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 (ancient to contemporary) and geographical areas: Europe, 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, and 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, especially as it pertains to study abroad opportunities, is strongly encouraged.

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, critical race theory, Marxism, materiality, cultural memory, postcolonial and decolonial theory, etc.)
  • Situate important 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


Major Requirements:

The History of Art major requires the completion of a total of 10 courses, according to the following criteria.

  • ARTH 1100 - Art Histories: An Introduction (required, offered every fall; taken preferably in the freshman or sophomore year)
  • VISST 2000 - Introduction to Visual Studies (required, offered every spring)
  • ARTH 4101 - Proseminar (required, offered every fall; taken preferably in the junior year)
  • ARTH 2xxx (at least one course at the 2000-level)
  • ARTH 3xxx (at least one course at the 3000-level)
  • ARTH 4xxx (at least two courses at the 4000-level)
  • Three additional ARTH electives at the 3000-level or higher 

Students must receive a grade of B or higher in ARTH 1100 - Art Histories: An Introduction to qualify for the major. If students have not taken ARTH 1100 by the spring of sophomore year, they must complete a 4000-level tutorial course and receive a grade of B or higher in order to qualify for the major. A grade of B- or higher is required of all other courses to receive credit toward the major.

Study Abroad / Transfer Credits:

A maximum of three courses taken at other institutions can be counted toward the major. For credit approval, please compile course titles, syllabi, and transcripts of all transfer courses and email them to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Cohen-Aponte: aic42@cornell.edu

Independent Study:

A maximum of 1 independent study may be used to fulfill the 10 required courses for the major, and counts towards the elective requirement. 


To apply for the History of Art major, students should ensure they have first fulfilled the minimum requirements for the major (see degree requirements above). Once this has been done, students should email the Undergraduate/Graduate Coordinator, Danielle Vander Horst (dmv43@cornell.edu), to state their intent of declaration and provide a list of classes taken or being taken that qualify them for admission to the major. 

The Minor

Requirements for the History of Art Minor:

The minor in History of Art consists of 5 History of Art courses, according to the following criteria:

  • ARTH 2xxx (at least one course at the 2000-level)
  • ARTH 3xxx (at least one course at the 3000-level)
  • Three electives at the 2000-level or higher 

For admission into the minor, students must have earned a grade of B or higher in at least one History of Art course. In all other courses students must receive a grade of B- or higher to be counted toward the minor. No more than two courses from the minor may be double-counted toward a student's major. Courses not coded or crosslisted with ARTH or VISST must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Cohen-Aponte (aic42@cornell.edu). 

To Apply for the History of Art Minor:

Click the link below and complete the minor proposal form with current, past, or intended courses to be used for the minor. The Undergraduate/Graduate Coordinator, Danielle Vander Horst (dmv43@cornell.edu), will then verify requests and/or reach out to students with any questions. 

Minor Application Form

Study Abroad in Art History

History of Art majors may take advantage of the full range of education abroad opportunities offered by the College of Arts and Sciences. Students are encouraged to select programs that align with their academic interests, linguistic capabilities, and cultural curiosities. Students can search here for the full list of programs sponsored by the College.

The Department of History of Art recommends the following programs that align with major interests and requirements: 

Students interested in study abroad experiences are strongly encouraged to contact their A&S Advising Dean and the Office of Global Learning to learn more about the application process and general procedures. If full-semester length programs do not align with students' academic schedules, they are strongly encouraged to consider Winter and Summer session programs abroad.

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 a thesis advisor. The thesis may address any aspect of the discipline. Topics can be chosen from work already begun in a previous course or may represent novel ideas or topics of interest to the student. 


Candidates for honors must be History of Art majors who have made consistent and satisfactory progress towards degree completion and who have a demonstrated interest in furthering their academic explorations within the field. Ideally, students pursuing Honors should have taken at least one course in which they wrote a formal research paper and have completed ARTH 4101 (Proseminar) during their Junior year. 


The History of Art Honors Thesis consists of the following components: research, writing, presentation, defense, and final submission. 

Students interested in pursuing a Honors Thesis and History of Art should ideally begin considering their topics and faculty advisors in the spring of their Junior year. During this time, students should meet with their intended faculty advisor to discuss faculty availability and project topic and scope. Faculty advisors should be chosen based on familiarity with the student's past work or based on alignment of the intended topic with said faculty members own area/topic specializations. In consultation with their faculty advisors, students will develop and specify their thesis topic and project goals. During the Fall of senior year, students should conduct the bulk of the research on their topics, while in the Spring they should complete the bulk of the writing. During the 9th or 10th week of the Spring semester, students will present the current progress of their papers at the History of Art Honors Thesis Symposium. The symposium is intended for students to present a 10-15 minute overview of their work to the department thus allowing them to gain additional feedback and support on their papers prior to the defense and final submission. After the symposium, students will complete their defense drafts and submit them to their faculty advisors. Defenses will take place during the last week of classes, after which faculty advisors will determine the appropriate level of honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude) allotted to the papers and provide final feedback before students edit their final drafts and submit them to the department for printing and archiving. NB: the assignment of honors is not automatic and dependent upon satisfactory completion of the entire process above and submission of a well-written and defensible thesis. 

While each project will differ in subject and scope, the timeline below demonstrates the general path that projects should follow during the academic year:

  • Junior Year
    • Spring Semester
      • Interested students should begin reaching out to intended faculty advisors about availability and project topics
  • Senior Year
    • Fall Semester
      • Verify enrollment in ARTH 4998 before end of add/drop period
      • Students work on topic research, paper outlining and/or drafting under supervision of faculty advisor 
      • Students attend three (3) workshops with the Knight Institute spaced across the semester on writing techniques, mechanics, etc. 
      • Students submit some form of progress to faculty advisors by the end of the finals period for grading 
        • Examples of products demonstrating sufficient progress could include: an annotated bibliography; a detailed paper outline; a research database/archive; a first draft of the paper
    • Spring Semester
      • Verify enrollment in ARTH 4999 before end of add/drop period
      • Students work on bulk of the writing throughout semester 
      • Students attend two to three (2-3) more workshops with Knight Institute
      • 9th-10th week of classes (mid-late March) - Honors Thesis Symposium
      • 13th week of classes (late-April) - Students submit defense drafts to faculty advisors 
      • 15th week of classes (last week of classes) - Students defend theses before faculty advisors 
      • 17th week of classes (Friday before commencement) - Students submit final drafts of thesis to department for printing and archiving 


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

In the fall semester of the senior year, all honors students enroll in ARTH 4998. Upon satisfactory completion of this course, the student enrolls for ARTH 4999 in the spring semester.

Students may not collapse into one term the two-term experience represented by ARTH 4998 and ARTH 4999. 

In order to register for ARTH 4998 and ARTH 4999, students should email to the Undergraduate/Graduate Coordinator, Danielle Vander Horst (dmv43@cornell.edu), their faculty advisor's approval of their projects with said faculty member copied into the message.

Students receive a grade for ARTH 4998 and ARTH 4999, and four (4) course credits for each course. 


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