The Department of History of Art and Architecture (HAA) offers a program of instruction that prepares students for teaching the history and theory of art at the college level, for museum work, and for independent research and writing. Students admitted to graduate study in the department are expected to be candidates for the PhD degree.

The department offers strong programs in the main aspects of the history of Western art, in Islamic and Asian art, and in architectural history as well. Approximately 20 scholars constitute the regular teaching staff.

While the department has long been a center for advanced research, its faculty also conducts undergraduate instruction for both concentrators in history of art and architecture and students of the College in general. History of Art and Architecture doctoral candidates are often invited to participate in these programs as teaching fellows and tutors, and thereby gain valuable pedagogical experience as well as financial aid. The Harvard University Art Museums also offer students the opportunity to serve as curatorial assistants.

The many colleges, museums, and commercial galleries in the greater Boston area provide a stimulating environment for study and research. Students may enroll for credit in graduate courses in the history of art and architecture offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, the department regularly invites authorities from other universities and museums to offer instruction in Cambridge, and the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture in the History and Theory of Art each year brings outstanding authorities to the campus for lectures and meetings with students and faculty.

Collections of Western, Asian, and ethnographic art housed in the Harvard museums enrich the student’s training by providing fine original works of art for study. The Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Study offers instruction in the history of techniques and materials. Harvard’s library holdings include more than 200,000 books on art and archaeology, more than 800,000 photographs and slides, and an extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts. Finally, students of history of art and architecture are encouraged to take full advantage of the University’s course offerings in the humanities and social sciences and the rich intellectual and cultural life of the campus at large.

Harvard University’s program of financial assistance to graduate students is among the most generous in the country. The program is administered directly by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in consultation with the department. The Graduate School strives to insure that all students have sufficient resources from the University or elsewhere to support them for the entire period of work toward their degrees—and not merely at the beginning.

Teaching fellowships are available to students who conduct section meetings in introductory courses or instruct small groups of undergraduates in the department’s tutorial program. Teaching fellowships are not awarded to students in their first or second year of residence.

Scholarship funds for residence in Cambridge or for foreign travel are available from endowments restricted to the department’s use. Harvard graduate students in the history of art and architecture also receive aid from outside sources such as Fulbright programs, Merit Scholarships, the American Academy in Rome, the Japan Foundation, and fellowships administered by the National Gallery in Washington. As the costs of graduate training and foreign study continue to rise and University resources come under increasing pressure, students are urged to exert individual initiative in seeking funding from sources outside of the University.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Prerequisites for Admission

The department seeks students who have strong motivation for the study of the visual arts and the ability to develop as professional scholars. A college major in art history is a desirable but not necessary prerequisite to admission to graduate study here. The department welcomes students who have received sound training in other branches of the humanities or other disciplines, or who have engaged in practical work in museums and galleries.

Master of Arts (AM)

The department does not admit candidates for a terminal AM degree. PhD candidates may, however, apply for a master’s degree after having completed, with satisfactory grades, eight half-courses. The degree may also be offered to students unable to complete the doctorate.

Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper (QP) is required of all students, even those who have completed a master’s thesis elsewhere. Emphasis is placed upon the student’s independence of thinking and research, ability to use primary source materials, and proficiency in writing and presentation.

The QP will be written in the fourth term of residence. The QP will be a revised and in-depth version of a paper written for a HAA graduate seminar or any other course at Harvard in one of the preceding three terms. Papers written for courses at other institutions, before or during enrollment in the HAA program, are not admissible. The QP will be no longer than about 10,000 words; double-spaced; separate bibliography; standardized references and citations; illustrations with captions.

Program of Study

The doctoral program in History of Art and Architecture usually requires six to seven years to complete and is divided into four stages: course work, qualifying paper, General Examination, and dissertation. Ordinarily three years are spent in academic residence in Cambridge prior to beginning work on the dissertation. Dissertation research usually involves travel in America and abroad.


To fulfill residence requirements students take 16 half-courses, chiefly in history of art and architecture. However, with the approval of their advisors, they may take courses in related fields.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires all full-time students to register for credit in four half-courses or equivalent study in each term. In order for students to be in good standing, the department stipulates that they maintain a B+ average in course grades.

History of Art and Architecture does not give credit for courses taken elsewhere, before coming to Harvard. Only in exceptional cases can the department depart from the rule. This requires: first, the consent of the intended thesis supervisor; second, the approval of the director of graduate studies (DGS) to submit the request to the Faculty; third, the approval of the Faculty. Consideration of this request is given only after completing a full year of coursework.


For all fields, the department’s minimum language requirement is a reading knowledge of two languages that are relevant to the student’s field of study and research interest (excluding his/her native language). The languages will have to be deemed necessary, and approved of, by a faculty member in the field and the DGS. The student will be required to provide proof of proficiency in the languages.

The requirements for languages should be met by the end of the fourth term. Two half courses of language study relevant to the field of study may be counted toward fulfilling departmental course requirements.

Language skills are a vital resource of the art historian, and those planning to apply to the department’s graduate program are urged to give high priority to language training. Since a single standard cannot be applied to all, students are expected to master the languages necessary for their own fields of specialization. Ideally, students should acquire competence in the required languages before entering the department’s graduate program.

G3 Presentations

Beginning in Fall 2011, all third-year students in residence are expected to present to their peers and the faculty a short (20-minute) presentation on the research project that they hope will form the basis of their dissertation. These presentations will be scheduled across two sessions in October, with four or five students presenting per session.

General Examination

The General Examination will be taken no later than the sixth term in residence, typically in the spring term G3. The exams should take place during reading period of the spring term. Following completion of the qualifying paper and at least two months prior to the date of the examination, the student should consult with advisors and present to the department a written proposal describing the general and specific fields to be covered in the examination.

The general field ordinarily consists of a combination of broad areas of art and architectural history such as Romanesque and Gothic, southern Renaissance and Baroque, 19th- and 20th-century Europe and America, and medieval and early modern Japan.

The specific field is a narrower area of study chosen by the student and subject to faculty review; in principle it should comprise a coherent and clearly defined area of scholarly inquiry. Ordinarily this specific field will cover no less than 50 years.

The examination committee will ordinarily consist of three members, at least two of whom belong to the department faculty. They will be appointed by the faculty in consultation with the student and advisor. During preparation for the examination, students should meet regularly with the committee and, with its help, should formulate possible examination questions.

The examination is designed to test the students’ mastery of their scholarly fields and their ability to proceed to writing a dissertation. Students are allowed access to the library and to other resources while answering Parts 1 and 2.

The examination consists of four parts:

1. Written essay(s) (eight hours). Interpretation. General field. One or two questions designed to test the student’s grasp of broad art-historical issues.

2. Written essay(s) (eight hours). Methods and Historiography. Specific field. One or two questions designed to bring out the student’s knowledge of sources, both primary and secondary, and of methodological issues.

3. Oral examination (three hours). Analysis of visual material. General field. The student will have one-and-a-half hours to examine eight to 12 works of art or sets of photographs in preparation for an oral discussion of all but one of them with the examination committee. The discussions may involve such issues as attribution, connoisseurship, contextualization, formal analysis, patronage, technique, and condition.

4. Oral examination (one-and-one-half hours). Evaluation and review. Within one week of Part 3, the student and the examination committee will meet to evaluate the entire examination and discuss plans for the dissertation. Students whose performance on the examination is not satisfactory will be given one opportunity to repeat all or part of it.


Dissertation Proposal. The student should submit a dissertation proposal of no more than 1,500 words to the department for its approval within three months after passing the General Examination. This proposal, which outlines the proposed topic and plan of research, will form the subject of a colloquium which will consist of a committee of no fewer than four faculty members and the student. Other interested faculty and students may attend. Students whose travel plans preclude participation after passing the General Examination must participate in a colloquium at the preceding period.

Students ordinarily devote three years to research and writing the dissertation, and complete it prior to seeking full-time employment. The dissertation will be judged according to the highest standards of scholarship, and should be an original contribution to knowledge and to the interpretation of its subject. The final manuscript must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation distributed by the department and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. When the dissertation has been approved by the dissertation committee, a dissertation defense should be scheduled in agreement with the department, student, and dissertation committee.


For admission and financial aid applications write to the Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center 350, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138; phone (617) 495-5315 or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We encourage online submission of the application. See the GSAS Admissions website.

A writing sample in proposed field of study (if possible) and GRE scores are required for application for admission to the Department of History of Art and Architecture. The writing sample should be uploaded (not mailed) and consist of a single (one) document only of reasonable length. (A term paper or a chapter of a thesis, rather than the entire thesis.) If 3 mb is not adequate for your upload, please upload only an excerpt. This will be adequate for initial consideration. The Department will contact you directly if more information is needed.

The proposed field of study should be specified on the application. Candidates have the option of specifying architecture as their main area of interest in any period or field.

Department of History of Art and Architecture Faculty