College of Letters & Science

About the major

Why Major in Art History?

Art history is the most flexible of the liberal arts majors, providing basic skill sets that interest a diverse array of potential employers and graduate programs.

Our majors go on to work in a wide variety of positions in museums, historical societies and historic properties. Many are curators, registrars, archivists, art preparators, installation designers, conservators or art restorers or employed by museum education departments. They also work in the areas of art appraisal, preservation, publishing, education, art law, art advising, art dealing, architecture, photography, advertising, development/fundraising, film production, arts administration, interior design, art therapy, illustration, architecture, photography, archaeology, production design, and arts and entertainment journalism.

Our majors have gone to graduate school in a diverse array of fields, including art history, art, material culture, architecture, museum studies, arts administration, education, landscape architecture, English, history, and comparative.

Skill Sets of Major:

In a media-saturated age, there is great demand for critical thinking about images and how they convey meaning. Potential employers and graduate schools highly value the following skills.

  • We teach visual analysis, encouraging students to look closely at materials from which objects are made, the ways in which they were created, and how they produce meaning.
  • We give students the confidence to read texts critically, promoting the ability to synthesize and distill arguments and support or contradict them.
  • We emphasize and hone writing skills, creating strong and effective communicators.
  • Our focus on research helps students learn the vast array of historic and digital resources for uncovering information, as well as how research is performed and how innovative research questions are formulated.
  • We stress the importance of original interpretation and analysis, requiring independent thought rather than rote memorization; such thinking outside the box is a valuable skill.
  • We ground students in widely-applicable theories and philosophies of cultural analysis.
  • We teach the value of situating objects in historic and social contexts, creating a sense of awareness of cultural differences and alternative values.
  • We promote foreign language skills. 

Requirements of the Major

You can begin your study of art history in several different ways. Students unfamiliar with art history usually elect introductory courses, of which two are required for the major. In Art History 104, 201, 202, 203, 210, 241, 242, and 264 (all of which are open to freshmen), students explore the principal developments in architecture, sculpture, painting, and printmaking from ancient to modern times. We strongly urge students interested primarily in western art to take the western surveys (201 & 202) in chronological order and as early in their career as possible.  They are required for majors in the standard program. There is also an Asian Option.

Intermediate and advanced courses (courses numbered 300 and above) more closely examine areas of art introduced and broadly treated in the survey courses. These courses address specific regions, periods, and topics in a more detailed manner than the broader surveys. In these and subsequent courses you will engage in more specialized art historical scholarship as you prepare and write research papers. These count towards the L & S requirement of fifteen credits of upper level work in the major. A combination of these spanning geography, time periods, and theory is required.

The 500-level proseminars are undergraduate seminars for small groups of students that focus on a specific topic. At least one 500-level proseminar is required for graduation, and should be taken as a junior, preferably after previous coursework in that area. Many students take more than one proseminar. Note: course enrollment is open to declared majors only. Information on future proseminar offerings is e-mailed to all majors well before registration begins, and as courses fill quickly, students are advised to contact instructors as soon as possible. 

The 600 Special Topics number is generally assigned to courses offered only once or occasionally. 601-602 is a museum course that is offered irregularly, generally taught in connection to planned exhibitions at the Chazen Museum of Art. This is not required, but many students do this for career development.

Students may also elect to write senior theses (692, Senior Thesis; 681-682, Senior Honors Thesis) or undertake independent research (Directed Study, 698, 699). All of these research projects require considerable planning before the work is undertaken. If you are going to write a senior thesis you should begin to discuss your plans during the junior year with the faculty member who will supervise it. Grant deadlines for senior thesis and independent projects are in the fall and winter.

For more specific information on BA requirements for the Art History major, please follow this link to the Guide.

For more specific information on BS requirements for the Art History major, please follow this link to the Guide.

To explore our department’s course offerings please visit the Course Guide.

Courses

We offer a wide variety of courses at different levels and across geographies and time periods. 

  • 100-level courses
  • 200-level courses
  • 300- and 400-level courses
  • 500-level courses: Proseminars

For more specific information on BA requirements for the Art History major, please follow this link to the Guide.

For more specific information on BS requirements for the Art History major, please follow this link to the Guide.

Study Abroad

The department strongly encourages art history majors to participate in study abroad programs. Students gain firsthand experience of other cultures and languages and have the opportunity to study major artistic monuments. Credit for appropriate coursework can be applied toward the major after arrangements have been made with the study abroad program, or, in the case of non–UW study abroad programs, the Office of Admissions and Recruitment. For more information, see the Study Abroad website.