The PH.D. Program

(From the Graduate Handbook)

“The Doctor of Philosophy and the Doctor of Musical Arts are the highest degrees conferred at UW-Madison. Neither is conferred solely as a result of any prescribed period of study, no matter how faithfully pursued. The Ph.D. degree is a research degree and is granted on evidence of general proficiency, distinctive attainment in a special field, and particularly on ability for independent investigation as demonstrated in a dissertation presenting original research or creative scholarship with a high degree of literary skill.” (Graduate School Catalog)

“The program must be rationally unified, and all courses must contribute to an organized program of study and research. Courses must be selected from groups embracing one principal subject of concentration, called the major (see the Graduate Handbook), and from one or more related fields, called the minor.” (Graduate School Catalog)


The Ph.D. program is for students who want a scholarly career or a position as a full curator. Individuals committed to the Ph.D. degree may apply directly from a B.A. program with the expectation of receiving an M.A. during their course of study. Applicants with an M.A. degree from another institution may be able to transfer some credits.  Priority for financial support will be given to Ph.D. students as opposed to Freestanding M.A. students.

Course of Study

Students' courses of study in the Ph.D. program must meet the minimum requirements of the department as well as any additional requirements determined by the students' major professor, and this includes University requirements. For example, language requirements will vary considerably according to areas of specialization. At the beginning of, or just prior to, the first semester of Ph.D. work students should meet with their major professor to draw up a formal written description of additional requirements with specific courses noted wherever possible. The requirements may subsequently be modified upon agreement of both parties.

Minimum University Requirements

1.     51 credits, including 30 credits taken at the pre-qualifying (M.A.) level and those accrued as a dissertator.

2.     32 credits in residence in the major graduate program (With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 21 credits of graduate work

3.     Half of  Ph.D. coursework (26 out of 51 total credits) must be completed in graduate-level coursework k from other institutions).

Minimum Departmental Requirements

All student schedules should be designed in consultation with the faculty advisor and the DGS. Students are encouraged to explore a diverse range of subjects during their coursework.

A. Coursework

·      AH 701 (required)

·      10 art history classes, four of which may be lecture courses, but students are strongly encouraged to take as many seminars as possible.  In special circumstances up to two independent studies (AH 799) - one at the MA and one at the Ph.D. level-may be substituted for lecture courses

B. Breadth

At least one course in two of the following five following areas:

1.     Cross-Cultural/Diaspora

2.     Africa/Middle East

3.     Asia

4.     Europe

5.     The Americas 

At least one course in two of the following four following periods:

·      Ancient to Medieval  

·      Early Modern (Circa 1400–Circa 1800)

·      Modern (Circa 1800–Circa 1945)

      ·      Contemporary (Post 1945)   

C. Language

Two foreign languages.  If you satisfied language requirements at the M.A. level within the past 5 years these languages count toward your two required languages. (See Part V of the Graduate Handbook on Language Requirements)

D. Qualifying Paper

This is typically completed by the end of the second year of full-time study. Students usually register for AH 799 (credits to be determined) with their major professor.  The paper is normally a perfected seminar paper of 30-40 pages, based on original research, analysis and interpretation.(Should a student leave the program at this stage, the paper will need to fulfill the guidelines for a Master’s Thesis). The qualifying paper is read by the adviser and one other member of the graduate faculty.

Once the qualifying paper is approved and the student has completed 30 credits of study, they may apply for an M.A. The Graduate Coordinator will apply for the warrant, which is signed and approved by the two readers of the qualifying paper.

Should a student decide to leave the program at this stage (with an M.A.), the 30 credits of coursework must meet the minimum degree requirements of the M.A. program, including breadth requirements.

E. Graduate Minor

   Option A (external): Requires a minimum of 9 credits in a minor program (single disciplinary or multidisciplinary). Fulfillment of this option requires the approval of the minor program. Minor requirements vary by department or program; it is the student’s responsibility to check with the department or program and make sure they are fulfilling the requirements.

   Option B (dedicated): Requires a minimum of 9 credits in one or more programs forming a coherent topic, and can include course work in the program. Fulfillment of this option requires approval of the DGS or other member of the Graduate Faculty in charge of the minor field. The student will work with the Graduate Coordinator on the warrant, and getting the appropriate signatures.

   See “Minors” in the Graduate School Academic Policies and Procedures for minimum course requirements for more information at

F. Preliminary Exams

Students are generally expected to take preliminary exams at the end of the summer between the third and fourth year of the Ph.D., becoming dissertators by the beginning of their fourth year.  Some fields may require more intensive language study or other field requirements, and in this case exams may be postponed up to two semesters.  Preliminary exam scheduling is decided by the major professor in consultation with the student.  In cases in which an advisor deems a delay in scheduling is necessary beyond the above stated flex time, the student may request the Director of Graduate Studies to review this delay. The Graduate School Process on Preliminary Exams may be found here:

Each student will have three members oversee his or her preliminary exams. The Committee will be chaired by the major professor. The members should remain as consistent as circumstances, such as leave schedules, allow and should include at least one member, besides the major professors, reasonably familiar with the historical material central to the student's interest. The third member would likely be similarly qualified or have close theoretical/methodological interests. These members will very likely form the core of the dissertation committee.

G. Dissertation Prospectus

The dissertation prospectus should be completed as soon as possible after preliminary exams, within a year at the latest (except in extraordinary cases). It is to be written before the majority of the research has been completed. It should readily convey even to the non-specialist the nature and import of the project. The main text should be twelve to fifteen pages in length and include the following components:

Prospectus Components

1.     A brief description and statement of the central research question or problem and rationale for its merit and import as a scholarly contribution.

2.     A critical overview and analysis of the state of current research, including an assessment of varying interpretations and a statement of how the proposed project differs and what it intends to add to the field.

3.     A plan of research and statement on methodology.

4.     A preliminary outline of chapters.

5.     A research and writing schedule, including a description of planned research trips.

6.     A substantial annotated bibliography.

Prospectus Colloquium

In the semester in which the dissertation colloquium is to be scheduled, students will present the prospectus to the Ph.D. committee after consultation with the major professor.

At a mutually agreed-upon time the committee members will convene for the colloquium, a meeting during which the committee discusses the feasibility of the project and provides constructive advice. The committee should be comprised of a minimum of 3 professors but it is recommended that all 5 members of the dissertation committee be present. Although it is preferable that the student participate in person, this meeting can take place either with or without the student. At this stage the committee will determine whether the prospectus passes, passes with revisions, needs to be revised and resubmitted, or fails. It is understood that when completed the dissertation may vary in content or argument from the prospectus.

A public presentation of the dissertation topic or argument is encouraged at any point in the process.

H. Dissertation

Dissertation Expectations

The dissertation is a book-length study in which the candidate demonstrates a full range of scholarly skills. It should show insight and originality in the questions it proposes to answer. It should present evidence of thorough research in primary and secondary sources. Candidates in art history, visual culture, and material culture should also show their ability to analyze visual and material evidence. Arguments should be clear, well-written, and persuasive both to specialists and to other scholars outside the major field.

Dissertation Committee

A dissertation committee comprised of at least five members representing more than one graduate program. Four of these individuals must be UW-Madison graduate faculty or former faculty (within one year of resignation or retirement). At least one of five members should be outside of Art History (typically from the minor committee). One member may be from another institution.  For more on committees, see

Dissertation Schedule and Writing

Before you begin writing your dissertation we suggest that you visit the Graduate School website, which contains information on deadlines, format, and getting your degree.

Candidates should submit at least half of their chapters to their major professors as they complete them in the first year of writing. The professors should return the individual drafts in a timely fashion, normally in three to four weeks for each chapter. Some candidates may need as much as an additional year to undertake sufficient revisions.

Students who plan to graduate in May should submit more polished drafts of at least two thirds of their dissertations to the three members of their Ph.D. committees by October 15. Those planning to graduate in December should do so by April 28. The students should receive their readers' comments in a written report by November 15 (or June 30). Students should not expect the department to send out assurances of graduation to potential employers until this phase is successfully completed.

By February 28 (or October 15), the candidates should submit complete drafts, including full notes, bibliography, and illustrations to the entire five members of their dissertation committee. Candidates who miss the February deadline should not expect to receive degrees in May and run the risk of having to wait until the following December since faculty are not necessarily available in the summer. In exceptional circumstances a small amount of flex time on these deadlines may be granted, but the new deadline must be confirmed with the advisor and the entire committee.

At least two (2) months before the oral defense of the dissertation, the candidates must obtain the form for establishing the examining committee (titled Ph.D. Final Oral Committee Approval Form) from the Graduate Coordinator. The dissertation defense should occur no later than April 30 to allow time for final changes to the manuscript. Under no circumstances should committee members be asked to read material in the last two weeks of any semester.

Students who do not defend their dissertations within five years of passing their preliminary examinations without an excellent excuse will be asked to retake the exams. In exceptional circumstances if a student is not able to complete writing the dissertation within five years, an extension may be granted in consultation with the advisor. The advisor then petitions both the department chair and the graduate coordinator for one year's extension, and the letter and extension agreement are included in the student's file.

I. Dissertation Defense & Submission

Each candidate must defend the dissertation before his or her dissertation committee. The candidates should inform the Graduate Coordinator and DGS when they plan to defend. The Graduate Coordinator will prepare the necessary documents and submit them to the Graduate School and schedule the defense.  More information on graduate school policy may be found here:

After a successful defense, the candidate should make an appointment with the Ph.D. Examiner, Room 217 Bascom Hall, phone 262-3011, and take the library copy of the dissertation, title page, the signed abstract, and all of the completed forms to the Graduate School for approval. Students are required to do this in person.

The student then goes to the Bursar to pay a microfilming and depositing fee. The Graduate School Ph.D. Degree Office now handles sending the dissertation to be microfilmed, bound. and catalogued. The abstract will be published in Dissertation Abstracts. (See, Step 3-5, for further instructions)

Your Ph.D. dissertation must be your own work. If it is the result of research enterprises in which others have collaborated, you must present a substantial portion representing your own contribution.

Publication of the doctoral dissertation is required. The University uses University Microfilms Inc. (UMI), Ann Arbor, Michigan, to publish the thesis on microfilm and to publish an abstract of the dissertation in Dissertations Abstracts, a monthly publication. You must pay the cost of microfilming the dissertation and publishing the abstract.

Three copies of the dissertation are needed: one library copy on 25% rag content, 20 lb. weight paper, and two Xerox copies. The library copy is for deposit in the University of Wisconsin Memorial Library and the other two are for the major professor and the student (after the oral exam). The Graduate School does the filing of the dissertation for the student.

The student must also prepare an abstract of not more than 350 words. The purpose of the abstract is to give a succinct account of the dissertation, and it should include these items: statement of problem; procedure or methods; results; and conclusions. The student must prepare one original abstract and four Xerox copies.

J. Sample Schedule (for a student without the need for additional coursework in language, etc.)

Pre-qualifying level

   1st year Fall: 9 credits, including 701

   Spring: 9 credits

   2nd year Fall: 6 credits (allowing a drop for first-time teaching)

   Spring: 6 credits, including AH 799 for qualifying paper (see below)

   M.A. granted with successful completion of 30 credits, one language and the qualifying paper

Post-qualifying (Ph.D. level)

   3rd Year Fall: 9 credits.

   Spring: 9 credits.  Complete Minor and Language Coursework.

AH 799 should be taken for preparation for preliminary exams. Prelims to be taken at end of summer or early in the following fall semester, so students can be ABD by beginning of fourth year.

ABD/Dissertator Status is granted with second language, completion of Minor, and passing preliminary exams.

   4th Year Fall: 3 credits. Prospectus and grant application.

   Spring: 3 credits. Research

   5th Year 6 credits. Research and travel; grant writing

   6th Year 6 credits. Research and travel; writing

   7th Year 6 credits. Completion of writing and dissertation defense

Graduate school rules dictate that students complete their dissertations by five years after preliminary exams, but we strongly encourage candidates to do so as soon as possible.

   8th Year [allowed by Grad School]

K. Additional Policies and Practices

Graduate Student Portfolio

In order to promote professional development and fulfill a campus mandate on assessing our Graduate Program, the department requires students prepare a “portfolio” of their scholarly work. It is set up electronically in the Cloud using the UW-Madison BOX system such that the student, the DGS, the Graduate Coordinator, and major professor have access.  The portfolio should include a Research Statement, on how all course-work relates to the student's educational goals and intellectual projects, along with representative pieces of writing done in the program.

What Constitutes Scholarly Work?

·      At the M.A. level, any piece of writing involving one or more of the following: research, close analysis, close reading or contextualization of a historical text, or critical reading of a scholarly text. The place of any creative work in the portfolio should be clearly defined.

·      At the Ph.D. level, there should be at least one more substantial piece of writing that involves the use of primary sources and scholarship in at least one language beside English (unless the field is American or British). At the end of the M.A. or Ph.D. program, students will therefore have compiled a portfolio of all their scholarly work.

This portfolio should be maintained, ideally, throughout the student’s graduate career. As such, it represents the student's cumulative, synthetic, and original contribution to knowledge in the field. Students are therefore encouraged to explore a diverse range of subjects during their M.A. and Ph.D. coursework. In the exceptional circumstance that students write on related topics (for example, on the same artist, work, or interpretive framework) for two different classes they must obtain the express permission of both instructors. Related essays should cite each other, and any language drawn directly from another paper should be quoted and footnoted. If there is doubt about what constitutes overlap, err on the side of caution. The student should supply the current professor with the past work (or both professors if the projects are simultaneous) and explain how substantial new work and thought will result in an enhanced piece of scholarship.

The portfolios of all students will be reviewed at the end of the first years of the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees (typically the first and third year). The Director of Graduate Studies will oversee this process each spring. The review committee will consist of the major professor and one faculty member in a related field of study or with whom the student has had a class. In the case of disagreement between the two readers, the Graduate Coordinator will act as a third reader. If reviewers are especially concerned about a student, the whole department will review the portfolio. Results of this review will be discussed with each student in an advising and mentoring conference with the student’s advisor.

Students coming in to the Ph.D. program with M.A.’s from other institutions wishing to transfer credits

   Beyond the minimum "residence" credit requirements,  (32) the major program can count "transfer" credits to meet the minimum "degree" credits (30 for a Master's and 51 for a Ph.D.). See

   Students with M.A.s in art history or related fields can normally expect substantial transfer credits from their previous program at the end of their second semester at UW-Madison (they may consider transferring up to 21 credits provided those were taken within a 10 year time frame; see

   In the second semester of the first year, the student petitions for previous coursework to count toward the UW M.A. degree by submitting the master’s paper from the prior institution, syllabi, and written descriptions of courses with a statement about equivalencies.  The primary advisor assesses requested transfer credits by the end of the student’s first year in the UW program and works with the Director of Graduate Studies to approve these credits.

Ph.D. Second-year review process

Students in the Ph.D. program will have a second year review. The student should consult the major professor in compiling the materials for the second year review.  The DGS and the primary advisor will assess the student’s M.A. paper/thesis, C.V.,  list of coursework,  and statement (by the student) about research and career goals, and general progress through the program, approving the advancement to the Ph.D. or termination at a freestanding M.A. The assessment committee may also request further work or refuse to approve the M.A. degree.

If the DGS and the primary advisor are in disagreement, or if they are the same person, the review process will be passed to the Admissions Committee.  The outcome of the review will be communicated to the student in a letter from DGS.

Note on overlapping papers

In the exceptional circumstance that a student writes on related topics (for example, on the same artist, work, or interpretive framework) for two different classes, she or he must obtain the express permission of both instructors. Related essays should cite each other, and any language drawn directly from another paper should be quoted and footnoted. If there is doubt about what constitutes overlap, err on the side of caution. The student should supply the current professor with the past work (or both professors if the projects are simultaneous) and explain how substantial new work and thought will result in an enhanced.

Admission to Candidacy [Dissertator Status]

Official admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree occurs when the student has:

1.     Completed all major and minor requirements including languages and incompletes

2.     Has passed the preliminary examinations

A student may not officially call themselves a “Ph.D. Candidate” until all of these steps are completed. See

Continuous Registration

"Once you achieve dissertator status you are expected to maintain continuous registration until completion of the doctoral degree." (Graduate School Catalog) Dissertators need to register each fall and spring semester for three (3) credits of Art History 990 to maintain continuous registration. See