Considering Art History at AU?


American University is an exciting place to be. We believe that our current social and political challenges impact us all in every discipline, and very much in the arts. Our students and faculty share a passion for understanding the ways in which the study of Art History allows us to explore many facets of society and history that have shaped and continue to influence both national and global cultural identities.

We offer our undergraduate majors and minors in Art History excellent preparation for future careers in the arts and for application into graduate programs of study. We believe that the study of Art History should be carefully structured and at the same time as expansive as possible. We lead students through an introductory survey and second-tier surveys of Renaissance and Modern Art, and then open up your options to take courses in Medieval, Renaissance/Baroque, Modern European, and American/Contemporary art. We emphasize varied approaches to studying Art History, including cultural studies, feminism and gender studies, and reception and postcolonial theory. Most upper-level courses bring together both undergraduate- and graduate-level students, so you will be reading interesting and challenging articles, not just textbooks, and participating in engaged class discussions. American University is part of a consortium of universities in the metro-DC area, including, among others, the University of Maryland, George Washington University, and Georgetown University, allowing students to take courses of particular interest at other schools and share enhanced library facilities.

One special aspect of studying art history at American University is our proximity to world-class museums such as the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Freer-Sackler Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the Phillips Collection, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts as well as our own highly regarded Katzen Art Museum. Professors make use of first-person experience with art works in our classes, and students are encouraged to undertake at least one internship at a Washington museum or gallery to enhance understanding of the many facets of the public presentation of art and art history.

We encourage a multidisciplinary approach to Art History and majors can choose related courses from varied fields. Art History is a very rich discipline with strong connections to history, literary studies, aesthetics and philosophy, visual culture studies, and language. At AU, we believe in liberal arts education as a necessary means to developing and fostering a spirit of curiosity and intellectual investigation that extends in many directions.

Programs throughout the University are of outstanding quality and many are nationally ranked. We also emphasize individual attention from faculty.

Come Come see or take a virtual tour of our beautiful campus, nestled in a gorgeous part of the nation's capital, right at the top of Embassy Row. Explore the Katzen Arts Center, visual and performing arts, and tour the exhibitions at the AU Museum. Come for Freshman Day, or let us know how to reach you to arrange another time to come and see us.


All students are required to take 10 courses for the MA degree, totaling 30 credit hours. There are three required courses: Approaches (ARTH 500), a seminar (ARTH 792), and either a second seminar or directed research in art history (ARTH 793).

We offer a three or four course sequence in each of three areas of specialization: Renaissance/ Baroque, Modern European (to about 1950), and US Art/ Contemporary Art. In each area, faculty tend to emphasize a mix of social/cultural interpretation, feminist analysis and other theoretically informed approaches. In our methodology course and the Contemporary art course we also discuss postmodernist intellectual strategies including deconstructionist, post-colonialist, and psychoanalytic theories. Students interested in modern art usually take a mix of European and US art courses. You can do a one-semester internship for 3 credits, but most students who want to do museum internships do them over the summer between their two years.

All students, whether their focus is academic or museum-oriented, take the same classes. The Museum focus of our curriculum is based on including one or more internships in DC museums in addition to the academic core of the program. An internship can count as 3 credits towards the total 30 hours of courses required. A non-credit internship can also be included during the summer between the two years of the program. DC museums such as the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, etc. all have advanced internships for grad students that provide system-wide insight into the museum profession through meetings with diverse staff as well as specific experience in one or more departments.

Students must take two comprehensive exams (one general and the second in a field of specialization, which can be Renaissance/Baroque, 19th and 20th century European art, or American/contemporary art. And you write two short thesis papers (about 30 pages each) rather than one long MA thesis.

We accept about 15 new students each year and about 8 to 10 enroll. In the past two years, several students have also started in January. This means there are usually between 14 and 20 students in residence at any given time, including first, second, and a few third year students. Technically it takes two full years (including a second summer) to finish the degree, and recently we have had several very successful students who have done that and gone on to PhD programs (at Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Pittsburgh,Temple, Washington University (St. Louis), and Florida State University). It is more typical for students to take two and a half years to finish, including their two thesis papers and two comprehensive exams.

We only have 3 to 4 fellowships available for each incoming class. The awards are for partial tuition and a stipend, and continue for two years. They are very competitive, based primarily on our estimation of each candidate's potential for scholarly excellence. Each semester the professors who are teaching General Education courses apply for funding for a TA, and then invite students to serve in that capacity. The TA funding is usually for 45 to 60 hours over the semester at (currently) $12/hour.

For your application, your undergraduate grades and GRE scores are both important, especially if you are interested in an assistantship. We look for general academic ability, logical analysis, intellectual curiousity, and strong writing skills (demonstrated in a paper you submit with your application), as well as evidence that you are someone who would do well in a small, supportive, and engaged academic community with strong support for feminist, social history, gender studies, and reception theory interests.