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Art History | Master's Program

MA in Art History

The curriculum of the Art History Master’s Program is focused on four areas: Renaissance and Baroque, Modern European, American to 1970, and Global Contemporary Art (with an emphasis on East Asia). Courses aim to provide a strong base of knowledge about artists and art works in each area while also encouraging students to develop skills in understanding and deploying historical context studies, critical analysis, and interpretive reading of both works of art and scholarly texts. 

These goals are developed by exposing students to a variety of traditional and contemporary approaches to doing art history, including cultural studies, social history and Marxist analysis, feminist and gender studies, reception theory, and attention to issues of nationalism and post-nationalism, globalization, and post-colonialism. The MA program is particularly known for its focus on feminist art history and gender studies, but courses typically address a wide range of interpretive strategies. For more information, see the degree requirements section. 

Several faculty also teach courses that focus on topics related to museum studies and these can count towards the total required coursework for the degree. Students are encouraged to apply for internships at the many renowned museums in the D.C. area, and can do one internship for credit towards the degree. Through internships, students can gain hands-on experience in curatorial research, education and conservation programs, and in the registrar’s and development offices at sites such as the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery, the Phillips Collection, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, our own American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center, and other Washington area museums and galleries. 

Financial support (a stipend and partial tuition remission) is limited and is available only for top applicants. Once in the program however there is funding available in the form of research travel grants for master’s thesis research projects and other work-study opportunities. The university also offers competitive research and travel awards for MA students, and the Graduate Student Council has some funds that can be used for travel to the College Art Association conference in New York or for group day trips to museums in Baltimore or Philadelphia.  

Master’s students have opportunities to present their own research at the AU/GWU Graduate Symposium and at AU’s annual student research conference; one MA student is selected every two years to represent American University at the Middle-Atlantic Symposium in the History of Art, a prestigious graduate student conference held at the National Gallery of Art. Students may also present at the Mathias Research Conference, at which a number of our graduate students have won awards in recent years. They also help to organize the Feminist Art History Conference that has been held at AU each fall since 2010.

The MA program has prepared students to successfully move on to PhD programs at schools such as Princeton, Rutgers, Emory, Yale, Bryn Mawr, Pittsburgh, Temple, Washington University in St. Louis, and other prominent graduate schools. Alumni are working in a variety of career options, including teaching in high schools or community colleges, diverse types of museum work (curatorial, development, education, registrar, etc.), historical preservation research, library and archival positions, editing, and other employment in fields related to art history and cultural studies. 

This is a small program in which 8 to 10 new students enroll each year. Program faculty and MA students work closely together and this mentoring is important to our program.

For more information, please contact Program Director Helen Langa, or one of the professors listed below for specific fields of interest:

Juliet Bellow, Modern European Art
Kim Butler Wingfield, Italian Renaissance Art
Helen Langa, American and Contemporary Art
Andrea Pearson, Northern Renaissance Art
Ying-Chen Peng, Late Imperial and Modern Chinese Art