Christopher Sims Named to Lead Center for Documentary Studies

Christopher Sims, new director for Center of Documentary Studies

“Chris Sims will be an outstanding leader of the Center for Documentary Studies,” said Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies Edward Balleisen, who has been fulfilling the responsibilities of the center director during the 2023-24 academic year. “He is a superb and versatile documentarian, an innovative scholar and a gifted teacher who has made a huge difference to Duke students for many years. I’m confident that under Chris’s direction, CDS will continue to foster excellence in documentary scholarship and community engagement.”

Born in Michigan and raised in Atlanta, Sims received his undergraduate degree in history from Duke. He went on to earn a master’s degree in visual communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an MFA in studio art from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

His work has been exhibited at SF Camerawork, Cambridge University, Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art and the North Carolina Museum of Art. His project on Guantánamo Bay was featured in The Washington Post, BBC World Service, Roll Call and Flavorwire.

For his 2021 book, The Pretend Villages, Sims documented the inhabitants and structures of imagined, fabricated Iraqi and Afghan villages on the training grounds of American military bases over a 15-year period. As a Reuben-Cooke Fellow, he is leading a project in collaboration with North Carolina poet laureate Jaki Shelton Green on experiences of race in Alamance County.

Recent courses include Capstone Seminar in Documentary Studies; Ethics and Equity in Media, Documentary and Technology; Documentary Photography in Berlin; and MFA Thesis Project Workshop.

Prior to teaching at Duke, Sims worked as a photo archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and in a communications role at a number of nonprofit organizations.

Sims will begin serving as director on July 1.

“I still remember the first time I set foot in the Center for Documentary Studies as an undergraduate – it opened up my world in new and profound ways,” Sims said. “This place means so much to me and to so many people – on campus, in North Carolina, and nationally. I feel fortunate to be entrusted with this leadership role at CDS and am eager to work with CDS faculty and staff and partner with other units across Duke.”

Duke’s senior leadership has been reviewing CDS’s organizational framework, informed by the work of a faculty review committee. The appointment of a faculty director is an important outcome of this process.

“I am grateful to Ed Balleisen for steering CDS through this transitional period, and to Chris Sims for his willingness to lead CDS into its next phase,” said Provost Alec Gallimore.

Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies teaches, produces and presents the documentary arts across a full range of media — photography, audio, film, writing, experimental and emerging media. Created in 1989 through an endowment from the Lyndhurst Foundation, CDS was the country’s first institution dedicated to documentary expression as a mode of inquiry and catalyst for social change. The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, a program of CDS, is one of the world’s premiere showcases for nonfiction cinema. See recent news and sign up for the mailing list.