How do I Earn an Art History PhD?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Images By: Keijo Knutas, Olga Romantsova, Ferretcloud, Shotsstudio
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2018
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To receive a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in art history, you should first receive a four-year degree, such as a bachelor’s degree, in a related field and then apply to universities that offer graduate programs in art history. You may want to consider a specialization or other type of more narrowed focus as well, such as architecture or a specific period or location such as Renaissance art or Middle Eastern art. Having a sense of what specific field you are interested in studying can help you choose a school that offers or specializes in that type of program. As you work toward your art history PhD, you should also consider what types of careers you are interested in to help you find a degree that will help you in that field.

One of the first steps toward an art history PhD is receiving your four-year degree in a related field, such as a bachelor’s degree in art, art history, history, or archeology. As you work on this degree you should be considering where you would like to pursue your post-graduate work and begin applying to those schools early. It can often be helpful to know what specific area you might like to focus on, so you can find a school with an excellent program in that field.


For example, if you want to earn an art history PhD with a focus on architecture, then finding a school with a strong architecture program could better allow you to work on your degree in a more interdisciplinary way. Similarly, you might consider other areas of interest or specialization, such as the art of the ancient world, modern art, or the art of Japan. If you are having a hard time deciding on an area you might like to focus on, then you might want to consider what type of career you would like to find once you earn your art history PhD and pursue a field that will work well for that career.

If you would like to teach, for example, then any specialization would probably work well as long as you also had a strong general knowledge of art history. You might be interested in working at a museum and so having some specific knowledge in museum organization and curatorial work would be helpful. Once you know what you want, you should then find a school with a post-graduate program that will offer you the type of art history PhD you want to receive.

You will then need to apply to that school, and likely take tests such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) to gain admittance. Receiving an art history PhD can often take up to seven years, and many schools only offer PhD programs, granting a master’s degree “en route” to the PhD. You will likely need to work on, present, and ultimately defend a doctoral dissertation before a panel of experts and art historians before finally earning your art history PhD.



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