Master of Arts in Visual Anthropology

We start reviewing applications in November each year and accept the first group of students in January.  We have a rolling admissions process and continue to accept applications into April but our program is competitive, so it is best to be considered in the first rounds.

In 2009, the Center for Visual Anthropology (CVA) at the University of Southern California launched a new one-year MA in Visual Anthropology (MVA). Continuing a 30-year tradition of ethnographic documentary production, with over 100 documentaries produced by students and over 25 by faculty, the program updates its format for the digital age.

The MVA program is open to college graduates who have a background in anthropology, social science, cultural studies, film studies, documentary production, or cross-cultural visual studies, and to USC undergraduates.

We provide a scholarly environment for the study and practice of anthropological media, hands-on training in ethnographic documentary production techniques (camera, sound, editing), as well as the opportunity for group projects and peer critique.

MVA program and application requirements are detailed below.

MVA Program Requirements

  • Completion of 28 units over two semesters
  • Completion of a 20- to 30-minute ethnographic documentary project
  • The program demands a full-time, 12-month commitment as students spend the summer following spring coursework completing their media projects.
  • Students can check out camera and audio equipment for use on their projects, and use editing labs and software, but must buy their own digital storage drives.

MVA Coursework

Fall semester

  • Seminar in Ethnographic Film (ANTH 575, 4 units)
  • The Practice of Ethnography (ANTH 562, 4 units)
  • Anthropological Media Seminar (ANTH 576L, 4 units)
    Hands-on workshop in video production fundamentals and their application to a broad conception of ethnographic and documentary approaches
  • Media Production Lab (IML, 2 units)
    Taught in the digital media lab of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, USC School of Cinematic Arts

Spring semester

  • Contemporary Theory in Anthropology (ANTH 502, 4 units)
  • Advanced Anthropological Media Seminar (ANTH 577L, 4 units)
    Hands on workshop in video editing and post-production
  • Media Production Lab (IML, 2 units)
    Taught in the digital media lab of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, USC School of Cinematic Arts
  • One elective (4 units) chosen from graduate courses in Anthropology, Visual Studies, or another approved graduate course (see USC Schedule of Classes)

MVA Visual Media Project

In addition to the required coursework, candidates for the MVA must complete an ethnographic media project, typically a 20- 30-minute documentary video. Students are expected to complete their media projects during the summer following the successful completion of spring coursework. The final media project must be submitted in mid-August.

What You Need to Apply

  • The GREs ( are required for admission to any graduate program at USC.
  • One-page statement of purpose detailing your own background and experiences, and your interest in visual anthropology
  • A two-page, single-spaced proposal for an ethnographic documentary project that can be completed within the span of the one-year program
    • Proposals should describe your topic and research questions, and provide some detail about how you plan to research, shoot, edit, and frame your documentary.
    • Proposals may involve overseas fieldwork and filming, which can be done during winter and summer breaks, but we expect most will be for projects that can be undertaken locally in the Los Angeles area.
    • Some students enter the program with footage they already have, then edit and combine it with new materials for their project.
    • This proposal should be uploaded as “supporting document #1” in the online application form.
  • Two letters of recommendation (submitted through the online application form)
  • You may submit copies of earlier visual work by postal mail, but it is not required.
    • These should be sent to the USC Department of Anthropology mailing address,
      Attention: Graduate Program Advisor

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis from November through April each year.

How to Apply

  • Department of Anthropology
  • University of Southern California
  • 3620 South Vermont Ave.,Suite 352
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-2537