Undergraduate Program

The art history major provides a foundation for answering key questions about what it means to be human as well as valuable skills for today’s workplaces. A specialized focus on images, objects, and the built environment promotes critical and creative approaches to analysis, problem-solving, writing and visual communication in a variety of media. Interdisciplinary collaborations encourage aesthetic, historical, economic, and ethical questions in order to produce new knowledge, sophisticated readers, engaged writers, critical viewers, independent thinkers, and confident cultural citizens who are well prepared to thrive in global society.

Through innovative research, teaching, and outreach activities, the Department of Art History takes a leading role in promoting visual literacy, emphasizing careful attention to continuities and differences across human history and world cultures. Examining expressive forms, from artifacts to new media, the department explores the ways in which art and visual and material culture are fully integrated into larger cultural histories.


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 skills gained in our classes. Learn more about what you can do with your Art History Major here.

  • 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.


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.

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. Some students take more than one proseminar. (Proseminars do not normally count for distribution requirements.) 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), write senior honors theses (681–682), or undertake independent research (698 or 699, Directed Study). 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.


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.


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.

Effective fall 2018, undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are eligible to declare the certificate in art history.

For requirements and information, visit the GUIDE.


The Department of Art History individually mentors its majors toward careers in a wide range of fields. Our academic advisor and director of undergraduate studies are always available to discuss post degree options. We also work closely with SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science to help students best apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the art history major in conjunction with other certificates or majors. We encourage majors to seek information from art history faculty and advisors—as well as from SuccessWorks, and other L&S Advising united like Student Academic Affairs and Academic Advising Services—about career paths and internships; preparation for the job search; and applying to graduate school. Both the department and SuccessWorks also provide networking opportunities with professionals in the field (employers and alumni).

Undergraduate Academic Advisor: Teddy Kaul (ejkaul@wisc.edu)

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Thomas E. A. Dale (tedale@wisc.edu)


The College of Letters & Science encourages students to declare their major no later than the end of their sophomore year, and the Art History Department strongly supports this. Given the requirements of the department, students who do not declare by their junior year, regardless of their academic standing, should be prepared to add an extra two semesters to their undergraduate career.

Students interested in learning more about opportunities in Art History, including, but not limited to, information about courses, requirements for the major, or declaring the major should make an appointment with Teddy Kaul (ejkaul@wisc.edu), Undergraduate Academic Advisor.

Before coming to the appointment, the following steps should be taken:

1. Review a “What If” DARS Report for Art History, available through the Student Center in MyUW. Unofficial transcripts may also be useful, especially if you are a transfer student; these can also be ordered through MyUW.

2. Pick up a Major Declaration Form from the department office (or download it here). Fill out the top part of the form, and sign. PLEASE LIST ALL OTHER MAJORS. (* Non-L&S students, see important note below)
If you are declaring honors in the major, a separate form will be needed. You may pick this form up from the department office.

3. Pick up the Art History Major Checklist from the department office, or print from this Web page.

Advising appointments are available Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM–4:30 PM. Please e-mail or call your advisor to make an appointment. Teddy Kaul (ejkaul@wisc.edu) is the Academic Advisor in the Department of Art History.

Important Information for Non-L&S Students:

  • It is possible to pursue the Art History major as an additional major if you are not a student in the College of Letters & Science, but if you wish to switch into the College of Letters & Science from another school/college in order to pursue a B.A./B.S. in Art History, please fill out the Degree Program Change (BA/BS) form on the L&S Student Academic Affairs webpage: https://saa.ls.wisc.edu/policies-forms-2/degree-program-change/. You may file your major declaration before you do the transfer workshop, but make sure they know that you have done so.
    • If you are a non-L&S student wanting to double major, you may need to take a copy of your declaration form to your “home” department (after you bring all declaration materials to our department.) Letters & Science will not process your declaration until it receives the go-ahead from your department/school.


Please email Teddy Kaul (ejkaul@wisc.edu) for more information. You can find all of the requirements for the undergraduate major through the GUIDE.


The Art History Department is proud to award three student prizes each year.

The deadline to submit your materials is Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at 11:59pm 

Submission Process:
If you would like to submit materials to be considered for the first two awards below, please email Teddy Kaul ejkaul@wisc.edu and indicate which award(s) you are applying to, and he will set up a Box folder to which you may submit your materials directly. For the senior honors thesis prize, please let your thesis advisor know that you are interested in being considered for the award, ask them to follow up with Teddy to formally nominate you, and then Teddy will contact you with access to a Box folder once your advisor has nominated you.


The Art History Essay Prize goes to the paper that best demonstrates high standards of writing, research, creativity, and argumentation. Any paper written by an Art History major or certificate student for an art history class between Spring 2023–Spring 2024 (current semester) is eligible. (If you have a writing sample from an earlier semester you are interested in submitting, or if you are not (or not yet) an Art History major or certificate student, please contact Teddy Kaul ejkaul@wisc.edu to explain situation).

Paper length should be between 2400–4500 words including footnotes, but NOT including bibliography and images.

Non-majors may apply. Please submit cover page for the essay and essay; cover page should include your paper title; class standing (freshman, sophomore, etc); major(s); course, instructor, and semester for which the essay was written; and contact information.


The Art History Leadership Award is awarded to the graduating senior major who has shown the greatest commitment to the Art History department through creating community, promoting our programs, and demonstrating good citizenship as well as innovative thinking and potential for future scholarly excellence.

To apply to this award, please submit a resume and a two-part statement about 1) your understanding of the value of art history in an undergraduate education as well as 2) how you in particular have contributed to the field of Art History (or visual or material culture) and to the UW–Madison Art History department.


The Senior Honors Thesis Prize is awarded to Art History majors whose senior thesis project demonstrates extensive research, original argument, and creative thinking. Advisors nominate candidates to apply. To be eligible, students must be Art History majors who have completed, or are completing, a senior honors thesis in academic year 2023–24 with a minimum 3.5 cumulative GPA.

Review of applications and grant selection will be conducted by the Art History Department Awards Committee.

Watch our students talk about how they ended up choosing to major in art history, their favorite courses, and the skills they developed as art historians.