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University of Pittsburgh    
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 24, 2024
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

History of Art and Architecture, PhD

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General requirements

Doctoral students must complete 72 credit hours, of which 27 may be transferred from the MA program at the University of Pittsburgh or 24 from MA programs at other institutions. At the PhD level, 9 credits (3 courses) beyond the MA degree must be completed in art history or in a discipline relevant to the student’s program of research. These 9 credits (3 courses) must be taken at the 2000 (graduate) level. All other required credits for the PhD may be fulfilled through additional coursework or independent studies directed toward comprehensive exam and prospectus preparation, and dissertation research. The final requirement for the degree is the successful defense of the dissertation.

Course work

The PhD requires a total of 72 credits.

12 graduate-level classroom courses are part of this requirement. Normally, most of these are completed in the first two years. The normal course load is three courses per semester (9 credits). The 12 courses must include:

  • 7 graduate seminars in HAA. Two of the 7 HAA seminars must be the core courses HAA 2005 (Methods) and HAA 2007 (Historiography). Methods and Historiography are alternated every other fall semester and must be taken in the student’s first and second year.
  • 1 cognate course outside HAA.
  •  4 elective courses, in HAA or in other departments.
  • The departmental faculty teach across many areas. In line with the department’s newly organized research constellations, students are expected to take courses on many different historical and geographical topics, while at the same time acquiring in-depth knowledge and expertise in one of these. In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the student’s individual advisor, students should select their courses with these two requirements in mind.

The 12-course requirement accounts for 36 credits. The remaining 36 credits may be amassed through various independent study options and additional courses if necessary.

Note: If a student enters the PhD with an MA from an outside institution, some of these requirements are bypassed. See the Graduate Handbook, Section 2, for more details.



Language Requirement

Students are required to have reading knowledge of two languages (beyond English) relevant to their particular research area. The relevance of these languages to the student’s course of study will be determined in consultation with the academic advisor. All students must be certified in their two research languages; only native speakers will be exempted.

Prior to admission, students specializing in East Asian art and/or architecture must have at least three years/six semesters of college-level Japanese or Chinese, with a grade of B+ or better, or equivalent knowledge. Prior to admission, students specializing in other areas must have at least two years/four semesters of college-level instruction, with a grade of B+ or better, of a major research language, or equivalent knowledge.

For students working in non-East Asian languages, certification in research languages may be achieved in the following ways:

  • through passage of a departmentally administered exam. Students who wish to take the department exam should register with the Graduate Secretary by the end of the first week of the term; the Secretary will schedule and administer the exam. The Exam Coordinator will choose two passages in the language to be examined, evaluate the exam, and communicate the results of the evaluation to the student and Graduate Secretary, who will record the results on the Student Record and Tracking Sheet. Students will have a choice of two passages, each about 500 words in length, but are to pick only one text to translate. They may use a dictionary and will have 90 minutes to complete their translation. The translation must communicate an accurate sense of the text content and knowledge of art historical vocabulary.
  • completion through the intermediate level (typically the third semester) of a language, taken at the University of Pittsburgh during the period of the student’s graduate study, with a grade of B+ or better.
  • completion of two graduate level reading courses in a foreign language, taken at the University of Pittsburgh, with a grade of B+ or better.
  • completion of an accredited language immersion program, in the United States or abroad.
  • certification of language qualification attained at another accredited graduate degree program.

Graduate students in East Asian art and/or architecture will establish a schedule for completion and certification of the language requirement in consultation with their academic advisors.

All students are strongly encouraged to be certified in both languages as soon as possible. Pre-MA students must be certified in at least one of the two languages required for the PhD by the 4th Semester Review if they wish to continue in the PhD program. No student will become ABD without completing his or her language requirements.

The MA thesis and degree

In the case of students who did not earn an MA degree in art/architectural history at another institution prior to matriculating in the PhD program, the MA degree is typically granted at the end of the second year of study as a required step toward the PhD. The MA degree requires:

  • a total of 30 graduate-level credits, including the seven required history of art and architecture courses enumerated above and at least one course outside history of art and architecture.
  • at least one foreign language certified.
  • a thesis passed by majority vote of the faculty.

The MA thesis is a 25-to 30-page paper with an original argument based on original research. The thesis functions as a demonstration of the student’s ability to carry out research and writing of PhD caliber. Ideally, the thesis is based on a seminar paper written in the first year, which is then reworked and polished over the following summer and fall. In some cases, with the approval of a faculty advisor, the student may embark on a new paper not already written in a seminar.

Fourth semester review

In their fourth semester, all students (with the exception of those who entered with an MA in art history) undergo a review for continuation in the PhD program. Students submit a dossier including:

  • their completed MA thesis.
  • all faculty evaluations of the student’s course work to date.
  • a one-page form that explains their proposed dissertation field and lists the course requirements and relevant foreign languages they have passed. This last document must be approved and signed by the student’s advisor.

The faculty then reviews the dossier to make sure that the student’s work demonstrates the ability to carry out a dissertation successfully. More specifically, the faculty looks for evidence of ability to carry out original research in the student’s field, to master secondary literature, to frame an original argument, and to write lucidly.

If the faculty makes a positive determination, the MA degree is granted and the student is officially continued in the PhD program. All graduate coursework done to this date counts toward the PhD degree. A dissertation committee is named, consisting of the student’s advisor and two other history of art and architecture faculty members.

If the faculty determines that the student’s work does not merit continuation in the PhD program, the student may be granted a terminal MA degree if the student has met the MA requirements and if the faculty by majority vote deems the MA thesis creditable.

Preliminary exam

In the fifth semester, the first of the student’s annual PhD committee meetings is held. The student presents a one-page description of the dissertation topic, and the student and committee together decide on comprehensive exam areas and procedures. Once the faculty as a whole reviews and approves the dissertation topic and exam areas, the “prelim” is passed.

Comprehensive exams

Doctoral students normally take their comprehensive exams in the fourth year, (or second year if they are entering with an MA) after they have completed their coursework requirements. While a committee member from outside the department is not required at this stage, it is often extremely helpful to have an outside member participate both in the formulation of the exam contents and in the exam itself. The comprehensive exams have two broad goals. The first goal is to test whether the student has sufficient knowledge of the field to carry out the dissertation. The student should be able to articulate “the shape of the field” and should be conversant with current trends in scholarship. The second goal is to test whether the student has sufficient knowledge to teach one or more broadly defined areas.


The dissertation is a book-length research project designed to make an original scholarly contribution to the student’s field. Ideally, students begin to focus their dissertation topic early in their graduate career, within the first two years. The MA thesis can be a piece of the dissertation project. As soon as possible, students should design their curriculum to enrich and advance their dissertation project.

After a successful fourth semester review, a dissertation committee of three faculty (including the student’s advisor) guides and mentors the student. Upon passing the comprehensive exams, the student prepares a dissertation prospectus that must be approved by the dissertation committee and by one faculty member from outside the department. Once the student completes the dissertation itself, the student must pass a dissertation defense, normally a two-hour conversation with the committee (including outside faculty member).

Time to degree

The PhD degree is designed to take five to seven years to complete, depending on the student’s field. Actual time to degree varies depending on many factors, including the language preparation and/or specialized skills needed to conduct dissertation research. (Students in East Asian art/architecture, for example, may need to learn classical as well as modern languages, and to learn archaeological methods.)

Note: For more details on degree requirements, the student-advisor relationship, and other related matters, please see the Graduate Handbook.

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