Computational Media, Arts & Cultures Graduate Programs at Duke University

Computational Media, Arts & Cultures

MA Thesis Guidelines

Criteria for MA Thesis, Digital Art History/Computational Media (Computational Media Track) updated Spring 2018

Abstract Guidelines

The MA thesis consists of two parts, an essay and a digital project.  The essay should be approximately 50 pages, depending on the topic, and must establish:

  1.  the scholarly question
  2. the historiography of the topic
  3. and the goals and purposes of the digital contribution, with a particular focus on how the digital intervention contributes to or changes the character of the research question.  

 A thesis must be fully and carefully annotated and include a substantial bibliography. Each essay must have an introduction, analysis, and conclusion.

The thesis must also include documentation of the computational media component of the thesis, as well as the digital project itself. Together these form a final portfolio to be submitted at the conclusion of the program. As the culmination of their work, students are also expected to present their final projects formally to the Computational Media Faculty and the public. 

A thesis must consist of a study of some aspect of material or visual culture based on library and (where relevant) field research, and must have a substantial computational media practice component.  It is not simply a description, but rather an analysis and interpretation that seeks to focus the digital contribution towards a research question that can have a public-facing component.  Depending on whether the student is in the Digital Art History or the Computational Media track, the emphasis will differ, but all students are expected to include both subject-area research with digital production. The computational media project should help make an argument or explore a concept more effectively than a stand alone written essay. Students may choose to use any combination of the digital tools listed at the end of this document, or additional tools with the approval of the Thesis Committee members.

Objective:  The thesis is an independent scholarly contribution that demonstrates the utility of computational media technologies for a historical, cultural, artistic, or social question. For Computational Media students, this may include topics interrogating the medium itself.  In all cases, the student must demonstrate an ability to gather, analyze, and interpret research data using the specialized literature in the particular field of study and theoretical perspectives that are current in the research area.  

Criteria for assessment:

  • Clear statement of the research question and goals of the project
  • Form, quality and depth of the written documentation, presentation and intellectual argument
  • Form and quality of the digital component; success and clarity in relation to the stated goals of the project (for example: public outreach; mapping or modeling a research question)
  • Analysis and conclusions
  • Clear and articulate description of the research methodology
  • Demonstration of competence in the discipline

Format of the project:

   The essay must conform to the criteria of the Graduate School (see and have been submitted within the designated time frame for a degree to be awarded in December or May. Consult the Graduate School Deadlines for more information.

The digital component must be included with the thesis on a cd.

Timeline for Students Entering Fall 2016:

Year 2: Spring Semester Graduation

  • January 25, 2018: Apply for Graduation. Required to graduate.
  • February 1, 2018: Full draft of thesis submitted to advisor.
  • March 1, 2018: Revised thesis draft submitted to advisor and committee. Should be formatted according to Graduate School Guidelines.
  • Friday, March 16, 2018: Formatted Thesis Submission to Graduate School. We encourage you to start this process earlier in the week.
  • April 2, 2018: Last day for defense (must be 14 days after submission of thesis draft)
  • April 16, 2018: Final thesis submitted. This should include documentation of the digital project and any relevant links.
  • April/May 2018: Public Presentation of Thesis Project at the Rendez-Vous

Timeline for Students Entering Fall 2017:

Year 1: Fall Semester

  • October/November, 2017: Initial thesis discussions
  • December 2017 (end of term): Initial thesis presentation and proposal in Proseminar

Year 1: Spring Semester

  • January 2018: Revised and expanded ideas and discussions w/ proposed advisor and committee members
  • February 12, 2018: Draft Thesis Proposal with Bibliography and Timeline due to DGS and Primary Advisor for review and revision. See the Guidelines for the Thesis Proposal.
  • April 1, 2018 (extended from March 19, 2018): Formal Thesis Project Proposal due with a presentation to the Thesis Committee scheduled soon after Spring Break. This document must clearly state the research goals, the digital tools to be used, and and include a project outline, timeline, and bibliography.  Within the proposal, students should also provide  a preliminary environmental scan of similar or analogous sample projects, and must demonstrate that they are prepared to do the project in technical, conceptual, and content-area terms. The proposal should identify the full complement of committee members and advisors, and contain specific dates for completion and review of each deliverable.This proposal must be finalized, revised if necessary, and approved by the Advisor, Committee, and DGS in order for the student to continue in the program.  At that point, the committee will meet with the candidate and establish the plan for the summer research, the digital component, goals for the project, and a schedule of work until final submission.

Year 1: Summer 2018

  • Summer Research.

Year 2: Fall 2018

See the Graduate School Deadlines for specific date info for 2019, when available: (Grad School website)

Fall Graduation

  • October 1, 2018: Full draft of thesis submitted to advisor
  • Mid-October (was October 15, 2017): Last day to apply for Fall Graduation
  • November 1: revised thesis submitted to advisor
  • Early November 2018 (was Nov 6, 2017): Formatted thesis submission deadline
  • Mid November 2018 (was November 20, 2017): Last date for defense (must be 14 days after submission of thesis draft)
  • Early December 2018 (was December 4, 2017) Last date to submit thesis

Spring Graduation

  • Late January, 2019 (was January 25, 2018): Apply for Graduation
  • February 1, 2019: Full draft of thesis submitted to advisor
  • March 1, 2019: revised thesis draft submitted to advisor and committee
  • March 2019 (was March 16, 2018): Formatted thesis submission
  • Early April 2019 (was April 2, 2018): Last day for defense (must be 14 days after submission of thesis draft)
  • Mid April 2019 (was April 16, 2018): Final thesis submitted. This should include documentation of the digital project and any relevant links.
  • April/May 2019: Public Presentation of Thesis Project at the Rendez-Vous

More about The Thesis Project Proposal



Tools Summary for the MA – Competencies and Specializations

Core Topics/Competencies:

  1. Content Management Systems / Blogging (WordPress)
  2. Digital Collections (Omeka/Neatline)
  3. Basic Digital Mapping 
  4. Basic Data Management and Visualization (Tableau, D3, web applications such as Palladio)
  5. Video Production (iMovie)
  6. Image Manipulation (Photoshop)
  7. 3D Modeling (Sketchup)
  8. 3D Acquisition (Photogrammetry, Laser Scanning)
  9. Basic HTML and general code literacy

Specialized Topics:

  1. Advanced HTML/CSS/JavaScript/JQuery/Frameworks
  2. Database design and implementation
  3. Virtual and Augmented Reality and Mobile Apps
  4. Advanced topics in Historical and Humanities GIS
  5. Physical Computing/Sensors
  6. Advanced Audio/Video production
  7. Text Analysis/Data Mining
  8. Others on on approval of the Thesis Committee

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