MA in Art (Creative) and Art History: Concentration in Art History

MA in Art (Creative) and Art History: Concentration in Art History

The Master of Arts (MA) in Fine Arts with a concentration in Art History provides advanced expertise in art history. This course of study prepares students with the course work, language skills, and research experience needed for further graduate study or work in a museum or educational setting. Students in this concentration may select in-depth courses that focus on particular eras, such as Renaissance, Baroque, Contemporary, Asian and Non-western art and architecture.

Core Curriculum (16 hours)

  • 3 hours: ARTH 642: Theories & Methods of Art History (to be taken in the first year) (offered fall only)
  • 3 hours: 500 or 600-level elective in Art History
  • 3 hours: 500 or 600-level elective outside the Department of Fine Arts
  • 3 hours: 500 or 600 Fine Arts elective outside the chosen concentration [Note: outside the chosen concentration means outside the area of concentration, i.e., Art History majors must take a course in Curatorial Studies or Studio Art.]
  • 3 hours: ARTH 645 or 646:Thesis Guidance
  • 1 hour: ARTH 600: Graduate Seminar (to be taken in the first year) (offered fall only)


Beyond the core curriculum, the concentration in Art History requires:

  • Fulfillment of a language requirement during the first year in the program
  • 15 hours: 500 and 600-level courses in Art History with a minimum of one course in each of the following areas:
    • Pre 1750 
    • After 1750 
    • Nonwestern
  • A minimum of 12 hours (exclusive of Thesis Guidance) must be at the 600-level, of which at least 9 hours must be in Art History. 
  • NOTE: In the absence of available courses in the student's area of interest, an Independent Study course may be arranged with a faculty member in the Art History program in consultation with the student's advisor: ARTH 643 or 644 (students are permitted one independent study course)
  • Thesis

Language Requirement

Reading knowledge of one foreign language is required for the completion of the Masters (MA) degree in the Art History track. This requirement should be met during the first year in the program, but must be met before enrolling for Thesis Guidance (ARTH 645 or 646). 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 the intermediate level language course at the University of Louisville with a grade of B or better.

General Outline of Academic Schedule in the M.A. Program in Art History

Year 1: Semester 1

  • Take ARTH 642: Theories & Methods of Art History (to be taken in the first year) (offered fall only)
  • Take ARTH 600: Graduate Seminar (1 cr)
  • Take 6 additional credit hours

Year 1: Semester 2

  • Take 9 credit hours
  • Complete language requirement
  • Identify thesis advisor

Year 2: Semester 1

  • Take 6-9 credit hours
  • Compile full thesis committee
  • Determine thesis topic
  • Submit prospectus to committee

Year 2: Semester 2

  • Register for Thesis Guidance (3 cr)
  • Research and write thesis
  • Submit appropriate thesis defense paperwork to Department and SIGS
  • Defend and graduate

Satisfactory Progress toward the M.A. Degree

Each year the Art History faculty will review all Art History graduate students to assess their progress in the program. To remain in good standing in the M.A. program, students must: maintain regular enrollment in graduate courses; complete and pass courses within the time limits of the semester in which the course is taken; and maintain an overall minimum GPA of 3.0. Students enrolled full-time are expected to follow the schedule of progress outlined in the previous section; those enrolled part-time are expected to complete coursework within five semesters of admission, and to finish the thesis within two semesters following the completion of coursework. SIGS mandates that all requirements for the M.A. degree be completed within six years of enrollment.

Writing a Masters Thesis

The Masters thesis is a formal research paper on a specific art historical topic that includes scholarly notes and bibliography. It should demonstrate a sound familiarity with relevant sources, skill in analysis and interpretation, and the ability to present the results in a well-organized and cogent manner. A topic is selected in the students chosen area of concentration in consultation with the thesis advisor, and the thesis is prepared under his/her supervision. Its content, approach, and presentation are to be developed with the advisors approval and support. The thesis must be defended in an oral examination administered by the thesis advisor and reading committee.

Choosing a Thesis Advisor and a Thesis Topic

Working closely with the thesis advisor is an essential key to writing a successful thesis. His/her suggestions and counsel should be sought concerning research, writing, format, schedule, progress, and all other matters. Masters students are responsible for formally requesting to work with a specific thesis advisor, who must have mentor status within the graduate faculty. The faculty member must agree to act as advisor to the specific project the student is proposing, and it is assumed that the advisors area of specialization will correspond to the proposed project.

There are a number of ways in which students may choose a thesis topic, including the following: 1) an M.A. thesis is often based on a seminar paper that has shown particular promise. In this case, normally the thesis advisor is the faculty member who assigned the paper; 2) students may ask a faculty member with whom coursework has been taken to suggest a thesis topic and act as the thesis advisor; 3) students who are interested in a specific topic may go to the faculty member with a corresponding expertise and request that he/she serve as the thesis advisor. It is up to the student and the thesis advisor to see that all required procedures are followed.

Approval of the Thesis Topic

A topic must be formally approved before the commencement of the thesis. To obtain approval, a proposal or prospectus must be prepared; the advisor supervises its preparation and must sanction it before it is submitted to the students thesis committee members. The prospectus must be typed and double-spaced, and should include:

  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 thesis.
  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 thesis 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 thesis = the ordering of the thesis sections/chapters, their titles, and a brief summary of the material that each will contain
  8. Bibliography

Thesis Committee

Before thesis research commences, the thesis advisor, along with the students input, will form a thesis committee. The committee includes: 1) the thesis advisor (who acts as chair of the committee); 2) another member of the department faculty; and 3) a faculty member in a closely related field from another department or institution. Committee members must be formally solicited to act as readers and must agree to serve in that capacity; all committee members, including the thesis advisor, must be appointed to the graduate faculty. As soon as the committee is 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. 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.

Thesis Development and Completion

Students should obtain a copy of SIGS Guidelines for the Preparation and Processing of Theses.
To avoid the necessity of time-consuming changes in format at the completion of the thesis, 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 SIGS guidelines. A final draft of the thesis, approved by the thesis advisor, must be given to each of the committee members at least two weeks before the scheduled oral defense. The student must complete the Thesis/ Dissertation Final Oral Examination Schedule Form and return it to his/her advisor or the DGS. This form must be submitted to SIGS a minimum of three weeks prior to the scheduled defense.

Application for Degree

Thesis Defense

The final oral examination (thesis defense) is conducted by the thesis committee. Any member of the graduate faculty of the University and other guests may attend the defense, but only the members of the committee have a voice in approving the thesis. The examination covers the materials presented in the thesis but may include other matters pertinent to the candidates thesis topic. Recommendation for the degree is determined by a simple majority of the committee members. The recommendation is made to the Assistant Dean of Graduate Education and the Dean of SIGS at least two weeks prior to graduation. In the event of an unfavorable vote, the committee may refuse the candidates award of the Masters degree, or it may recommend another examination with or without additional work.

Thesis Submission

The thesis must be completed according to SIGS requirements outlined in the Guidelines for the Preparation and Processing of Theses. One unbound copy of the approved thesis, signed by the committee members, must be submitted to SIGS (see the Commencement schedule for due date). All images referenced in the thesis must be attached in digital form. Students also need to print and sign the non-exclusive license. The license allows the University Libraries to mount the thesis on their server. This signed license form and an electronic copy of the complete thesis (including images) must be submitted to the Art Library.

For admission and scholarship information contact Theresa Berbet at