Film and Visual Studies

Film and Visual Studies Secondary Field

Secondary PhD Field in Film and Visual Studies

This opportunity is open to any student enrolled in a Ph.D. program in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences upon approval of a plan of study by the Committee on Film and Visual Studies as well as by the student's home department.

As further described below, the secondary field consists of two required proseminars offered by the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, two additional graduate courses in film and visual studies, and a common exam or equivalent demonstration of mastery approved and supervised by the Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Visual Studies and the student's home department.

The secondary field in Film and Visual Studies has the following objectives:

  1. To provide strong and rigorous training in film and visual studies that offers a blend of theoretical, analytical, and historical coverage while drawing on the unique interdisciplinary strengths of FAS course offerings, the Harvard Film Archive's vast holdings of films and documents, and the rich resources of Harvard's museums, galleries, and libraries.
  2. To cultivate perspectives that are particularly attentive to film's place within larger histories and its connections to both traditional and emerging arts, disciplines, and fields of endeavor.
  3. To provide a core set of advanced research skills in the history and theory of film that reflects the increasing concern with visuality and the visual arts in a broad range of FAS departments and schools of graduate study including, among others, African and African-American Studies, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, English and American Literature and Language, Germanic Languages and Literatures, History, History of Art and Architecture, History of Science, Philosophy, Romance Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Sociology, as well as the Graduate School of Design.
  4. To develop an advanced research program that benefits from the creative context of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and its ongoing conversation among artists, critics, curators, historians, and theorists of the arts and of film, video, and performance.

The study of film at Harvard has long been conceived as the multi-disciplinary examination of visual experience. From Paul Sachs's incorporation of film into the academic and curatorial focus of the fine arts at Harvard to Rudolf Arnheim's consideration of the medium in his investigations of visual thinking, and from Hugo Münsterberg's forays into the psychological reception of moving images to Stanley Cavell's groundbreaking philosophical approach to the medium, Harvard maintains a long tradition of engaging cinema through the cultural, visual, spatial, and philosophical questions it raises.

In recognition of film's centrality to contemporary visual culture, the graduate program in Film and Visual Studies seeks to transcend an approach to film solely fixated on the workings of a single medium and its history. Interdisciplinary in its impetus, the program draws on and consolidates course offerings in VES and in other departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Broadly influenced by the unique cultural context of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, the program fosters an awareness of the interactions between the making of and thinking about film and video; between studio art, performance, and visual culture; and between different arts and pursuits whose objects are aural-visual entities. The Carpenter Center also supports a lively research culture, including the Seminar on Film History/Theory and a Film Workshop for advanced doctoral students, as well as lecture series and exhibitions featuring distinguished artists, filmmakers, and scholars.

Graduate students may also take advantage of the significant resources of the Harvard Film Archive. For more than 25 years, the Harvard Film Archive has been a vital resource for advanced research in film through the development of a vast collection of 16mm and 35mm film prints, as well as rare video materials and vintage film posters and promotional materials. The purpose of the archive is to further artistic and academic appreciation of cinema and moving image media within Harvard and the New England community by creating a setting where students and faculty have the opportunity to interact with filmmakers and artists. In early 2003, the HFA opened a new Conservation Center that allows the HFA conservator and staff to accession new films and to preserve its diverse collection of independent, international, and silent films. HFA also offers opportunities for student internships.

Students in Film and Visual Studies are also eligible to apply to the Harvard Film Study Center for fellowships, awarded annually to graduate students and faculty in support of original film, video, and photographic projects. Established in 1957, the Film Study Center provides production equipment, post-production facilities, technical support, and funding for non-fiction works that interpret the world through images and sounds.

Among the many important films to have been produced at the Film Study Center are John Marshall's The Hunters (1956); Robert Gardner's Forest of Bliss (1985); Susan Meiselas's, Alfred Guzzetti's, and Richard Rogers's Pictures from a Revolution (1991); Irene Lusztig's Reconstruction (2001); Robb Moss's The Same River Twice (2002); and, most recently, Ross McElwee's Bright Leaves (2003).

The graduate study of film and visual culture at Harvard is bolstered by a vibrant undergraduate concentration in Film Studies that offers many opportunities for teaching. Students interested in serving as teaching fellows should contact the Director for Undergraduate Studies in Film.


The following requirements must be met in order to have the secondary field officially recorded on the PhD student's transcript.


  • Completion of four graduate-level courses in Film and Visual Studies with honors grades of B+ or above.
  • Two of these courses are required and should be taken in the first year of study:
    • VES 270. Proseminar in Film and Visual Studies: History
    • VES 271. Proseminar in Film and Visual Studies: Theory
  • Two other courses must be selected from among graduate courses taught by faculty on the Committee on Film and Visual Studies. The Director of Graduate Studies will make a list of approved graduate seminars available at the beginning of each academic year.


Successful completion of an examination or alternative means of demonstrating mastery in the field of Film and Visual Studies is also required. The particular form of examination or alternative means of demonstrating mastery will be agreed upon by the Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Visual Studies and the Director of Graduate Studies in the student's home PhD department. This demonstration of mastery might be part of a departmental general or field examination, or it might be combined with departmental requirements in some other way. One or more members of the Committee on Film and Visual Studies will conduct and adjudicate the portion of the preliminary examination devoted to Film and Visual Studies, and the results will be reported to both directors of graduate studies.


Students interested in declaring a secondary field in Film and Visual Studies should consult with their Director of Graduate Studies as early as possible in their studies, and ordinarily no later than the end of the first term of graduate coursework. At this time, a plan of study should be prepared and submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies, to be approved by the Committee on Film and Visual Studies as well as the student's home department.

For More Information

Further information on Film and Visual Studies at Harvard may be obtained by contacting:

The Director of Graduate Studies
Department of Visual and Environmental Studies
Harvard University
24 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Faculty List

Eric Rentschler, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Chair of the Standing Committee on Film and Visual Studies

Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Professor of History of Art and Architecture and of Visual and Environmental Studies, Director of Graduate Studies for Film and Visual Studies

Giuliana Bruno, Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies

Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Professor of Visual Arts and Anthropology

Tom Conley, Abbot Lawrence Lowell Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies
and of Romance Languages and Literatures

Laura Frahm, Assistant Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies

Jie Li, Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations

Jeffrey Schnapp, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Affiliated Professor to the Department of Architecture

Amie Siegel, Associate Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies, On leave fall 2013

Justin Weir, Chair of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature

Alexander Zahlten, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations