Graduate Program


The Ph.D. program in the Field of the History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies 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 participate in organizing the Visual Culture Colloquium and gain valuable experience as teaching assistants; many also lead their own writing seminars. Our alumni draw on their experiences at Cornell to re-shape the art history as practiced both in universities and museums, and among still broader publics beyond institutional walls.

Ph.D. Program Guidelines and Requirements

Program of Study

Cornell’s graduate program is unique in two ways: the Field system and Committee system. The Graduate School at Cornell oversees all academic fields and determines basic requirements. The DGS (Director of Graduate Studies) is the interface between the field and students and works closely with the department.

At Cornell, students select a Special Committee of three members and work with them to reflect their own intellectual objectives. The Director of Graduate Studies will initially act as the student's principal advisor. In the first year, students select the committee chair, a member of the Department of  History of Art . 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 flexible Special Committee system is tailored to each individual student's needs. Cornell faculty encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the student's selected major field.

Requirements in the Field of History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies include the Graduate Methods Seminar, proficiency in two foreign languages, and a minimum number of courses. We encourage applicants to begin language study prior to admission to the program. There are no distribution requirements or a core curriculum, in order to  best suit the academic goals of each student.

Students take coursework in their first three years, and from the second year they also serve as a Teaching Assistants.  Before the start of their fourth year, or seventh semester, students must have successfully completed the A-exam (Admission to Candidacy). The format and questions of the A-examination are determined by the members of the Special Committee.  After passing the A-exam, students receive the MA degree.  (We do not offer a terminal Master's degree, however.)  Dissertation research and writing occupies the next two years, culminating in the B-exam (oral defense of the completed dissertation).

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

Concentration in Archaeology

Graduate students in the Field of History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies may concentrate on archaeology with appropriate field members. Currently 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, and the Southeast Asia Program.

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, Archaeology, and Visual Studies are admitted with five years of guaranteed support, including tuition, health insurance, and an annual stipend, in addition to a summer stipend for the first four summers.

Two years of this support (ordinarily the first and the fifth) take the form of a fellowship provided by the Graduate School. Funding for the other three years is in the form of Teaching Assistantships.

Teaching Assistantships include assisting with an undergraduate course, in some cases teaching discussion sections.  Advanced students are offered the opportinity to teach a freshman seminar under the auspices of Cornell's First-Year Writing Seminar Program. This is a course designed and taught by the student in their field of interest, with a focus on developing writing skills within the discipline of art history/ visual studies. This unique teaching opportunity at Cornell enables advanced Ph.D. students to design and teach as independent scholars -- essential experience for their future job searches.

Other sources of student funding include research travel and conference funding from the Graduate School, area studies programs, and the department. The department offers two grants for professional development, Goldring Grant (download accessible PDF application form) and Conference Travel Grant (download accessible PDF application form). The application deadlines are October 15 (Fall) and April 15 (Spring). Individual awards are usually no more than $1500. Preference is given to applicants who have not previously received a department grant

Funding for foreign language study can come from the Graduate School (for summer) and the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS) from the Einaudi Center, which also supports dissertation research travel.  See Other programs at Cornell may also assist with research and travel funds. Students’ committee members will advise on these possibilities.  Students in our program are required to apply for outside fellowships for dissertation research. In recent years our students have been extremely successful with their applications to Fulbright, Metropolitan Museum, Smithsonian Museum, and AAUW (American Association of University Women), among others.

Application Procedures

Complete the application online at no later than December 10. Applications are evaluated January - March, and applicants are usually notified of their status no later than April 1. We offer only a Ph.D., not a terminal Masters degree, except under exceptional circumstances.  A BA or MA in the History of Art, Archaeology, or Visual Studies is desirable but not required. We do not require GRE scores.

Additional Requirements:

In addition to all Graduate School requirements, including the TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants (institutional code # 2098), or IELTS, History of Art requires the following:

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

Click here for standing exemptions from the English Language proficiency test (TOEFL iBT or IELTS)

Dissertations of Recent Graduates

Click here to access summaries of recent graduate dissertations.