The MA in Art History provides advanced historical study in European and American art from the early Renaissance through the present, as well as Asian and other non-Western art, to prepare you for a doctoral program, curatorial position, or one of many other museum-related careers. You will develop an understanding of art historical methods and research practices while building skills in critical thinking, visual analysis, research, and written and verbal communication about art. Our program exposes students to innovative approaches to art history to foster a broad understanding of the discipline and its wide-ranging applications.
In this program, you will engage in scholarship and become a scholar. Students contribute to the annual Feminist Art History Conference and have numerous opportunities to present their own research, including the AU/GWU Graduate Symposium, the Middle-Atlantic Symposium on the History of Art, and AU’s annual student Mathias Research Conference.
The art history program is a close-knit community, and all students receive faculty mentorship throughout their time at AU. Our students work closely with their mentors to develop individualized courses of study in a wide range of historical periods, cultures, and media. The program includes thesis and non-thesis options, a wide variety of course offerings, and the opportunity for internships. In our small, dynamic program, you will work closely with knowledgeable and talented faculty members who are active and prominent in art history scholarship.
A Flexible Program with Solid Results
In our 30-credit program, you will create a personalized course of study reflecting your academic interests and professional goals. Our MA offers two tracks: the thesis capstone and the museum studies capstone. The thesis option prepares students for professions in academia, museum curation, writing, and editing. In this track, you will focus on discipline-related, research-based academic coursework and develop a field of specialization. You will then perform your own research project to create a work of original scholarship for your master’s thesis. This is the better option for those intending to pursue doctoral study and curatorial positions after graduation.
The museum studies capstone prepares students for museum-related career paths such as museum education, registration, programming, and exhibition design. In this track, academic coursework is balanced with practical coursework in museum studies, such as arts administration, conservation, or related fields. This track culminates in a museum studies project, usually with a digital component, tailored to the professional objectives of the individual student.
Internships opportunities are available for both tracks. Full-time and part-time options are available.
Students take 10 courses (30 credits) toward their degree. Three are required. Approaches to Art History, taken in the first semester, introduces the historiography and methodology of the discipline. Workshops taken in the third and fourth semesters support students' capstone projects.
All other courses are electives, drawn from the five areas of faculty specialization: Italian Art (14th-17th centuries), Northern European Art (14th-17th centuries), Modern European Art (18th-21st centuries), American Art (18th-21st centuries), and Asian Art (18th-21st centuries). Students also may take offerings in programs such as arts management, public history, and critical race and gender studies. See complete Admissions & Course Requirements.
Study Art History in a City of Museums
The intellectual and professional opportunities afforded by the DC metro area make AU the ideal place to study art history. Washington’s cultural institutions offer opportunities beyond the classroom. From our on-campus museum in the Katzen Arts Center, you are only a short metro ride away from some of the nation’s most prominent and prestigious art museums and galleries, where you can hear lectures, attend tours of exhibitions, and go behind the scenes in storerooms and special collections. AU’s prime DC location presents you the opportunity to study important works of art and archival documents first hand, opening new research possibilities.
Our students gain real-world, hands-on experience through internships with the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Phillips Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Katzen Arts Center, Kreeger Museum, and other Washington-area museums and galleries. By offering these opportunities, AU will help you develop the experience, skills, and connections that will open doors to an exciting career.
Active Scholars Dedicated to your Success
Our art history professors engage in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research in art history, visual and material culture, and museum studies. They employ a variety of traditional and contemporary approaches, including cultural studies, social history and Marxist analysis, feminist and gender studies, reception theory, nationalism and post-nationalism, globalization, and post-colonialism.
Students engage with faculty research projects in theme-driven courses and gain experience working with archival materials, translation, and image databases through research assistantships. You will work with and learn from committed mentors and widely published scholars who have presented their work in a number of prestigious scholarly venues, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the National Gallery, London; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Courtauld Institute of Art; and the Vatican.
Become an Art History Professional
An MA in Art History opens doors to rewarding careers in the arts. Many of our alumni go on to prestigious PhD programs at Princeton, Yale, New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis, Penn State, Emory University, Bryn Mawr College, Rutgers University, and other prominent graduate schools.
Our graduates have successful careers in museums, historical preservation research, library and archival positions, education, and editing. AU alumni work at major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Glenstone Contemporary Art Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Addison Gallery of American Art, and Art Institute of Chicago. At American University, you will join this elite network of art history professionals who are shaping the museums of tomorrow.
Esther Rodríguez Cámara
MA, Art History
While living in Spain during the COVID-19 pandemic, Esther Rodríguez Cámara has been finalizing her capstone project for her MA in Art History at American University. Though she’s far away from campus, Esther says that her studies have transitioned smoothly, thanks to her dedicated professors.
Esther specializes in modern European art from a feminist and transatlantic perspective. She received the 2021 Broude and Garrard Prize in Feminist Art History for her capstone, “Maruja Mallo’s Heads of Women: A Pictorial Response to Racial Inequalities in Latin America.”
Esther arrived at AU with a strong museum background, having done internships at the Museum of the Americas in Madrid (Spain), the Museum of the National Library of Spain, and the Museum of Photography in Reykjavík (Iceland). But she says that her approach to her capstone would have been impossible without her time at AU, where she revised her preconceptions about art history.
I applied to AU because I was searching for a place that would provide me with new approaches to art history that are not common in Spanish academia yet. I have had the chance to have some of the best scholars within the Art History field as my mentors. AU faculty trusted me from the beginning and gave me the opportunity to enrich my career by being a research assistant and a social media assistant, which I think are experiences that will be valued by future employees.
Dr. Sarah-Neel Smith gives the Art History Spring Lecture, March 25.
Art history graduate students contributed to Plans to Prosper You: Reflections of Black Resistance and Resilience in Montgomery County’s Potomac River Valley, including the exhibition catalog Forward by Abby Swaringam.
Moves Like Walter: New Curators Open the Corcoran Legacy Collection, developed by graduate students with AU Museum.
Video Take a Video Tour
Jennifer Wu, CAS/MA '16
I benefited from the small size of the program, which encouraged camaraderie.
As a non-degree student, Wu was inspired by her supportive professors to pursue her MA. She studied Northern Renaissance art, was a teaching assistant, studied at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and received an award to conduct research in Switzerland and Germany. She is currently pursuing her PhD at UNC Chapel Hill and credits AU's MA program with preparing her for doctoral study.
No, the MA is the most advanced degree offered in Art History at AU. However, many of our alums go on to doctoral programs at other very worthy institutions after receiving the AU master's degree.
In the past several years, our students have gone on PhD programs at the Institute of Fine Arts (NYU), Bryn Mawr, Rutgers, Princeton, Washington University (St. Louis), Penn State, and Florida State University, among others.
Although the MA is a two-year program and can be completed in that time, it is not unusual for students to take 2 ½ to 3 years to complete their comprehensive exams and theses.
Professors teaching introductory courses for the General Education program may request funding for a General Education Faculty Assistant, usually a second-year graduate student. Teaching Assistants (TAs) may be expected to sit in on the course, take careful notes in case students require tutoring assistance, present review sessions before exams, counsel individual students on coursework or papers, and assist with in-class discussions. Being a TA is an excellent experience for MA students interested in pursuing a career in college teaching or museum education.