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 participate in organizing 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.

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. In the History of Art and Visual Studies, field and department overlap more than in some other fields. The DGS (Director of Graduate Study) is the interface between the field and students and works closely with the department as well.

At Cornell, students select a Special Committee of three members and work with the committee members to tailor their own program, reflecting their intellectual objectives. In the first year, students select a committee chair, who must be 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 also encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the student's selected major field.

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

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

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, 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. The funding of 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. Select advanced students are offered the possibility of teaching a freshman seminar under the auspices of Cornell's First-Year Writing Seminar Program. This is a course designed by the student in their field of interest, with a focus on developing writing skills within the discipline of art history/ visual studies. This is special opportunity at Cornell, which graduate students often find especially rewarding and useful preparation for future jobs.

Other sources of student funding include some research travel and conference funding from the Graduate School 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 1st (Fall) and April 15 (Spring).

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

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. We offer only a Ph.D., not a terminal Masters degree, except under exceptional circumstances.  A BA or MA in the History of Art or Visual Studies is desirable but not required. We encourage applicants to begin language study before admission to the program. 

Additional Requirements:

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

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

Dissertations of Recent Graduates

Click here to access summaries of recent graduate dissertations.

Jobs Grants and Fellowships

Click here to view job placements for recent graduate students.

Click here to view department receipients of academic grants and fellowships.