Amherst Magazine

Not Just Theory

By Emily Gold Boutilier

In November, a long-gestating idea became a reality when the faculty approved a new major in film and media studies. In January, film and media scholar Amelie Hastie joined the faculty as associate professor of English and chair of the new program, which expects to enroll its first majors next fall.

To a greater extent than most film studies majors, including the Five College Film Studies program, the Amherst major will combine the theoretical—the study of films and other media (both analog and digital)—with the creative—the making of them. Re­quirements will include three core courses, each team-taught by a critical-studies scholar and a moving-image artist, that integrate theory and practice. Professors from a range of departments—theater and dance and English, to name two—will teach courses in the major.

Majors will also take a senior seminar and a series of electives, including courses in other disciplines. For example, a junior who wants to write soundtracks would likely enroll in music courses, and a senior making a documentary on, say, the politicization of water in developing countries might take courses in sociology, anthropology and economics. “The idea is to put students in the driver’s seat,” says Professor of German Christian Rogowski, part of the committee that pushed for the new major.

Like many others at Amherst, Ro­gowski has taught film studies within his own department for more than a decade. The English faculty—including Professor Andrew Parker, who did much of the legwork in developing the new major—has long offered film studies courses.

Hastie, who arrived at Amherst from the University of California, Santa Cruz, does research on how the histories of film and television have been written. She authored the 2007 book Cupboards of Curiosity: Women, Recollection and Film History, which looks at the dollhouses, scrapbooks, memoirs, cookbooks and ephemera of women who worked on
silent films. She’s studied everything from ticket stubs to movie-theater snacking habits. This spring, while she works with colleagues to finalize the film and media studies curriculum, she’s teaching two courses in the English department, “Cinephilia” and “Cinema in Everyday Life.”