PhD in History of Art & Architecture

The department’s PhD program prepares students to produce and defend an original contribution to knowledge and to teach the disciplines of history of art and architecture at both the undergraduate and graduate level. To enter, students must have a background of coursework equivalent to an undergraduate minor in history of art and architecture at Boston University—that is, a two-semester survey course and three additional courses in history of art and architecture. In addition, two years of college work or the equivalent in a foreign language should be completed.

Course Requirements

Sixteen courses (64 credits) are required to complete the doctoral program. It is recommended that two of these courses be in fields other than art history; approval of the Director of Graduate Studies or the student’s official faculty advisor is necessary before registering for non–art history courses. Two of the art history courses must be graduate seminars.

A specialized track option is available for students who wish to focus on the history of architecture.

Graduate students in the Department of History of Art & Architecture are eligible to enter the department’s Graduate Certificate Program in Museum Studies. The certificate’s required courses may be taken either as a part of, or in addition to, the courses required for the PhD.

Students with prior graduate work may be able to transfer course credits. For details, see the GRS Transfer of Credits policy.

Language Requirements

All students pursuing a PhD in History of Art & Architecture are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in a foreign language. The language will be determined by the faculty advisor and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Additionally, students must acquire reading knowledge in a secondary Asian or a European language, as decided in consultation with the student’s advisor. In the case of an Asian language, successful completion of second-year modern Chinese, Japanese, or Korean satisfies the department’s reading knowledge language requirement. The requirement for a second language for all students must be met by the end of the second semester of residence. A student may not take the Qualifying Examination until the language examination has been fulfilled.

Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination, successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University, or the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study of the language at Boston University.

It may be necessary in some areas of specialization for the student to pass an examination in a third language, as determined by the advisor and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Areas of specialization requiring a third language are as follows:

  • Students specializing in African art history must successfully complete four semesters of an African language as their second language.
  • Students specializing in Islamic art history are expected to have the proficiency level of three years in Persian, Arabic, or Turkish.
  • Students specializing in Asian art must have successfully completed at least the equivalent of three years of training or proficiency in an appropriate primary “research” language, modern Chinese or modern Japanese (depending on the chosen field of specialization).

Qualifying Examination

The PhD Qualifying Examination is the prerequisite for writing a dissertation. It is designed to reveal a mastery of a field of specialization and a comprehensive knowledge of a minor area.

It is expected that the fields will include at least three different media or areas of endeavor (listed below), and will also span at least two centuries (or more, depending on the standards of the art historical area involved).

  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Architecture
  • Decorative arts
  • Photography
  • History of criticism

The examination is divided into two parts: an oral examination and a written examination. The oral examination lasts two hours. At least three examiners are present, including at least one Department of History of Art & Architecture faculty member who is a specialist in the major field. The written examination is designed to demonstrate the student’s facility in carrying out research in the chosen field of expertise. After conferring with the primary advisor about the areas of concentration, the date of the exam, and the names of the examiners, the student will submit the signed form to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval. The student must coordinate the date and place of the examination with the department administrator and each of the examiners. After the oral examination, the examiners will present the student with a topic for a scholarly paper. Within two weeks, the student must produce a research paper of approximately 15–20 pages, plus footnotes and bibliography, on one of these topics. No Qualifying Exam may be taken before all incomplete grades have been filed.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the department Chair within three months (or at the end of the summer) of successful completion of the Qualifying Examination. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

If a post-BA PhD student chooses to leave the program after completing only the MA degree, then all regular requirements for the MA degree must first be satisfied. Boston University does not offer an MPhil degree.