MA in Computational Media

CMAC ghost project

The Computational Media track of the Master of Arts degree in Digital Art History/Computational Media is designed for graduate students focused on the study, creation, and use of digital media and computation in the arts and humanities. It is offered by the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies in partnership with the Information Science + Studies Program.

Computational Media explores research and presentation strategies enabled by the information sciences, new approaches to computational processes, and new forms of interpreting quantitative and qualitative data.  The goals of the program are for students to understand the critical affordances and potential of digital media, to develop competencies in data-driven and computational approaches to knowledge production, and to develop a hybrid theory-practice MA thesis that demonstrates their expertise in action around a particular subject.

Digital research and production methods undertaken in the program may include:

  • data driven analysis and visualization
  • interactive/relational database design and search methodologies
  • interactive publishing  and storytelling techniques
  • generative forms of text, visuals and music production
  • virtual and augmented reality systems and games
  • complex systems analysis
  • new approaches to interface exploration and design
  • physical computing and interactive systems development    

The program’s skills-centered instruction, combined with the requirement for lab affiliation and collaborative research and the emphasis on theoretical analysis, will produce graduates who not only have hands-on know-how and technical skills but who have developed a sophisticated understanding of informational globalization and our rapidly changing world.

Application Procedure

To apply, prospective students must submit an online application through the Duke University Graduate School. Applications must include a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, as well as transcripts. For the 2023 application cycle, scores from the GRE General exam are optional. International applicants must submit English language proficiency test scores if English is not their first language.

The statement of purpose should convey an applicant’s interests in our program and their reasons for wanting to pursue master’s level graduate study in computational media.  The personal statement can and should be written from a first-person perspective, highlighting the applicant’s strengths and relevant background/experience.

The writing sample is intended to convey a sense of the applicant’s capacity for scholarly writing. Generally applicants submit a paper that they may have written for an undergraduate course, 10-20 pages.  In the case of longer written materials, applicants submit a sample of 10-20 pages, with a paragraph explaining how the selection fits within the longer work.  The topics vary depending on the academic background of the applicant, but ideally they relate in some way to -- and reflect the student’s  interest and prior training in -- computational media.

More information on application requirements can be found at the Graduate School’s Online Application FAQ.

Please note that Duke University does not provide financial support for master’s-level graduate study, but applicants are urged to compete for national and foundation awards or seek student loans. Questions about financial aid should be directed to the Graduate School’s financial aid coordinator. In addition, many MA students take on teaching and research assistant positions, or other jobs on campus, after they arrive. Limited funds to support thesis-related research may also be available.

Program Sequence

The sequence for the Computational Media track of the MA in Digital Art History/Computational Media is three semesters plus a summer, and starts in the Fall term. Students begin the program by taking the theory/practice Proseminar, and at least one other designated media production/computational practice course, along with additional seminars and electives that fit their thesis project themes. Up to 6 graded credits can be advanced undergraduate course credits of Level 200-499, typically from the Sciences or Social Sciences curriculum to acquire the necessary competencies in areas such as Computer Science and Statistics.

Typical Program of Study

Year 1 Fall Year 1 Spring Year 1 Summer Year 2 Fall
MA Proseminar
Grad Seminar 1
Practice Course
Practicum Experience 1
MA Proseminar 2
Grad Seminar 2
Practicum Experience 2
Summer Research and Training Thesis Credit 1
Thesis Credit 2
Final Thesis Exhibition
MA Proseminar

The first semester MA Proseminar is a course required for both tracks of the MA in Digital Art History/Computational Media. The course focuses on theories and practices of digital humanities and computational media studies as they relate to historical and cultural analysis and research. The course typically also includes interested graduate students from around campus as well.

Practice Course

Students in this MA track may take existing AAHVS and ISS courses in Digital Humanities Practice, Historical and Cultural Visualization, Interface Design, and/or Computational Media, along with subject-area and technical electives relevant to their research topics, to fulfill this requirement. This might also include a relevant undergraduate course, by permission.

Core Seminars

Core seminars are relevant seminars taught by faculty in AAHVS. Students are expected to participate in at least two graduate seminars with AAHVS faculty as part of their graduate experience. Often but not always these will be seminars taught by faculty Lab directors. See also Sample Courses and the current Art, Art History and Visual Studies course listings.

Subject Area Electives

Subject area electives will vary based on the thesis interests of the students involved.  These may include a wide variety of topics inside and outside AAHVS. Often courses listed or cross-listed in Information Science + Studies will be relevant. Students will select these courses in consultation with their Faculty Advisor(s).

Lab Practicum Courses

The Lab Practicum experience is typically undertaken in a single Lab both semesters, though exceptions may occur. The Lab Director is either the thesis director or a core committee member, depending on the final research topic. A complete list of labs is available here

Students will also be expected to participate in relevant workshops offered by the various Labs and in the Libraries as recommended by their advisors. Technical areas explored in each lab may include:

Duke Art, Law and Markets (DALMI) Lab Database Design, Visual and Quantitative Data Analysis
Digital Archeology (Dig@Lab) 3D Modeling, Virtual Reality, Interactive Exhibitions
Emergence Lab Generative Art and Music, Interface Design, Haptics, Installation Art; Digital Architecture
IS+S Lab Web Design, Mobile Applications, Augmented Reality, Virtual Worlds; 3D Printing
S-1 Lab Biosensors, Physical Computing, Speculative Interaction Design
Visualization and Interactive Systems Lab Data Mining, Network Analysis, Game Development
Wired! Lab for Digital Art History and Visual Culture 3D modeling, Photogrammetry, Digital Mapping, Museum Exhibitions
Digital Humanities Initiative (FHI and Libraries) Digital Publishing, Digital Archives, Text Analysis, Historical GIS, Social Media, Data Visualization
XR Studio Collaborative Workspace for CMAC, ISS, and Wired!
Summer Research

Students are expected to participate in independent summer research on their projects in pursuit of their degrees. In addition, summers can be an excellent time to develop technical skills further, as well as to participate in project-based internships and training on campus or in the community.


The hybrid thesis is completed in the third semester, with research taking place over the summer preceding graduation.The thesis work will take place via two independent studies with appropriate faculty members— one theory-oriented class where a written thesis will be developed; and one practice-based class where a digital humanities and or media art oriented project will be developed with the Lab leader. The thesis committee should also include one additional member selected from inside or outside AAHVS, on approval.

The program typically culminates in a Thesis Exhibition/Presentation at the end of the Third Semester. In special cases, students may petition to complete their degrees either at the end of the summer, or after a fourth semester, for which they will be required to pay continuation fees.

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