and racial groups. Outcome of this course is typically a thesis or internship proposal.
610 MFA Seminar: This course is an advanced survey of the innovations and shifts across the historical arc of documentary storytelling. Students examine how those shifts continue to redefine the medium and make room for new genres under the “documentary” umbrella. They will study the formal and theoretical evolutions of documentary through history, as well as an exploration of the media, materials, and technologies that informed those changes.
612 Globalization and the U.S. South: This is an interdisciplinary course about globalization in the American South with an emphasis on migration. We will be examining the global interconnections that link people and nations economically, politically, and culturally to understand how powerful global forces are shaping local realities and conditions in a variety of southern states. Additionally, we will look at the historical antecedents to the current phase of globalization to examine longer historical connections, similarities, and differences between past global exchanges and the most current forms. Each week’s readings will evoke a series of critical questions about place-specific politics, social experiences, and economic relationships in the global South.
633 MFA Fieldwork: This class exposes students to multiple forms of fieldwork (video, audio, and printed photography) and to practitioners of various kinds of documentary work, encouraging them to produce by semester’s end a project that utilizes skills in at least one of the approaches to which they have been exposed.
699 MFA Workshop: This class functions as a workshop in which students share documentary works in progress and receive feedback from their cohort and from faculty. Students present ongoing project at multiple points in the semester and reflect on both the content of their work and the process involved in its production.