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Graduate Program

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The PhD program in History of Art at Cornell is renowned for its global scope and critical engagement with methodology. Small cohorts enable productive collaborations between students and faculty, while standardized funding packages promote a robustly democratic intellectual environment. In addition to conducting pathbreaking research, graduate students organize the Visual Culture Colloquium and gain valuable experience as teaching assistants; many also lead their own writing seminars. Our alumnae/i draw on their experiences at Cornell to re-shape the future of art history as practiced both in universities and museums, and among still broader publics beyond institutional walls.


Program of Study

The field of History of Art, Archaeology and Visual Studies offers a Ph.D. program in which an M.A. is granted at the successful completion of the admission to candidacy examination, or A-exam. We do not offer a terminal M.A.  The Ph.D. program is designed to take five years to complete and should take no more than seven years. 

The Director of Graduate Studies will initially act as the student's principal adviser. Students then form their own committees, which reflect their intellectual objectives. In the course of the first year of study, students select a committee chair, who may be any member of the field, but is usually a member of the History of Art department. By the end of the third semester students choose the remaining two members, who may be drawn from the graduate faculty at large, although we recommend that one additional member be from the department. This Special Committee system results in a flexible graduate education tailored to each individual student. Cornell faculty encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the student's selected major field.

All Ph.D. students must be proficient in at least two foreign languages that are directly related to the student's dissertation or crucial to the student's research (e.g., a majority of research is also written in this language). Proficiency in required languages is highly recommended prior to admission to the program and required before being allowed to take the Ph.D. candidacy qualification examination.  This is to ensure students' readiness to conduct dissertation research. Proficiency can be proven through coursework taken prior to admission and at Cornell. It can also be proven through a language test given by students' committee chairs and/or by a Cornell language instructor. 

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must take the A-exam during their third year. Special Committee members develop examination questions that reflect the student's areas of study. Following the written component of the test, students defend their responses in an oral examination. The B-exam is the oral defense of the completed dissertation. 

Ph.D. Program Specifics can be viewed here (pdf).

Field System

Fields rather than departments define graduate education at Cornell. Members of the Department of the History of Art may also serve in other fields as well as their own, such as Medieval Studies, Near Eastern Studies, or Classics.

Areas currently offered in the field of History of Art, Archaeology and Visual Studies include the following:

  • 19th century art
  • African; African American, and African Diaspora
  • American art
  • ancient art and archaeology
  • Asian American art
  • baroque art
  • comparative modernities
  • contemporary art
  • digital art
  • East Asian art
  • history of photography
  • Islamic art
  • Latin American art
  • medieval art
  • modern art
  • Native American and Indigenous studies
  • Renaissance art
  • South Asian art
  • Southeast Asian art
  • theory and criticism
  • visual studies

Students select their own committee members. The faculty member representing the major subject is the chair of the Special Committee. The Director of Graduate Studies will initially act as the student's principle adviser. By the end of the first year, the student should have selected all his/her committee members. This Special Committee system results in a flexible graduate education tailored to each individual student. Cornell faculty encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the student's selected major field.

Concentration in Archaeology

A graduate student in the field of History of Art, Archaeology and Visual Studies may concentrate on archaeology with appropriate field members. Presently we emphasize archaeology in the following areas: Ancient, Near Eastern, Classical and Southeast Asian art. Students working in these areas are encouraged to organize their programs with faculty members in other related fields, such as Anthropology, Classics, and Medieval Studies.

Doctoral students admitted to the department of History of Art, may become members of the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies (CIAMS) by completing two courses and requesting membership with CIAMS.

The History of Art, Archaeology and Visual Studies field is a partner in the Cornell-Harvard Sardis Excavations. Qualified graduate students are eligible to participate in annual excavations. 


All graduate students in the Field of History of Art are admitted with five years of guaranteed support, including tuition, health insurance, as well as an annual stipend, and summer stipend after the first through fourth years. 

Two years of this support (ordinarily the first and the fifth) take the form of fellowships provided by the Graduate School. The other three years are derived from teaching assistantships.

One option of teaching assistantship for advanced graduate students includes the opportunity to teach their own course on topic of their own choosing in Cornell's First-Year Writing Seminar Program. First-year writing seminars enroll a maximum of 18 students and emphasize the development of writing skills within the context of discipline-specific subject matter. Graduate students often find teaching first-year writing seminars especially rewarding.

Citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. needing additional language training can apply for Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS).  FLAS fellowships assist students in pursuing advanced training to acquire a high level of competence in one or more languages that are critical to national needs of the United States and to gain a fuller understanding of the areas, regions, or countries in which those languages are commonly used. FLAS fellowships are administered by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and provide full stipend and tuition.

Application Procedures

Complete the application online at no later than January 15. Applications are evaluated in February and March, and applicants are usually notified of their status no later than April 1. Applicants should already have begun to study the language or languages appropriate to their intended program; only after demonstrating reading proficiency is a Ph.D. degree candidate eligible for the Admission to Candidacy examination. 

Additional Requirements:

In addition to all Graduate School requirements, including the TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants, the History of Art requires the following:

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • GRE general test
  • A writing sample (usually 20-25 pages in length)

Dissertations and Job Placements

Click here to access summaries of recent graduate dissertations.

Click here to browse job placements for recent graduate students.