Master of Arts (MA) in Art History

Our PhD program provides scholarly challenges, research skills, and mentoring necessary for professional development and successful careers.

PhD students are expected to acquire greater breadth and depth of knowledge in the discipline of art history, to achieve a high level of expertise in a specialized field, and to demonstrate professional speaking and writing skills.

Every successful PhD student must complete a publishable dissertation that makes an original contribution to the art history discipline and demonstrates evidence of the candidate's superior understanding of the critical issues in the chosen field of specialization.

Requirements, admission, and program information

The Doctor of Philosophy program in art history requires a minimum of 72 semester hours of graduate credit. PhD students are expected to acquire great breadth and depth of knowledge in the discipline of art history, achieve a high level of expertise in a specialized field, and demonstrate professional speaking and writing skills. The program provides them with scholarly challenges, research skills, and mentoring necessary for professional development and successful careers.

PhD students must maintain a grade-point average (GPA) of at least 3.50. They may count a maximum of 38 semester hours of work completed for the MA toward the PhD. Students are allowed only one semester of academic probation.

To establish academic residency, doctoral students must be enrolled full-time (at least 9 semester hours) at The University of Iowa for two semesters beyond their first 24 semester hours of graduate study; or they must enroll for at least 6 semester hours in each of three semesters during which they hold an assistantship of one-quarter-time or more. Resident tuition is assessed for assistantship semesters and adjacent summer sessions.

PhD students major in one of the following distribution fields: Asian, Ancient Mediterranean, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, 18th- and 19th-century European, American, and Modern/Contemporary. In addition, candidates minor in two fields; any of the previous plus African. One minor must be in an art history distribution field that is non-contiguous with the major field. The second minor may be in any art history distribution field, OR it may be in a relevant discipline outside the Division of Art History, subject to approval of the Art History faculty.

PhD students must complete a publishable dissertation that makes an original contribution to the art history discipline and demonstrates evidence of superior understanding of critical issues in the student's chosen specialization field.

For more detailed information, consult the art history policies and procedures.

Applications to the PhD program in art history, with all supporting materials and requests for financial aid, must be received by Dec. 15 for fall admission in the following year. Please apply now for complete application information. Applicants must hold an MA in art history or a related graduate degree and must be able to demonstrate proficiency in French or German. Proficiency in a second non-English language relevant to the student's research area is required by the end of the third semester of PhD work; see "Language requirement" section.

Although exceptions may be made when other components of the application are strong, applicants should have a graduate grade-point average (GPA) of at least 3.50 on a 4.00 scale.

Students who completed an MA at the University of Iowa and who wish to apply for entrance into the PhD program must make a formal application to the program. (Please see Graduate Program Coordinator for procedures.) Applications are evaluated in the context of the entire applicant pool.

PhD students must satisfactorily complete ARTH:4999 History and Methods, even if they have completed a similar course at another institution (students who have completed the course for a master's degree or other previous work at Iowa are exempt). They must register for an art history seminar in their first three semesters of PhD course work (or in their fifth, sixth, and seventh semesters of graduate study), before the PhD readings course and comprehensive exam. They also must satisfactorily complete ARTH:6020 Art History Colloquium every semester that they are enrolled for 9 semester hours or more or are serving as teaching or research assistants. Students who are not employed as teaching or research assistants or are registered for less than 9 semester hours are strongly encouraged to attend the colloquium.

Up to 6 semester hours of credit for dissertation research may be applied toward the 72 semester hours required for the degree. Courses outside the curriculum of the School of Art, Art History, and Design's art history division do not carry art history credit.

Normally, a maximum of 6 semester hours earned in ARTH:6040 Directed Studies may be applied toward the semester-hour requirement for the PhD, although doctoral students may petition the art history faculty for permission to apply up to 9 semester hours.

PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in French or German for admission to the PhD program in art history. They must demonstrate proficiency in a second non-English language, generally one relevant to the chosen area of research, by the end of the third semester in the PhD program. Students may demonstrate proficiency by a) two years of university-level coursework, b) earning a grade of B or better in a 3000-level advanced language course, c) achieving at least an 80% proficiency score on the level 5 milestone of the relevant Rosetta Stone language program, or d) in exceptional circumstances, making a direct petition to the faculty after receiving the recommendation of their advisor. Language courses do not carry degree credit.

The PhD committee consists of the student's dissertation adviser, who is responsible for the major field, two members responsible for the two minor fields, and at least two additional members. Of these five, four must be tenured or tenure-track faculty members from the art history division. One must be from outside the division and must be a member of the Graduate College faculty. When appropriate, committees may include additional members.

Upon completion of course requirements, the PhD candidate takes three written comprehensive examinations. The major exam consists of six questions and lasts six hours; the two minor exams each consist of three questions and last three hours. The exams normally are taken on any three days within one week (Monday through Friday).

The scope of the comprehensive exams is determined in consultation with the candidate's degree committee supervisor and the committee members responsible for the two minor fields.

Within approximately two weeks of completing the three written exams, the candidate meets with their degree committee for the oral comprehensive examination, which concentrates on questions that arise from the written comprehensive exams.

As soon as possible after completing the comprehensive examinations, the candidate submits a dissertation proposal to his or her degree committee supervisor and subsequently to the degree committee. The committee meets as a group with the candidate to discuss the dissertation proposal and to offer comments and suggestions. (The proposal must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks before the approval meeting.) The proposal includes a 1-2 page abstract, a 10-15 page précis (including a review of the state of the field), and a bibliography.

After the proposal has been approved by the committee, the candidate circulates an abstract to the entire art history faculty. The candidate must give a public presentation on the dissertation topic no later than the end of the semester following the degree committee's approval. The presentation is scheduled with the head of art history.

Upon completing a dissertation, which constitutes an original scholarly contribution to the field, the candidate meets with the PhD committee for an oral defense of the dissertation. The oral defense constitutes the final examination for the PhD. The successful completion of this examination normally marks the last stage in the candidate's fulfillment of requirements for the degree.

Strengths and resources

Modern studies constitute a significant strength of the program, with four faculty members offering courses and seminars in 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century American and European art and contemporary art and architecture. Students also have opportunities to participate in a variety of interdisciplinary programs in American and European history, literature, and politics.

Study of 18th- and 19th-century French and European art is greatly enriched by the De Caso collection of rare books and archives housed in the Art Library. Rare visual materials that are part of this collection have been digitized by the Office of Visual Materials.

A major resource for 20th-century art is the International Dada Archive. Founded in 1979, it remains an invaluable resource for students and faculty at the University of Iowa as well as for Dada scholars throughout the world. Moreover, the University of Iowa Special Collections has a number of archives related to twentieth-century artists and artistic movements, from the Fluxus West Collection to the papers of Buster Cleveland. Moreover, the University of Iowa Museum of Art has an extensive collection of art from this period, the centerpiece of which is Jackson Pollock's Mural. In addition to the permanent collection, the UIMA hosts exciting rotating exhibitions such as "Napoleon and the Art of Propaganda" (2012) and “New Forms: The Avant-Garde Meets the American Scene, 1934-1949” (2013).

Another major strength of the department is African art. The Stanley Collection of African Art at the Stanley Museum of Art is one of the country’s most well-respected collections of African art and provides an invaluable resource for graduate students. The Project for Advanced Study of Art and Life in Africa (PASALA) is among the school's major assets, an interdisciplinary program of fellowships, scholarships, conferences, and publications on the visual arts in Africa. Among other things, it helped support the late Professor Christopher Roy's Art and Life in Africa Project, which is a website designed to provide textual and video resources for people interested in learning about various communities in Africa

Ancient and medieval studies is another key strength of the program, with three faculty members offering courses and seminars in Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, Roman, and medieval art. Students also have the opportunity to study in a variety of related programs in ancient or medieval history, literature, and religion. They are encouraged to participate in the activities of the local chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America as well as the Medieval Studies Program and Iowa Forum of Graduate Medievalists. The University of Iowa Museum of Art provides a unique opportunity to handle Etruscan and South Italian vases while casts of bronze objects from Pompeii are available for close study on campus, and the nearby Cedar Rapids Museum of Art features a number of ancient portraits, from Alexander the Great to Marcus Aurelius. The University of Iowa Special Collections is home to a number of medieval manuscripts, and classes offered by the world-renowned Center for the Book complement these holdings.


Exterior of Art Building West

Art Building West

The award-winning Art Building West was designed by New York architect Steven Holl. The building opened in 2006 and houses Studio and Art History classrooms, the Art Library, and administrative offices.

Exterior of north side of Visual Arts Building

Visual Arts Building

The Visual Arts Building, also designed by Steven Holl Architects, opened in 2016. Designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration, it is the most up-to-date visual arts facility in the U.S. The site is directly adjacent to Art Building West.

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Art history faculty

Björn Anderson

Björn Anderson

Associate Professor
headshot image of Rob Bork

Robert Bork

Director of Graduate Studies, Art History
Amy Huang is Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Art History in the School of Art and Art History.

Amy Huang

Assistant Professor
Director of Undergraduate Studies, Art History
Anna Isbell in Italy

Anna Isbell

Assistant Professor of Instruction
Dorothy Johnson is the Roy J. Carver Professor of Art History in the School of Art and Art History.

Dorothy Johnson

Roy J. Carver Professor of Art History