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 received 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 and any additional requirements determined by the students' major professors. For example, language requirements will vary considerably according to areas of specialization. At the beginning of or just prior to the first semester of PhD work, students should meet with their major professors 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

  • 51 credits, including 30 credits taken at the pre-qualifying (M.A.) level and those accrued as a dissertator.
  • 32 credits in residence in the major graduate program including 16 at the pre-qualifying (M.A.) level. (Beyond the minimum "residence" credit requirements, the major program can count "transfer" credits to meet the minimum "degree" credits.).

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. Courses

AH 701 and 10 additional 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 PhD level-may be substituted for lecture courses (seminars are defined as discussion-based classes of 12 or fewer students requiring more and longer reading and writing assignments as well as more in-depth research projects.  Lectures are defined as larger classes in which a faculty member addresses the group and assessment is based on shorter writing assignments and quizzes / exams).

B. Language

Two foreign languages including that for the M.A. (See the Graduate Handbook)

C. 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.
  • Option B (distributed): 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 major program.
  • See “Minors” in the Graduate School Academic Policies and Procedures for minimum course requirements for more information.

D. Exams

Oral and Written Preliminary Exams

E. Dissertation Prospectus
(Information coming soon)

F. Dissertation
(Information coming soon)

G. Dissertation Defense
(Information coming soon)

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

Pre-qualifying level (M.A. granted with successful completion and one language)

  • 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)

Breadth Requirements:

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

  • Cross-Cultural/Diaspora
  • Africa/Middle East
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • The Americas

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

  • Ancient and Medieval
    Early Modern (Circa 1400–Circa 1800)
    Modern (Circa 1800–Circa 1945)
    Contemporary (Post 1945)

Qualifying Paper

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 becomes a Master’s Thesis.
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 encouraged candidates to do so as soon as possible.

  • 8th Year [allowed by Grad School]

Additional Policies and Practices

Portfolio Review

  • In order to promote professional development, the department encourages the production of a varied portfolio of work, which graduate students should view as the basis of future projects, potential writing samples, and possible publications. Toward this end, each semester graduate students must submit copies of their essays or other scholarly work to the art history student programs administrator (including that completed for classes in other departments). Electronic submission is suggested. The portfolio should include a Research Statement, updated annually, on how all course-work relates to student's educational goals and intellectual projects.
  • 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. 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 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 MA and PhD degrees. The Graduate Coordinator is to effect and oversee this process each spring. The review committee will consist of the major professor and one faculty member in a related field of study. In the case of disagreement between the two readers, the Graduate Coordinator will act as 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 you in an advising and mentoring conference with your major professor.
  • 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 [see above], the major program can count "transfer" credits to meet the minimum "degree" credits (30 for a Master's and 51 for a Ph.D.).
  • Students with MAs 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.
  • In the second semester of the first year, the student petitions for previous coursework to count toward the UW MA 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.

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 MA paper/thesis, a student c.v.,  a list of coursework, a statement by the student about research and career goals, and general student progress through the program, approving the advancement to the Ph.D. or termination at a freestanding MA. The assessment committee may also request further work or refuse to approve the MA 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 admission 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.

Preliminary Exam Schedule

  • Students are generally expected to take preliminary exams at the end of the summer between the third and fourth year of the PhD., 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 jadvisor 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.

“Key Definitions, Rules and Terminology"

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

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. Dissertators are not permitted to register for any other courses as the dissertator tuition is significantly lower and the necessary course work will have been completed by the time a student takes prelims.

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 the members of the PhD committee and two additional members will oversee each dissertation. At least three of the total number will be members of the Art History Department.

Dissertation Defense

Each candidate must defend the dissertation before his or her dissertation committee. The candidates should inform the Department Administrator when they plan to defend. She will prepare the necessary documents and submit them to the Graduate School. The Graduate School will return the warrants with the following brochures: The Three D's, Dissertation Guide, Reader's Page, Publishing Your Dissertation, Survey of Earned Doctorates (the warrant will be retained by the Department Administrator and the candidate will receive the brochures and title page). The Department Administrator schedules the examinations and notifies the committee members.

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:

Dissertation Scheduling 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 PhD 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 PhD Final Oral Committee Approval Form) from the Department Administrator. 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.

Dissertation Submission

After a successful defense, the candidate should make an appointment with the PhD 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. If the student is considering depositing their dissertation electronically, please visit this site.

The student then goes to the Bursar to pay a microfilming and depositing fee. The Graduate School PhD 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 PhD 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. For proper format consult the handout "Dissertation Guide."
(Revised: 10.28.10)

PhD Committee

Each student will have a PhD committee to oversee his or her preliminary exams and dissertation prospectus. The committee is comprised of three members of the graduate faculty led by the major professor and including at least one other member of the department. 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 form the core of the dissertation committee.

Prospectus Colloquium

In the semester in which the dissertation colloquium is to be scheduled, students will present the prospectus to the PhD 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.

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.