James Cordova examining painting in the Art Museum

The art history program at CU Boulder gives students an interdisciplinary foundation in the history of art to prepare them for careers as scholars, museum professionals and related creative professions in the history of art. Its main objective—through graduate seminars, teaching opportunities, museum internships and scholarly fieldwork—is to foster critical thinking about contemporary and historical forms of art as well as visual and material culture.

Students develop their specialized interests from a combination of individual mentoring and collaborative approaches to intellectual inquiry. The program offers a supportive environment committed to debate and experimentation applicable to a variety of career choices. Graduates typically regard their two years in the art history master's program as a formative period of intellectual growth and professional experience.

Our diverse faculty offers a constantly changing curriculum of seminar topics geared to highlight current research, and a strong foundation in critical historiography and contemporary critical theory. Students in our interdisciplinary program also take advantage of exciting course offerings in cultural anthropology, classics, history, a wide range of literature programs, ethnic studies, gender and women's studies, art practices, and new media.

Our intimate atmosphere offers exceptional opportunities to work with permanent faculty and distinguished art historians from other institutions through our Visiting Scholars program. This long-standing feature of our graduate curriculum brings four to six leading scholars to campus every year to present their current work in a graduate seminar, public lecture and informal events.

Areas of specialization include: Medieval art, Early Modern art and art theory,  Pre-Columbian art, Colonial Latin American art, Asian art, Native North American art, Modern art and architecture, Contemporary art and critical theory.

Degree Requirements


Degree Guidelines

The guidelines are meant to explain, in detail, the information needed to be successful in the MA Program in Art History at CU Boulder. While this handbook is meant to be all-inclusive, it is not a substitute for all information at the Graduate School/University level and it is strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of communication with faculty and the art history director of graduate studies. Policies and regulations of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Department of Art and Art History offers a free-standing MA in Art History. An MA degree must be completed within 4 years of beginning coursework in the graduate program (Graduate School requirement). However, MA students in the Department of Art and Art History are expected to complete their coursework and defend their theses within two years. These requirements pertain only to the MA degree in Art History. Students pursuing the BA/MA, MBA/MA or MS will not follow the requirements outlined below. A minimum of 30 semester hours must be completed, of which 21 must be completed in residence on the Boulder campus. 

GRE & TOEFL/IELTS

  • Permanent US residents: The Department of Art and Art History will not review GRE scores in its evaluation of permanent US residents’ graduate student applications. However, if you wish to be considered for certain merit-based fellowships through the Graduate School, you must submit GRE scores with your application. 
  • International students: International students applying to our graduate program must submit GRE scores and also meet the English Proficiency Requirements as outlined by the Graduate School.

Theories of Art History must be taken during the first semester. This course may be taken twice for up to 6 credits hours.- At least one 3-credit 3000 level or above course in a department outside of the Department of Art and Art History which supplements the Major or Minor area of specialization.- M.A. Thesis (ARTH 6959): 4-6 credit hours. Under special circumstances, a project may replace the Thesis- At least one 3-credit 5000 or 6000 level course in 4 of the following areas of art history:

  • Medieval Art
  • Early Modern/Renaissance Art
  • Pre-Colombian/Colonial Latin American Art
  • Native North American Art
  • Asian Art
  • Modern Art
  • Contemporary Art
  • Institutional Critique
  • In consultation with your advisor, and when available, Ancient/Late Antiquity art may constitute an area

Restrictions:

  • No more than 9 hours of independent study credit may be applied toward the M.A.
  • Pass/Fail courses do not count toward the M.A.
  • ARTH 5087 does not count toward the M.A.
  • Students are encouraged to attend undergraduate lecture courses to prepare themselves for graduate seminars and for the comprehensive exam.

All Programs in the Department of Art History require proficiency in languages relevant to the field of study. Students should consult with their advisor regarding the language required for their field at the beginning of their first year. All M.A. students must demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language during their first year of the program. Language exam structure may vary based on the requirements of the faculty member supervising the test.

Generally, a faculty member chooses reading selections from various subjects that are deemed appropriate. With the aid of a dictionary, students are expected to complete a translation of the text presented for testing. The exam is graded by a faculty member. Students do not need to pass a reading language exam if they have previously and satisfactorily completed coursework with a grade of B or higher equal to three consecutive semesters at the college level.

  • During the last two weeks of April, students are required to hold a 1-hour meeting chaired by the prospective thesis advisor and 1 or 2 other faculty members with whom the student has taken courses. The first year review focuses on the student’s ability to continue in the program, and preparation for the comprehensive exam as well as the selection of a thesis topic.
  • After successfully completing the first-year review, the student will choose major and minor areas of concentration in art history. Students should have completed coursework in their chosen major and minor areas in preparation for their comprehensive exam and thesis, and will work with faculty in those areas.
  • Students are responsible for organizing and scheduling the first-year review meeting.
  • At the conclusion of the review, the committee will sign the First-Year-Review Form, which will be added to the student’s file.
  • If student coursework and performance is found to be unsatisfactory during the first-year review, faculty will vote on student continuance in the M.A. Program. Students may be asked to leave the program at the culmination of the first-year review. Students have the right to appeal this decision by submitting a petition to the faculty. The decision of the art history faculty is final.

The comprehensive exam is given to measure the graduate student’s knowledge of art history at the M.A. level. It consists of questions, developed by the student with their major and minor advisors. Preparation for the comprehensive exam is discussed at the student’s first-year review. The student should take the comprehensive exam their third semester in mid-October.

Components of the Comprehensive Exam:

1. Major Exam:

  • The major advisor will assign and/or develop with the student 3 questions, for which the student will write 3 separate bibliographies as well as an outline answer for each question
  • The advisor will choose two questions to present to the student at the time of the exam
  • The examinee must answer one of these questions
  • The time allotted for the major exam is two hours

2. Minor Exam:

  1. The minor advisor will assign and/or develop with the student 2 questions, for which the student will write 2 separate bibliographies as well as an outline answer for each question
  2. The advisor will choose one of the two questions to present to the student at the time of the exam
  3. The student has 90 minutes to answer the question

Preparation for the Exam:

During the first-year review possible topics/questions for comprehensive exams are discussed, and further determined with reading lists in subsequent individual meetings between the major advisor and the student, and the minor advisor and the student. Three topics will be selected for the major area, two for the minor area. Students should complete the majority of their reading and preparation during the summer prior to the semester of the comprehensive exam. Neither the minor advisor or major advisor is required to meet with students over the summer.

The student meets with both their major and minor advisors as arranged between them on an individual basis; the major advisor determines when the student is ready to take the major exam and the minor advisor determines when the student is ready to take the minor exam. The major and minor advisors should consult with one another in making a final determination of student readiness for an exam. The exams can occur on the same day or different days, but the exams must take place within a week of each other in mid-October. The order of the examination (e.g., major essay first, minor essay second) is at the discretion of the examinee. It is the student’s responsibility to arrange the date of the exam with each advisor and to reserve a space to take the exam.

The week prior to the exam:

  • Student schedules the exam time and date with consultation with their major advisor and their minor advisor.
  • Student notifies the graduate program coordinator of the exam date and time. Student reserves an empty room, such as an unoccupied office or a departmentally scheduled room (330A, 455, 485, 303, or 308).
  • Student reserves a “comp-ready” laptop with the Visual Resources Center (VRC). Internet access will be disabled on these computers during the examination period.

The day of the exam:

  • The faculty advisor delivers a sealed envelope to the examinee that contains the questions for the exam and a blank flash drive. If the faculty advisor is unable to do so, the graduate program coordinator will assist with proctoring the exam.
  • Examinees may bring one 8x11 (physical) page of notes, one side only, to each exam. The student can fill this page as they choose, but not with blocks of text that could be copied into an essay. The student will provide their advisors with a copy of their page of notes (digital or photo if handwritten) before each of their exams, minor and major.  
  • Examinees may take an hour break between the two essay questions if they are scheduled for the same day. A sample sequence would be: an examinee opens the major essay question envelope and writes an essay for two hours; the examinee takes a break for one hour; the examinee returns from break, opens the minor question envelope, and then answers that question for 90 minutes.
  • ​At the end of the exam period, the student will upload essay questions onto a flash drive that is provided, and return the envelope and flash drive to the faculty advisor or the graduate program coordinator.

Grading and Notification:

  • Grading: The major advisor and minor advisor grade their respective portions of the examination. In consultation with one another, the two advisors determine whether the examinee has passed or failed the exam.
  • The student must pass the exam, and pre-thesis meeting to register for thesis hours.
  • The faculty advisors will put the results of the exam in the student’s campus mailbox in a sealed envelope, as well as turn in a copy to the Graduate Program Coordinator to include in the student’s file.
  • After successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student meets with the thesis advisor to discuss the thesis proposal and pre-thesis review (see pre-thesis review below).

  • After successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student prepares a thesis proposal or abstract (3-4 pages, double-spaced) with a bibliography (25-30 titles) relevant to the proposed topic and methodology of the thesis. See example guidelines for this document here.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to submit the abstract to the thesis advisor and, upon approval of the thesis advisor, to circulate it to the rest of the thesis committee.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the pre-thesis meeting before the last day of classes.
  • At the conclusion of the pre-thesis review, all members of the thesis committee must sign the Pre-Thesis Form.
  • The thesis advisor will turn the form in to the graduate program coordinator, which serves as authorization to enroll the student in thesis hours.

Thesis Defense and Graduation:

  • It is the student’s responsibility to thoroughly review the Graduate School’s graduation deadlines and thesis specifications pages. Also, refer to the Master’s Graduation checklist.
  • The thesis paper must be submitted electronically to the Graduate School by the deadline.
  • Prior to submission, an appointment with a Graduate School advisor should be made to ensure that all the formal requirements are met. A hard copy of the signature page, complete with the Thesis Committee members’ signatures, is submitted to, and remains in the Graduate School.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the thesis defense by the defense deadline given by the Graduate School.
  • At the conclusion of the thesis defense, the Masters Exam Report must be signed by all members of the thesis committee. A majority approval is required to pass the exam in addition to at least two approving signatures on the Thesis paper signature page.
  • A hard copy of the final thesis paper is due to the graduate program coordinator by the last day of classes.

Thesis Specifications:

  • The student must demonstrate mastery of the relevant scholarship and original scholarly research and writing at the M.A. level in art history.
  • The thesis should be based on independent study and analysis.
  • The thesis should represent 4-6 credit hours.
  • In most cases, the thesis will be the equivalent of a 30-50-page paper, exclusive of endnotes, bibliography, and illustrations.
  • The thesis paper must be written according to the specifications outlined by the Graduate School.

  • The thesis committee must consist of at least 3 faculty members that have active graduate faculty appointments on file with the Graduate School.
  • In consultation with the thesis advisor, the student will select a thesis committee for the thesis defense, an oral examination that consists of not less than 2 members of the art history graduate faculty, including the thesis advisor.
  • The committee may include more members and graduate faculty outside the Department or outside the University if approved by the Department of Art and Art History.
  • Any changes to the composition of the thesis committee after the pre-thesis review require a petition to the director of graduate studies for art history followed by a vote by the tenured/tenure-track faculty.