Undergraduate Program

The Major

Grayscale art photograph

Overview and Learning Outcomes

Department majors acquire a broad understanding of the history of art in several chronological and geographical areas: Europe, (ancient, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, modern), Africa, North America and Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, China and Japan. Additionally, majors practice a range of art historical methods and interpretive strategies, Majors are encouraged to locate the history of art within allied humanities fields and the applied arts by taking courses in history, literature, history of architecture, and fine arts. The study of foreign languages is encouraged strongly.

minor in Visual Studies is another option for undergraduates interested in an interdisciplinary approach to art history.

Students will:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of the field of History of Art and Visual Studies and the various methodologies (visual and iconographical analysis, semiotics, social history, material science, ecocriticsm etc.) and theoretical models it deploys (critical theory, feminism, Marxism, materiality, cultural memory, postcolonialism, etc.)
  • Situate important (depending on the student’s area of interest) works of art, artists, artistic movements and practices within their historical and cultural context, and critically appraise that context within the broader framework of the artwork’s reception
  • Gain facility in researching primary sources, in navigating their repositories (e.g. museums or archives) and gain awareness of curatorial practices
  • Synthesize and evaluate arguments from secondary scholarship
  • Compose sustained, evidence-based, well-written papers articulating the student’s own arguments as informed by scholarly background reading and appropriate primary research material
  • Show awareness of the ethical implications of their own work within the academic community and its impact on society where appropriate


Fill in the major and college requirements forms; these can be obtained in the History of Art department office (GM08 Goldwin Smith Hall) or by emailing Dani Vander Horst, dmv43@cornell.edu. Attach a copy of your unofficial transcript; this can be obtained at your college registrar office.

Make an appointment to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Cohen-Aponte, by contacting Dani Vander Horst, phone: (607) 255-9861, dmv43@cornell.edu; bring the major and college requirements forms and transcript.


Major Requirements:

The major in the history of art requires completion of 10 courses, at least 6 of those must be at the 3000-level or above. For admission into the major, students are required to have completed the 1000-level gateway class,  ARTH 1100 - Art Histories: An Introduction, and to have received at least a grade of B. If declaring the major at the end of the sophomore year students who have not attended the gateway class will have to complete a 4000-level tutorial. Here too, the grade received must be at least a B. These courses count toward the 10 required courses. A grade of B- is required to receive credit toward the major for all other history of art courses. The major program requires at least one 2000-level introductory class, at least one 3000-level lecture class, VISST 2000 - Introduction to Visual Studies, ARTH 4101 - Proseminar, and two other seminars at the 4000-level or above.

Assessment for Majors:

As part of the department's plan for improving assessment at the undergraduate level, we will be implementing, beginning with those students who declare a History of Art Major during the 2011-2012 academic year, a two-step process of paper assessment.  The outcome will not generate a grade, but will serve to allow both students and instructors to more accurately gauge, at the sophomore level, areas of strength, as well as those in need of improvement, and, at the senior level, to assess and appreciate the improvements in skills of visual analysis and written expression of ideas attained by students.

Study Abroad / Transfer Credits:

A maximum of three courses can be counted toward the major. For credit, please refer to the department guidelines and application; these may be obtained in the History of Art departmental office.

Independent Study:

A maximum of four credits may be used to fulfill the 44 required credits. Independent study credits may not be used to satisfy seminar requirements.

The Minor

To Apply for the History of Art Minor:

Visit the front desk at the History of Art department (GM08 Goldwin Smith Hall), or click the link below, to request the minor form. Make an appointment to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Cohen-Aponte, aic42@cornell.edu, or the Undergraduate/Graduate Coordinator, Dani Vander Horst, dmv43@cornell.edu; bring the minor form and a copy of your transcript. You are encouraged to submit your application before you have completed all requirements.

Requirements for the History of Art Minor:

The minor in History of Art consists of no fewer than 5 History of Art courses, including: (1) five courses at the 2000 and 3000 levels, one of which must be at the 2000 level and two of which must be at the 3000 level or above. These five courses may also include a 4000 level seminar, depending on a student's individual focus. For admission into the minor, students must have earned a grade of B or higher in at least one History of Art course which will be applied to the minor, preferably at the 2000 level. Only courses in which students have earned a grade of B - or higher will be counted toward the minor. No more than two courses from the minor may be double-counted toward a student's major.

Minor Application Form

Semester Abroad at Sothebys Institute-London

History of Art majors have an outstanding opportunity to study at the Sotheby's Institute of Art in London during the spring semester of their junior year.  We grant 15 Cornell credits (60UK) to our majors who successfully complete:

  • the core course (20 UK credits) + both contemporary culture courses (10 each)
  • one professional experience module (20 UK credits)

  The program is full-time for fifteen weeks and combines academic study with an insight into the professional art world, taking full advantage of the rich cultural resources that London offers. It is validated by the University of Manchester.

For more information on this program and other opportunities, visit Cornell Global Learning.

Career Opportunities

Majors in the history of art often go on to successful careers in related fields as conservators, art therapists, museum curators, and professors. They also may occupy positions in commercial galleries and auction houses. But in equally significant numbers, our majors apply the analytical thinking and interpretive skills they develop here to careers in law, medicine, and business.

Our graduating seniors have gone on to graduate studies in conservation, art history, and performance studies at programs including the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Stanford University; New York University; Columbia University; Rutgers University; Berkeley; the University of Southern California; Harvard University; Rhode Island School of Design; Tufts University; the University of Pennsylvania; and Yale University. The Albert Einstein Center Medical School and Georgetown University School of Law are also among the institutions our graduates currently attend. With the undergraduate training alone received in this department, yet others occupy career positions at Christie's, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Mingei International Museum of Folk Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Norton Simon Museum of Art.

During summers between academic years at Cornell, our majors gain practical field experience through internships at museums, historical societies, and commercial galleries. Competitive internships awarded in recent years placed our majors at the Asia Society, the Cloisters, the Corcoran Gallery of American Art, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice, Italy), Sotheby's, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Career Symposium: Every other year the department organizes a Career Symposium for our majors, bringing in alumni who had been History of Art majors, and then pursued diverse careers. They tell our students about their educational and career experiences, providing not only much information and advice, but also networking opportunities.

Career Directory: The department also regularly updates and sends students a directory of our majors after graduation. The many alumni History of Art majors who contribute summarize their career experiences and provide contact information for students who may want to reach out to them.

Honors Thesis


The honors thesis is an opportunity for majors to apply their cumulative study of art history and its methodologies to a particular topic defined by the student and thesis advisor. The thesis may address any aspect of the discipline. A well-chosen topic should extend the student's work already begun in a course or sequence of courses taken by the second semester of the junior year.


Candidates for honors must be History of Art majors maintaining an average of A- in departmental courses, and B+ in other College of Arts & Sciences courses. Students should also have taken at least one course in which they wrote a research paper, and have completed ARTH 4101 (Proseminar) by the second semester of their junior year.


By the beginning of the spring semester of the junior year, majors apply for departmental honors work through the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The student then must obtain thesis topic approval from the departmental faculty member who will supervise the research and writing. The student is encouraged to choose a thesis advisor already familiar (through course work, independent study) with her or his particular interests and approach. The thesis advisor--distinct from the academic advisor-and the student together define the thesis direction and consultation schedule. Students must make a 20 minute presentation at the Undergraduate History of Art Honors Symposium which takes place the first or second Friday in February.


Honors Work in the Department of the History of Art is a two-semester program (ARTH 4998 and ARTH 4999) during the senior year.

Students are encouraged to start research on the thesis during the summer between the junior and senior years, and be ready to submit a detailed outline and bibliography to the thesis advisor in September of their senior year.

In the fall semester of the senior year, all honors students enroll in ARTH 4998, intended for writing the first draft of the thesis under the advisor’s supervision.

Upon satisfactory completion of this course, the student enrolls for ARTH 4999 in the spring semester, in order to revise and rewrite the thesis under the advisor's supervision. When the thesis is completed, the advisor assigns a letter grade and eight credits for the two-semester course ARTH 4998 & ARTH 4999.

Students may not collapse into one term the two-term experience represented by ARTH 4998 and ARTH 4999. Nor may students use ARTH 4998 or ARTH 4999 to fulfill 4000-level seminar requirements.

The awarding of honors is not automatic. The thesis advisor and the second reader together determine whether or not to approve the final version of the thesis for honors. If they approve it, they also assign the appropriate honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude). The student is notified of the decision during Senior week. In all cases, the student receives a grade for ARTH 4998 and ARTH 4999, and course credit. The department retains one copy of the thesis and returns the other copy to the student.


Image caption:
Sanlé Sory, Sory photographe, 1968 (negative); 2018 (print)
Gelatin silver print
Edition 3/15 + 5 AP
Acquired through the Deborah Goodman Davis, Class of 1985, and Gerald R. Davis, Class of 1984, Fund, 2018.081.001
Image courtesy of the Johnson Museum