Stanton E.F. Wortham

Judy & Howard Berkowitz Professor
Faculty Director, Penn Online Learning Initiative

Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania

Phone: 215-898-6307 || Fax: 215-898-4399


Documentary, Ethnography, and Research: Communicating Scholarship through Film

This course considers filmmaking/videography as a medium for presenting academic research to scholarly and non-scholarly audiences. The two-semester course is driven by a few guiding questions/concerns:

  • What can film/video bring to the qualitatively observational social sciences?
  • What problems arise from the deployment of such technologies as mechanisms for seeing/representing socio-cultural data? Where do historically established and prevailing norms and practices of filmmaking and cinematic communication converge and diverge from the needs of academic presentation?
  • What are some of the more and less compelling ways of incorporating film/video work into qualitative research?
  • Can we use film as a medium to represent truly academic research of the sort communicated in the best books and journal articles?
  • Could we produce “visual archives” in the social sciences that would allow ethnographic/scholarly representations produced in film/video to occupy (without anxiety) a place alongside books and journal articles as valuable vehicles for the demonstration and dissemination of social scientific research?
  • What would/could a film- or video-based academic dissertation look like?

The course includes an intensive filmmaking component, and thus it meets twice a week. One weekly session will be devoted to rigorous training in digital filmmaking technique, technology and production. Students will be responsible for completing their own films or video projects (as individuals or small groups) over the course of the academic year. Along the way, students will also complete a series of training projects to improve their filmmaking skills and knowledge. By the end of the course, students must produce and deliver a completed final project in order to receive a final grade.

The course will also be linked to a year-long speaker series, “Screening Scholarship,” which will provide students with ongoing access to different kinds of non-fiction filmmakers from across the academy and beyond.

Download a syllabus.