The doctoral program in art history typically involves two years of coursework, the completion of a qualifying paper, preliminary exams in three fields, a dissertation prospectus, and a dissertation. Following their coursework, students also learn to teach by serving as a teaching assistant for faculty-taught undergraduate courses and taking the department’s teaching colloquium. After advancing to ABD status, students research and write their dissertation, usually combining time in Chicago with traveling abroad.

Course Requirements

In general terms, the doctoral program requires two years of full time coursework. Students typically enroll in three courses each quarter during their first two years, and courses are selected with the guidance of the student’s doctoral advisor and in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies in the department.

All students take the Proseminar and the COSI Objects & Materials seminar in the Autumn and Winter Quarters, respectively, of their first year. Among the other 18 courses required for the doctoral degree are two courses each for distribution requirements and for the student’s minor field. The qualifying paper, completed by the end of Winter Quarter of the second year, is researched and written within the framework of two Qualifying Paper Reading Courses typically supervised by the doctoral advisor and/or another faculty member. Finally, students enroll in a Preliminary Exam Directed Reading Course in the Spring Quarter of their second year.

All students must demonstrate competency in languages determined by their chosen field. Depending on the language and level, up to three language courses may be counted toward the total number of courses required for the degree.

Given the department's strong history of and continuing commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry and intellectual formation, the doctoral program allows for as many as 8 of the total 18 courses required for the PhD to be taken outside the Department of Art History.

In their third year, students are required to take the Teaching Colloquium and Dissertation Proposal Workshop offered yearly by an art history faculty member. These courses do not count toward the 18 courses required for the PhD. Students also prepare for and take their preliminary exams, and typically hold their first teaching assignments in their third year.


Upon successful completion of all coursework requirements, the qualifying paper, the relevant language requirements, and the preliminary exams, each student prepares a dissertation proposal that must be approved by three committee members. Upon that approval and an administrative review of the student's file, the student formally advances to the status of “PhD Candidate” and “ABD” status.

In subsequent years, students research and write the dissertation while further developing their teaching skills (in keeping with the doctoral program’s teaching requirement). Following the submission and successful defense of the dissertation, the doctoral degree is conferred. The current expectation, in general terms, is that completion of the PhD in Art History requires approximately seven years, but time to degree will vary: some students may graduate in less than seven years, others may find they need an additional year.

While all doctoral students must fulfill the requirements sketched above, the different fields of art historical study that are represented in the Department of Art History each have their own particular scholarly requirements. With the aim of providing graduate students with the most rigorous formation in their chosen area of specialization, the department has made various structural provisions to ensure that students can receive the additional training required by their chosen field (including additional language study, training in specialized research skills, and curatorial formation). As these scholarly requirements vary from field to field, so too—within limits set by the Department of Art History and the Division of the Humanities—the pace of each student’s progress through the doctoral program will necessarily be shaped by the requirements of his/her chosen area of study, in consultation with the art history faculty.

Students should refer to the Graduate Student Handbook for details on all requirements.

Joint and Dual PhDs

Select students may pursue joint PhD degrees with art history and another department or program. Joint PhD programs at the University of Chicago are of two types, "standing" and "ad hoc."

A standing joint degree program has been established between Art History (ARTH) and the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS). It allows students to complement their doctoral studies in Art History with a program of study in TAPS that reflects their particular training and interests, encompassing both academic and artistic work. Students apply to this standing program at the time of their application to the University, which is submitted to the art history department.

Students may petition for an ad-hoc joint PhD with another department or program according to guidelines set by the Humanities Division. Generally, admitted students must separately meet the requirements of both programs, but any overlapping requirement need only be met once if each department would otherwise consider it met were that student not in the joint degree program. Recent art history students have completed joint PhDs with Cinema and Media Studies and with Social Thought.

Under a new initiative, some students may simultaneously pursue PhD studies at the University of Chicago and at a degree-granting institution of higher learning in France, leading to two PhD degrees – one from each of the two institutions. Students approved for this initiative pursue a specific course of study depending on their research and professional interests, must satisfy all the requirements of both doctoral programs, and must write and defend a single dissertation that meets the requirements for each degree.

Master of Arts Program in Humanities

Masters-level study in Art History is offered through the Master of Arts Program in Humanities. Sstudents build their own curriculum with graduate-level courses in any humanities department (including in the Department of Art History) and complete a thesis with a University of Chicago faculty advisor. Typically a one-year program, some students pursue the “Two Year Language Option” or TLO to pursue additional foreign language study.