PhD in Art History

NOTE: The PhD program is currently not accepting applications for admission.

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Art History provides advanced expertise in art history and prepares graduates for university-level teaching, curator positions at major museums, and independent research in the field. Students in this program select in-depth courses from the following areas: Ancient, Medieval, Byzantine, Islamic, Renaissance, Baroque, Modern, and Contemporary western, as well as Asian and Non-western art and architecture.

PhD Program Requirements

General Requirements

  • Minimum 30 credit hours of coursework at the 500 and 600 level (exclusive of coursework earned for the MA degree)
  • ARTH 743 and 744: Directed Readings for Comprehensive Exam (3 credit hours maximum)
  • ARTH 745: Dissertation Research (12 credit hours maximum)
  • Comprehensive exam (upon completion of coursework and language requirements and before beginning the dissertation)
  • Dissertation and Defense

After completing minimum course requirements for the program, doctoral students must maintain continuous registration until the completion of the degree. Students must continue to enroll for credit each fall and spring, including any semesters after which coursework has been completed and before graduation. PhD candidates must register for candidacy status (DOCT 600). GTAs must enroll in summer to maintain their stipend.

Coursework Requirements

  • 500-level electives: 15 credits (maximum for application to degree requirements). In addition, if an equivalent course was not taken at the M.A. level, PhD students must also take ARTH 642: Theories & Methods of Art History (to be taken in the first year; offered Fall only).
  • 600-level electives: 15 credits (minimum) [Note: 600-level courses may be substituted for 500-level courses, with the exception of ARTH 642.]
  • Independent Study (ARTH 643 or 644) may be used to fulfill the 600-level electives above (students are permitted four independent study courses)
  • 500 or 600-level electives: 6 credits outside Art History, preferably courses related to the dissertation
  • ARTH 743 and 744: Directed Readings for Comprehensive Exam (3 credit hours maximum)
  • ARTH 745: Dissertation Research (12 credit hours maximum). To be taken only by PhD candidates actively engaged in dissertation research.


  1. Students are expected to take any courses necessary in preparation for scholarly research.
  2. Students must continue to enroll for credit each Fall and Spring, including any semesters after coursework has been completed and before graduation. After completing minimum course requirements for the program, doctoral students must maintain continuous registration until the completion of the degree.
  3. A minimum gap of 3.5 must be maintained in the PhD program.
  4. The Art History faculty periodically review PhD students who have not yet advanced to candidacy and will discourage from further work those students whose progress and performance are deemed unsatisfactory.








Language Requirements
Students are required to demonstrate facility in two foreign languages, one of which must be relevant to the field of dissertation research (for example, Latin or Greek for Ancient art). Some areas of Art History require that students have a mastery of epigraphy and paleography. Students in any field in which extensive language study is necessary in order to conduct research must concentrate on the relevant language or languages before taking their comprehensive exam.

Language proficiency is demonstrated in one of two ways:

  1. Passing a proficiency examination administered by the Art History Program, scheduled in the fall and spring semesters (contact the Director of Graduate Studies to schedule an exam). The proficiency exam consists of a one-hour translation, for which students may use a dictionary. Students are required to demonstrate intermediate-level facility in the language.
  2. Completing an intermediate-level language course at the University of Louisville with a grade of B or better.

Satisfactory Progress toward the PhD Degree

Satisfactory progress requires compliance with a number of criteria, including: regular enrollment in graduate courses or Doctoral Candidacy (DOCT 600); completing and passing courses within the time limits of the semester in which the course is taken; maintaining a 3.5 grade point average (courses in which a grade below B- is earned will not count toward completion of the PhD degree); successfully completing the comprehensive examination within two semesters of completing coursework; and completion of the dissertation before the beginning of the fifth year after advancement to Doctoral Candidacy.

It is mandatory that students submit a progress report to the Art History DGS, which is due before December 15 each year of a students enrollment in the PhD program; failure to submit a progress report will automatically result in an unsatisfactory evaluation for that year. The progress report forms are available electronically and in hard copy from the Art History Program Assistant. Please email Janice Blair to request progress report forms.

Each year the Art History faculty will review all PhD students to assess their progress in the program, and will notify students in writing of the facultys evaluation. Students who receive two unsatisfactory evaluations will be recommended for dismissal from the program.

General Outline of Academic Schedule in the PhD Program in Art History

This outline represents the standard academic trajectory for students enrolled in the PhD program full-time; for those enrolled part-time, it offers a sequenced checklist of primary academic requirements and activities.

Year 1:

  • Take ARTH 642: Theories & Methods of Art History (to be taken in the first year; offered Fall only).
  • Take 6-9 additional hours of coursework each semester
  • Complete language requirements
  • Identify dissertation advisor

Year 2, Fall and Spring:

  • If both language requirements have not been fulfilled, do so
  • Finish coursework requirements
  • Begin to compile comprehensive exam reading list with dissertation advisor

Year 2, Summer:

  • Determine a list of fellowships and grants for which you intend to apply

Year 3, Fall Semester:

  • Determine dissertation topic
  • Identify all dissertation committee members
  • Revise comprehensive exam reading list with input from all committee members, and begin studying
  • Apply for external fellowships and grants

Year 3, Spring Semester:

  • Submit dissertation prospectus
  • Sit for comprehensive exam

Year 4:

  • Dissertation research

Year 5:

  • Dissertation research/writing

Year 6:

  • Submit dissertation
  • Submit appropriate dissertation defense paperwork to department and SIGS
  • Defend and graduate

Academic Advising

The Art History Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) advises students in the early stages of their graduate careers. During the first year, however, students must identify a faculty member who is willing to serve as their advisor and dissertation director. In consultation with the advisor, the student is responsible for keeping all academic records up to date.

The faculty advisor generally directs the student in matters concerning coursework, the comprehensive examination, and the dissertation. Professional protocol must be observed concerning all academic matters. Students must immediately inform their faculty advisor of any changes in plans or status. In the case of a change in the area of concentration and/or advisor, the faculty advisor of record and the DGS must be informed in writing before any change can be authorized.

Comprehensive Examination

Doctoral students in Art History are expected to demonstrate specialized knowledge of the historical and scholarly issues in a field of study. The successful completion of the comprehensive examination admits a student to formal candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Students admitted before fall 2009 have the option of taking either two comprehensive exams in a major and minor area or a single exam as described below. Students admitted after fall 2009 will take a single exam as described below.

The purpose of the comprehensive exam is to demonstrate a mastery of the chosen field, including the theoretical approaches and methodologies used by scholars active in that field. In order to do so, the student must be familiar with recent trends in theory and critical analysis, as well as scholarship fundamental to his/her study. Through the successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student demonstrates that he/she possesses a firm mastery of the scholarship and, hence, is prepared for the serious, critical research that a dissertation requires.

Guidelines for the Comprehensive Examination
To be eligible to sit for the comprehensive exam, prescribed coursework and language requirements must have been completed; academic work for any incomplete or deferred grades must also be fulfilled. In consultation with the dissertation advisor, a student will form a dissertation committee, which should be in place by the time coursework is completed. The committee must consist of at least four members: at least two full-time faculty in the Art History Program (which includes the dissertation advisor, who serves as chair of the committee), and at least one faculty person from outside the Department or University. In preparation for the exam, the student will meet and discuss the parameters of the comprehensive exam with the dissertation advisor and committee members; included in this conversation will be the students responsibilities for covering particular subjects and material and the criteria for demonstrating expertise.

As a general rule, a student should plan to take the comprehensive examination by the end of the semester immediately following the completion of coursework. No exams will be administered during the summer break. The dissertation committee will formulate questions for the students exam, which will consist of two parts, or areas: the first will address the students primary/major field of study; and the second will address an interdisciplinary or secondary/minor field related to the dissertation topic. The student will have a maximum of four hours to complete the primary portion of the exam and three hours for the secondary portion.

Students can sit for an exam in the following primary areas: American Art and Architecture; Greek Art and Architecture; Roman Art and Architecture; Medieval Art and Architecture; Byzantine Art and Architecture; Renaissance Art and Architecture; Baroque Art and Architecture; Modern Art and Architecture; Contemporary Art; Asian Art and Architecture.

Students are expected to register for at least three credit hours in Directed Readings for Comprehensive Exam (ARTH 743 and 744): two credit hours in the primary area, and one credit hour in the secondary area.

Criteria for Passing the Comprehensive Exam
The exam is graded as a pass, a pass with distinction, or a failure. A passing exam must demonstrate a high level of factual, conceptual, and bibliographic knowledge, as well as a familiarity with scholarship in the field; students are expected to be able to negotiate particular debates or critical positions within their areas of study, and to critically assess the validity of those positions. After the dissertation committee has evaluated the examination, the faculty advisor will notify in writing both the student and the Art History DGS of the result of the examination.

If an exam results in failure, the faculty advisor may suggest that the student retake the exam. A student may retake a comprehensive examination only one time. A second failure results in the students dismissal from the program. In that unfortunate circumstance, the faculty advisor will meet with the student to discuss his/her standing in the program and the available options for terminating enrollment: the student may voluntarily withdraw from the program by submitting a withdrawal form to SIGS (available on-line at or the Art History faculty can formally recommend to the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences that the student be dismissed. If the student elects not to withdraw voluntarily, the faculty advisor shall notify the DGS in writing that formal procedures for dismissal should be initiated.

Advancement to Candidacy

Doctoral students who have completed all required coursework and language requirements and passed the comprehensive examination advance to Candidacy for the PhD degree. The DGS is responsible for submitting the result of the comprehensive examination to SIGS, and verifying that the student has satisfied all other curriculum requirements. After advancement to Candidacy, the student must maintain continual registration status (fall, spring, and summer terms) under Doctoral Candidacy (DOCT 600) until the degree is conferred.

The Doctoral Dissertation

PhD candidates must successfully complete a dissertation: an original study that makes a contribution to the field of specialization. It is often the basis for further scholarly work and, in terms of content and format, should be regarded as equivalent to a book. It must incorporate results of original research and demonstrate a high degree of competence in the use of appropriate art historical methodologies. The dissertation is not a mere accumulation of data, but rather submits a coherent argument that gives the primary research meaning, context, and purpose.

Dissertation Advisor

An Art History faculty member must formally agree to act as dissertation advisor to direct the project from its beginning to its conclusion; the dissertation director should be determined in the students first year of study. Since the student and advisor will work closely over an extended period of time, the student should approach a faculty member with whom he/she has had a productive affiliation and extensive coursework.

It may happen that a student wishes to change topic and seek a new mentor. The student must consult with the old mentor and the DGS before any such change can be made. Students should know that changes of this nature, at this time, may involve additional coursework and may seriously delay their graduation.

Dissertation Committee

Before the completion of coursework, and ideally before the first semester of the third year, the student and dissertation advisor together will select a dissertation committee consisting of at least four members. At least two members of the dissertation committee must be full-time faculty in the Art History Program (which includes the dissertation advisor, who serves as chair of the committee), and at least one faculty person must be from outside the Department or University; all must be appointed to the graduate faculty. Committee members must be formally solicited to act as readers and must agree to serve in that capacity. As soon as the committee is formally established, the Thesis and Dissertation Advisory Committee Appointment Form must be completed: the student should fill out the top portion of the form, obtain signatures of all committee members, and then submit the form to the Art History DGS for approval.

If one of the committee members is from outside the University, the thesis advisor must submit a Graduate Faculty appointment request letter to the Chair of the Department for his/her signature, along with a copy of the committee members abbreviated CV, to be forwarded to SIGS for approval.

Dissertation Topic

The dissertation topic can be selected in a variety of ways. For example, the subject may be one that the student has chosen because of a long-standing interest, or conversely, one that the dissertation director suggests to the student. In either case, the topic will be developed and defined in consultation with the dissertation director. Adequate investigation of the topics viability must be ascertained by the student. Records of dissertation topics are maintained by the College Art Association: they have previously been published in the June issue of The Art Bulletin; currently, dissertation titles, both completed and in progress, will be published annually at, and caa reviews has made available dissertation titles submitted between 2001 and 2007.

In addition, an international dissertations search should be undertaken (an index of dissertations in Art History with abstracts is available on-line through Dissertation Abstracts). Any potential conflicts should be discussed promptly with the students dissertation director. The dissertation committee will only approve a topic for which the student has sufficient preparation, including necessary foreign language skills, if applicable.

The Dissertation Prospectus

The dissertation prospectus must be approved by the students dissertation committee before the commencement of dissertation research. The student must prepare the prospectus in consultation with the dissertation advisor, who supervises its development and gives approval before it is submitted to the dissertation committee members. The student should plan to submit the prospectus within two weeks of the successful completion of the comprehensive exam.

General Outline of the Dissertation Prospectus

  1. Abstract = Summary of project
  2. Statement of problem = the primary question or questions being asked/investigated and an explanation of why this question/ these questions are worth asking (their significance and merits)
  3. Relevant scholarly literature or historiographic review = a concise review of the primary authors or sources that are drawn upon in the work; a discussion of the most significant historical, scholarly, artistic, and/or theoretical precedents for the study and the precise ways in which they inform or relate to what the topic investigates
  4. Methodology = explanation of the ways in which the particular approach e.g., theoretical, comparative, iconographic, semiotic, feminist, interdisciplinary, etc. addresses and answers the primary question(s) under consideration in the dissertation
  5. Required research = a summary of the research already undertaken and/or future research (archaeological, archival, primary, scholarly, etc.) that is necessary to answer the questions under investigation and for the project to be completed
  6. Contribution to field = an assessment of how the dissertation project will contribute to the broader discourse on the topic: Who would be interested in this study? Why? What are the most significant things others might learn from it?
  7. Outline of the dissertation = the ordering of the dissertation sections/chapters, their titles, and a brief summary of the material that each will contain
  8. Bibliography

Should the student subsequently change topics, the procedure of submitting a prospectus must be repeated. It is up to the Ph.D. candidate, with the help of the dissertation advisor and the DGS, to ensure that all required Art History Program and SIGS procedures are followed.

Registering the Dissertation Topic

After the dissertation prospectus has been approved by the full dissertation committee, the student is expected to register the topic with the College Art Association. The subject area, dissertation title, and name of advisor should be submitted to both the DGS and the Art History Program Assistant by December 1. See the caa reviews website ( for directions and information on registering the dissertation topic. CAA should be notified on the following occasions: 1) when the dissertation topic is first approved; 2) if fundamental changes in the topic are made; and 3) when the dissertation is completed and approved for the degree.

Dissertation Extensions

SIGS policy on the time limitation for the completion of the doctoral degree is four years from the date that a student passes the comprehensive exam. A request for an extension of time must be submitted in writing by the students dissertation advisor to the Art History DGS. If the request is approved at the program level, it will be forwarded with supporting documentation to the College of Arts & Sciences. While extensions of time are rare, each request is reviewed thoroughly with an appropriate outcome communicated to all interested parties. Students must be considered in good standing for the request to be considered. Under normal circumstances, a student will be allowed no more than two extensions to complete the dissertation. Extensions granted are usually one semester in length.

Dissertation Completion

Doctoral candidates should meticulously observe the Guidelines for the Preparation and Processing of Dissertations, available on SIGS website. To avoid the necessity of time-consuming changes in format at the completion of the dissertation, these guidelines should be consulted at the outset. In addition, a style manual (sanctioned by the thesis advisor) such as The Chicago Manual of Style is extremely useful in dealing with footnotes, bibliography, and any other questions of style and citation format not specifically addressed by the guidelines. Once approved by the dissertation director, the final draft of the dissertation must be distributed to all committee members at least thirty days before the scheduled oral defense. The defense cannot take place until the dissertation has been approved by the dissertation advisor.

Application for Degree

Degrees are awarded in August, December, and May. Candidates who expect to receive degrees on a particular award date must submit their completed application for degree form through ULink on or before the dates specified in the University calendar. See the Commencement web page for the dissertation submission deadlines and instructions on submitting the application for degree form (a link to the application for degree may be found on ULink under the Academic Resources section of the student services tab).

Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense)

At least three weeks before the scheduled defense, the candidate must arrange with the dissertation advisor to complete the Thesis/Dissertation Final Oral Examination Schedule Form and return it to his/her advisor or the DGS. It is the students responsibility, with the help of the dissertation advisor and DGS, to meet all SIGS requirements and deadlines. The final oral examination shall be primarily on the dissertation; however, questions may be asked in the candidates major field of research. The Graduate Deans Office shall notify all graduate faculty at the University at least one week in advance of the day, time, and place of the oral defense. Members of the Universitys graduate faculty, as well as the general public, are invited to attend the defense, but only the members of the committee have a voice in approving the dissertation. The oral examination must take place at least two weeks before the end of the semester in which the degree is to be granted. A unanimous vote is not required, but, in order to pass, the student may not receive more than one abstention or dissenting vote, and that vote may not come from the dissertation advisor.

Dissertation Submission

The format of the dissertation must accord with the specific requirements of SIGS stipulated in their Guidelines for the Preparation and Processing of Theses (see above, under Dissertation Completion). It is not uncommon for SIGS to require some technical changes before final acceptance, therefore sufficient time should be allowed for such changes before the deadline. One unbound copy of the approved dissertation, signed by the committee members, must be submitted to SIGS (see the Commencement schedule for due date). All images referenced in the dissertation must be attached in digital form. Students also need to print and sign the nonexclusive license. The license allows the University Libraries to mount the dissertation on their server. This signed license form and an electronic copy of the complete dissertation (including images) must be submitted to the Art Library.