18 November 2008

some "brutal-sublime" news, re-posted

[I originally posted this on November 17, then took it down to give Henry time to post his thoughts first, which he has now. Now I'm re-posting. Original comments have been deleted, and I've corrected one error. Please visit Henry's blog for more.]

I have some bittersweet news to report. Henry Jenkins, the co-director of Comparative Media Studies, is leaving MIT at the end of the year to be a Provost Professor at University of Southern California. CMS is freezing admissions for next year, and will in all likelihood end its graduate program. CMS may or may not be freezing its admission -- applicants are still encouraged to apply -- but the fate of the graduate program is up in the air.

Comparative Media Studies has been my life for more than a year now, and I cannot underestimate what it has meant to me as a student, as a scholar and as a human being. I've had the opportunity to work with and under some of the most incredible people -- William Uricchio, Kurt Fendt, Nick Montfort, David Thorburn, Ed Barrett, and of course Henry Jenkins, to name a few -- and I've been a part of a group of students who I consider to be the best and the brightest I've ever met, not to mention some of the most accepting, warm and fun people to be around. Everyone here has opened my eyes to universes of knowledge I didn't even know existed, and for that I can't thank them enough.

CMS is an experiment in radical interdisciplinarity and applied humanities. The basic idea is this: if you throw together a bunch of students and scholars thinking about media from all different angles -- historical, cultural, popular, from the viewpoint of industry and science and the humanities and production and art -- if you get all those people together and give them a welcoming place to do their work, awesomeness will occur. I think by any measure, CMS has succeeded. Students in my class are writing theses on comic books and television and video games; on global media flows and cultural production; on fake luxury goods and mixtape culture and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We have all been given the freedom to pursue projects that few other departments would support: for instance, one student is doing her thesis as a documentary, while mine will engage with some form of digital humanities. Despite the huge differences in our research, everyone in my class shares a common passion for understanding media not just through the lens of theory, but as always produced and embedded in particular cultures, and as always involving a set of social and practical negotiations. This is knowledge that will serve us no matter where we are next year, whether in academia or industry, and it's the best gift Henry and William could have given us.

I won't talk about on the bad stuff, because I'm so angry at MIT right now, so frustrated with its inability to support the humanities, that I might say something I'll regret. Instead, I'd just like to publicly state to Henry: I'm so proud to have been your student, and to be a part of the community you've built here. I'm a much better person for having known you -- in fact, your passion for learning, your patient guidance and your tireless dedication to your students has become my model for everything an educator should be. I only hope I can live up to the standard you've set once once I begin teaching. I wish you nothing but the very best in this incredible opportunity that awaits you at USC.

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