University of Southern California
black horizontal bar for print styles

Graduate Degrees


Admission to all programs is granted through the Graduate School in conjunction with the Department of Art History; all applicants must meet the requirements of both. Interviews are strongly encouraged.

All applicants must complete the department’s supplemental application form, which may be obtained by writing: Graduate Programs, Art History Department, Von KleinSmid Center 351, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0047.

Complete details for all graduate programs can be found in the Guidelines for Graduate Studies in Art History, obtainable upon admission.

Areas of Concentration

Greek and Roman Art and Archaeology, Medieval Art, Renaissance Art, Baroque Art, 18th and 19th Century European Art, Modern and Contemporary Art, Chinese and Japanese Art, Latin American art and art of the ancient Americas.

Master of Arts, Art History

The department does not accept applicants for the Master of Arts in art history. Although the M.A. is not offered as a terminal degree, but only en route to the Ph.D., a student may be eligible for the M.A. on leaving the program after two years. A minimum of 32 units is required for the degree, and the student must pass the second year review which includes the departmental equivalent of a thesis: a revised seminar paper demonstrating original thought, research skills and writing proficiency.

Degree Requirements
A minimum of 32 units, usually taken during a two-year period, is required for the Master of Arts in Art History, to be distributed as follows:

Required coursesUnits
AHIS 500Methods and Theory of Art History4
Additional 500-level courses28

Course Distribution
Courses will be at the 500 level; 400-level courses may be accepted with approval of the graduate advisor. No more than two seminars with the same course number can be taken for credit toward the master of arts. AHIS 500 normally must be taken in the first semester of study.

Foreign Language Requirement
All candidates must pass a reading proficiency examination in one language, normally French or German. Substitutions may be made upon faculty recommendation and approval of the chair of art history when it is deemed appropriate to the student’s course of study (i.e., Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, etc.). The language requirement should be completed by the end of the first year.

Certificate in the History of Collecting and Display

This program, open to University of Southern California Ph.D. students of art history as well as qualified students from other USC departments with written permission from their home department and the Department of Art History, is devoted to the study of the history of collecting and display of works of art and related materials across a broad chronological and geographical spectrum.

The program provides a means of advancing knowledge about the presentation, circulation and consumption of works of art, as distinct from the more traditional art historical investigation of the conditions surrounding their production. Additionally, this program is designed to remedy a widely perceived disjunction between the ways art history is practiced in the museum and the academy. Each academic department will determine the number of units completed which may be applied to the student’s graduate degree in that department.

AHIS 501Problems in the History and Theory of Collecting and Display4
AHIS 504Museum Research Assistantship1

Two of the following courses:
AHIS 502Markets, Value and the Institutions of Art4
AHIS 503Categories and Collections4
AHIS 550Art, Business and the Law4

Graduate Certificate in Visual Studies

The field of visual studies encompasses a diverse range of images and artifacts as well as the history, processes and technologies of vision itself. This certificate will provide Ph.D. students with the tools necessary to think critically about visual objects and experience and to apply that thinking to their ongoing scholarly work and doctoral research. Students will combine the sustained analysis of specific representations with attention to broader philosophical frameworks and historical conditions.

Graduate students intending to concentrate in visual studies must be admitted to a Ph.D. program at USC. While fulfilling all the requirements for their departmental graduate degree, they may also earn a certificate of competency in visual studies. To receive this certificate, students must take MDA 501 Introduction to Visual Studies: Methods and Debates, a team-taught MDA 599 course, and two other graduate seminars from an approved list of relevant courses, 500 level and above, for a total of at least 16 units. Directed research may not be taken toward certificate requirements.

In addition to the completion of these course requirements, students must demonstrate a focus on visual studies as part of their doctoral dissertation. Alternatively, they may take an oral examination based on three research papers they have written within the context of their visual studies course work. The oral exam will be administered by faculty members affiliated with the visual studies graduate certificate. Faculty will be responsible for judging the adequacy of the visual studies component in the student’s dissertation or oral examination.

Certificate Requirements (8 units)Units
MDA 501Introduction to Visual Studies: Methods and Debates4
MDA 599Special Topics2-4, max 8
Approved Certificate Courses (8 units)
AHIS 501Problems in the History and Theory of Collecting and Display4
AHIS 505Seminar in Feminist Theory and Visual Culture4
AHIS 515Seminar in Contemporary Art4, max 16
AHIS 529Art, Science and Technology4
ANTH 502Contemporary Theory in Anthropology4
ANTH 576LAnthropological Media Seminar4
ANTH 577LAdvanced Anthropological Media Seminar4
ANTH 602The Anthropology of Popular Culture4
COLT 640Seminar in Literature and Visual Culture4, max 12
COMM 544The Arts and New Media4
COMM 584Seminar: Interpreting Popular Culture4
CTCS 511Seminar: Non-Fiction Film/Video4
CTCS 518Seminar: Avant-Garde Film/Video4
CTCS 677Cultural Theory4
EALC 535Proseminar in Chinese Visual Culture4
ENGL 502Contemporary Literature and Cultural Theory4
ENGL 620Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies4, max 12
FA 551Fine Art and Interdisciplinary Studies4, max 12
GERM 581Weimar Culture4
HIST 520Modernity and its Visual Cultures4
HIST 620Research Seminar on Modern Visual Culture4
PAS 575Practice of Public Art2-6, max 12
PAS 585Public Space, the Public Realm and Public Art3
SLL 665Seminar in Russian Culture and the Arts3, max 9
THTR 525Seminar in Contemporary Theatre4
THTR 535Seminar in Aesthetics of the Theatre4

Doctor of Philosophy

The doctor of philosophy in the Art History program normally requires at least three years of course work and two years of dissertation research. Applicants may be admitted directly into the program after receiving the B.A. Other applicants may already hold an M.A. in art history or the equivalent from USC or another accredited school.

Every student will be subject to departmental screening procedures, which involve periodic review by the art history graduate committee. The committee may recommend at any time, after a written warning, based on a student’s grades, evaluation of instructors or rate of progress toward the degree, that a student be dropped from the program. Such recommendations will become effective at the end of the semester during which the recommendation is made.

Application deadline: December 1.

Course Requirements
Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy units total 60. Up to 32 master of arts units from USC or 16 from other institutions may be transferred with approval of the faculty. Transfer work applicable to the Ph.D. program must have been completed within 10 years of the date of application. AHIS 500, or equivalent, is required of all graduate students. Four units are for work on the dissertation. (Two units of dissertation credit each semester – including summer – for a minimum registration period of two semesters.)

Foreign Language Requirements
All candidates must pass reading proficiency examinations in a minimum of two languages, normally French and German or the requisite languages in Asian art. Substitutions and/or additions may be made with faculty recommendation and approval of the chair of the Art History Department when appropriate to the student’s program. Additional foreign language beyond the minimum may be required depending on the student’s program of study. All language requirements must be completed prior to taking the qualifying exam.

Qualifying Examination
At the end of the second year, the student will nominate a five-member guidance committee for the qualifying examination that includes one member from outside the Department of Art History. The student is expected to pass the qualifying examination in a major field and satisfy the requirements for the minor and outside fields by the end of the third year. Forms for permission to take the qualifying examination must be submitted at least 60 days before the date of the scheduled examination. The written portion of the examination will be followed by an oral examination. The oral examination will be given to discuss in greater depth the student’s knowledge of the dissertation proposal; the oral lasts approximately two hours. After passing the qualifying examination, the student will be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D.

Following the completion of the qualifying exam the guidance committee will be reduced to three members, including one member from outside the department, who will guide and finally approve the dissertation.