Department of Art & Art History

Skip to navigation
Visual Arts Complex
Visual Arts Complex

MA Handbook

Updated 11/12/2017

Table of Contents


MA in Art History Degree Requirements
1. Required Courses
2. Language Requirements
3. First-Year Review
4. Comprehensive Exams
5. Pre-Thesis Meeting and Thesis
6. Suggested Sequence for Completion of the Program

Advising and Registration
1. Advising
2. Registration

1. Departmental Resources
2. Campus Resources
3. Boulder/ Denver Area Resources



This handbook is meant to explain, in detail, the information needed to be successful in the MA Program in Art History at CU Boulder. While this handbook is meant to be all-inclusive, it is not a substitute for all information at the Graduate School/University level and it is strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of communication with faculty and the art history director of graduate studies. Policies and regulations of the University of Colorado at Boulder can be found at:


Degree Requirements

The Department of Art and Art History offers a free-standing MA in Art History. An M.A. degree must be completed within 4 years of beginning coursework in the graduate program (Graduate School requirement). However, M.A. students in the Department of Art and Art History are expected to complete their coursework and defend their theses within two years. These requirements pertain only to the MA degree in Art History. Students pursuing the BA/MA, MBA/MA or MS will not follow the requirements outlined below. A minimum of 30 semester hours must be completed, of which 21 must be completed in residence on the Boulder campus.

1. Required Courses:

– Theories of Art History must be taken during the first semester. This course may be taken twice for up to 6 credits hours.- At least one 3-credit 3000 level or above course in a department outside of the Department of Art and Art History which supplements the Major or Minor area of specialization.- M.A. Thesis (ARTH 6959): 4-6 credit hours. Under special circumstances, a project may replace the Thesis- At least one 3-credit 5000 or 6000 level course in 4 of the following areas of art history:

  • Medieval Art
  • Early Modern/Renaissance Art
  • Pre-Colombian / Colonial Latin American Art
  • Native North American Art
  • Asian Art
  • Modern Art
  • Contemporary Art
  • Institutional Critique
  • In consultation with your advisor, and when available, Ancient/Late Antiquity art may constitute an area


  • No more than 9 hours of independent study credit may be applied toward the M.A.
  • Pass/Fail courses do not count toward the M.A.
  • ARTH 5087 does not count toward the M.A.
  • Students are encouraged to attend undergraduate lecture courses to prepare themselves for graduate seminars and for the comprehensive exam.

2. Language Requirement

All Programs in the Department of Art History require proficiency in languages relevant to the field of study. Students should consult with their advisor regarding the language required for their field at the beginning of their first year. All M.A. students must demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language during their first year of the program. Language exam structure may vary based on the requirements of the faculty member supervising the test.

  • Departmental Language Exam tests reading proficiency in the following languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
  • Generally, a faculty member chooses reading selections from various subjects that are deemed appropriate. With the aid of a dictionary, students are expected to complete a translation of the text presented for testing. The exam is graded by a faculty member.
  • Students do not need to pass a reading language exam if they have previously and satisfactorily completed coursework with a grade of B or higher equal to three consecutive semesters at the college level.

3. First-Year Review

  • During the last two weeks of April, students are required to hold a 1-hour meeting chaired by the prospective thesis advisor and 1 or 2 other faculty members with whom the student has taken courses. The first year review focuses on the student’s ability to continue in the program, and preparation for the comprehensive exam as well as the selection of a thesis topic.
  • After successfully completing the first-year review, the student will choose major and minor areas of concentration in art history. Students should have completed coursework in their chosen major and minor areas in preparation for their comprehensive exam and thesis, and will work with faculty in those areas.
  • Students are responsible for organizing and scheduling the first-year review meeting.
  • At the conclusion of the review, the committee will sign the First-Year-Review Form, which will be added to the student’s file.
  • If student coursework and performance is found to be unsatisfactory during the first-year review, faculty will vote on student continuance in the M.A. Program. Students may be asked to leave the program at the culmination of the first-year review. Students have the right to appeal this decision by submitting a petition to the faculty. The decision of the art history faculty is final.

4. Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam is given to measure the graduate student’s knowledge of art history at the M.A. level. It consists of questions, developed by the student with their major and minor advisors. Preparation for the comprehensive exam is discussed at the student’s first-year review. The student should take the comprehensive exam their third semester in mid-October.

Components of the Comprehensive Exam:

Major Exam:

  • The major advisor will assign and/or develop with the student 3 questions, for which the student will write 3 separate bibliographies as well as an outline answer for each question
  • The advisor will choose two questions to present to the student at the time of the exam
  • The examinee must answer one of these questions
  • The time allotted for the major exam is two hours

Minor Exam:

  • The minor advisor will assign and/or develop with the student 2 questions, for which the student will write 2 separate bibliographies as well as an outline answer for each question
  • The advisor will choose one of the two questions to present to the student at the time of the exam
  • The student has 90 minutes to answer the question

Preparation for the Exam

During the first-year review possible topics/questions for comprehensive exams are discussed, and further determined with reading lists in subsequent individual meetings between the major advisor and the student, and the minor advisor and the student. Three topics will be selected for the major area, two for the minor area. Students should complete the majority of their reading and preparation during the summer prior to the semester of the comprehensive exam. Neither the minor advisor or major advisor is required to meet with students over the summer.

The student meets with both their major and minor advisors as arranged between them on an individual basis; the major advisor determines when the student is ready to take the major exam and the minor advisor determines when the student is ready to take the minor exam. The major and minor advisors should consult with one another in making a final determination of student readiness for an exam. The exams can occur on the same day or different days, but the exams must take place within a week of each other in mid-October. The order of the examination (e.g., major essay first, minor essay second) is at the discretion of the examinee. It is the student’s responsibility to arrange the date of the exam with each advisor and to reserve a space to take the exam.

The week prior to the Exam:

  • Student schedules the exam time and date with consultation with their major advisor and their minor advisor.
  • Student notifies the graduate program coordinator of the exam date and time.
  • Student reserves an empty room, such as an unoccupied office or a departmentally scheduled room (330A, 455, 485, 303, or 308).
  • Student reserves a “comp-ready” laptop with the Visual Resources Center (VRC). Internet access will be disabled on these computers during the examination period.

The day of the exam: 

  • The faculty advisor delivers a sealed envelope to the examinee that contains the questions for the exam and a blank flash drive. If the faculty advisor is unable to do so, the graduate program coordinator will assist with proctoring the exam.
  • The use of books, notes, electronic aids (other than an approved computer), or other aid is prohibited during the examination.
  • Examinees may take an hour break between the two essay questions if they are scheduled for the same day. A sample sequence would be: an examinee opens the major essay question envelope and writes an essay for two hours; the examinee takes a break for one hour; the examinee returns from break, opens the minor question envelope, and then answers that question for 90 minutes.
  •  At the end of the exam period, the student will upload essay questions onto a flash drive that is provided, and return the envelope and flash drive to the faculty advisor or the graduate program coordinator.

Grading and Notification

  • Grading: The major advisor and minor advisor grade their respective portions of the examination. In consultation with one another, the two advisors determine whether the examinee has passed or failed the exam.
  • The student must pass the exam, and pre-thesis meeting to register for thesis hours.
  • The faculty advisors will put the results of the exam in the student’s campus mailbox in a sealed envelope, as well as turn in a copy to the Graduate Program Coordinator to include in the student’s file.
  • After successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student meets with the thesis advisor to discuss the thesis proposal and pre-thesis review (see pre-thesis review below).

5. Developing A Thesis and the Pre-Thesis Review


Pre-Thesis Review

  • After successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student prepares a thesis proposal or abstract (1-2 typed pages) with a short bibliography relevant to the proposed topic and methodology of the thesis.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to submit the abstract to the thesis advisor and, upon approval of the thesis advisor, to circulate it to the rest of the thesis committee.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the pre-thesis meeting before the last day of classes.
  • At the conclusion of the pre-thesis review, all members of the thesis committee must sign the Pre-Thesis Form.
  • The thesis advisor will turn the form in to the graduate program coordinator, which serves as authorization to enroll the student in thesis hours.

Forming the Thesis Committee:

  • The thesis committee must consist of at least 3 faculty members that have active graduate faculty appointments on file with the Graduate School.
  • In consultation with the thesis advisor, the student will select a thesis committee for the thesis defense, an oral examination that consists of not less than 2 members of the art history graduate faculty, including the thesis advisor.
  • The committee may include more members and graduate faculty outside the Department or outside the University if approved by the Department of Art and Art History.
  • Any changes to the composition of the thesis committee after the pre-thesis review require a petition to the director of graduate studies for art history followed by a vote by the tenured/tenure-track faculty.

Thesis Specifications:

  • The student must demonstrate mastery of the relevant scholarship and original scholarly research and writing at the M.A. level in art history.
  • The thesis should be based on independent study and analysis.
  • The thesis should represent 4-6 credit hours.
  • In most cases, the thesis will be the equivalent of a 30-50-page paper, exclusive of endnotes, bibliography, and illustrations.
  • The thesis paper must be written according to the specifications outlined by the Graduate School.

Thesis Defense and Graduation:

  • It is the student’s responsibility to thoroughly review the Graduate School’s graduation deadlines and thesis specifications pages. Also, refer to the Master’s Graduation checklist.
  • The thesis paper must be submitted electronically to the Graduate School by the deadline.
  • Prior to submission, an appointment with a Graduate School advisor should be made to ensure that all the formal requirements are met. A hard copy of the signature page, complete with the Thesis Committee members’ signatures, is submitted to, and remains in the Graduate School.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the thesis defense by the defense deadline given by the Graduate School.
  • At the conclusion of the thesis defense, the Masters Exam Report must be signed by all members of the thesis committee. A majority approval is required to pass the exam in addition to at least two approving signatures on the Thesis paper signature page.
  • A hard copy of the final thesis paper is due to the graduate program coordinator by the last day of classes.

6. Suggested Sequence for Completion of the Program


1st Semester: 9 credit hours

  • Theories of Art History
  • One or two graduate seminars
  • One elective course, either inside or outside the department

2nd Semester: 9 credit hours

  • Two or three graduate seminars
  • One elective course, either inside or outside the department
  • Fulfillment of the language requirement
  • First-year review
  • summer: preparation for the comprehensive exam

3rd Semester: 9 credit hours

  • Outside department elective (if not completed earlier)
  • Two to three graduate courses
  • Comprehensive exam is taken by mid-October
  • Pre-thesis review

4th Semester:  6 credit hours 

  • Writing of the thesis. advisable not to take courses during this semester
  • Thesis defense
  • Submission of the thesis to the Graduate School
  • Graduation


Advising and Registration


1. Advising

Advisors in the Department of Art and Art History are responsible for supervising and approving a student’s curriculum while in the program. It is vital for students to communicate pro-actively with their advisor throughout their time at CU. It is strongly encouraged prior to each registration period that students visit with the director of graduate studies in art history to discuss their upcoming course load. Questions about requirements may be addressed to the director of graduate studies for art history, the student’s faculty advisor, or the graduate program coordinator.

Advising  Contact information:

Director of Graduate Studies for Art History
Professor Bob Nauman

Graduate Program Coordinator
Catherine Cartwright
Phone: 303-492-2419


2. Registration

Enrolling in Courses:
You can enroll in classes through MyCUInfo and by using the class search tool during your assigned enrollment appointment. You will be notified by email of your enrollment appointment. See the Academic Calendar for specific dates and deadlines.

Viewing Your Enrollment Period:
Click Your Enrollment Dates in MyCUInfo. The Enrollment Appointments table lists your appointment begin time, appointment end time and the maximum number of units in which you may enroll. Students who do not register by the third Friday in the fall or spring semester are assessed a $100 late- registration fee.

Adding and Dropping Courses After Registration:
Students may add and/or drop courses through MyCUInfo, without penalty, during the drop/add period (i.e., at the beginning of each semester). Students will not be charged tuition for courses dropped during this time, and dropped courses do not appear on their transcript. After the last day to add a class in MyCUInfo, all added classes require the instructor’s signature on a Special Action Form (available at the instructor’s home department). Instructors usually only approve an add for students who have been attending regularly and in classes with space available.

Leaves of Absence:
Students are allowed four years to complete the two-year degree program. Students who must interrupt studies for a compelling reason—i.e., a medical condition—may be granted a leave of absence. Information on leaves of absence is available at:

If you are already an employee of the University of Colorado, you may be eligible for the Employee Tuition Benefit.




1. Departmental Resources

Department Offices:

The Department of Art and Art History main office is located on the third floor of the Visual Arts Complex (VAC) in room 330.

VAC 330 – Art and Art History main office
VAC 309 – Art History TA Office
VAC 330B – graduate program coordinator
VAC 310 – Visual Resources Center (VRC)

Visual Resources Center
The mission of the VRC is to facilitate access to images, imaging and related information resources for teaching and research in the Department of Art and Art History. The VRC includes slide and flatbed scanning stations. The VRC includes:

  • A departmental image collection
  • Training and support in digital imaging and related software
  • Equipment for creative work, and documentation. (including laptops, data projectors, digital SLR cameras, tripods, etc…
  • A collection of DVDs containing lectures and interviews from the Visiting Artist and Visiting Scholars

Visiting Artist Program
Visiting Artist Program Artists of national and international reputation interact with graduate and advanced undergraduate students and discuss studio work.Artists present lectures during their visit, the lecture is free and open to the public. Graduate students in Art History are encouraged to attend.

Visting Scholar Program
The Visting Scholar Program is organized by the faculty of Art History to focus on the research and insights of individual academic experts representing a range of interests and disciplines. Three to five highly regarded historians and/or critics are invited to speak in a public lecture where they present current research. These scholars are invited by faculty who are currently teaching graduate seminars, where the Visiting Scholar contributes to the course as the guest speaker for one meeting. Graduate students in Art History are expected to attend all lectures.

CU Art Museum
The Permanent Collection of the CU Art Museum contains over 6000 works of art. The collection includes works from numerous time periods and cultures including ancient Greek pottery, Roman Glass, Iranian pottery, Southwestern and South American Santos, Southeast Asian pottery, African sculpture, Old Master works on paper, British Eighteenth-century prints, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American prints and paintings, Japanese ukiyo-e prints, nineteenth-century photography, video and new media art. The collection and staff of the Museum are resources available to graduate students.

Department Exhibition Space 
Exhibition space is available in the department for graduate students who wish to curate shows.

More departmental resources can be found on our website.


2. Campus Resources

Graduate Teacher Program
The Graduate Teacher Program is a division of the Graduate School at the University of Colorado Boulder that helps graduate students perform effectively as graduate teaching assistants (TAs) and graduate part-time instructors (GPTIs), while at the same time helping them develop skills to serve in the professoriate once they attain their graduate degrees. The program offers specialized workshops in grant proposal writing, resume/CV preparation, public speaking, job interview assistance, research misconduct, and professional career opportunities. We also help masters and doctoral students transition to careers in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors. Because teaching preparation is preparation for any career—organization, planning, presenting, evaluating, and working in teams are essential skills for managers in any setting—research assistants, students on fellowships, and self-supporting students are encouraged to participate in Graduate Teacher Program activities.

The Graduate Teacher Program offers two certificates, 1) the Certificate in College Teaching and 2) the Future Faculty Development Certificate.

Graduate Certificates
Graduate certificates are available in a variety of departments across campus. A certificate usually consists of four additional courses taken in a department outside of your home department. While graduate certificates are not requred to attain a graduate degree in Art History, a few certificates that may be of interest to art and art history students include:

Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies
Department of Women and Gender Studies

Graduate Certificate Program in Critical Theory
Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures

Graduate Certificate in Museology
Museum and Field Studies

Graduate Certificate in Emergent Technologies and Media Arts Practices
College of Media, Communication, and Information

See the full list of graduate certificates here.


Hazel Barns Flat
The Hazel Barns Flat in the heart of London is a gift to scholars in the humanities and arts by Hazel Barnes (1915-2008), the much admired professor of Philosophy at CU-Boulder and founder of the Interdisciplinary Program in the Humanities. Her will stipulates that the flat be made available to faculty and graduate students in the humanities and the arts, and that its operation be entrusted to the Center for Humanities and the Arts and its director. The flat is arranged so that two independent parties may stay there at the same time, if necessary. You must apply one year in advance.

The Dennis Small Cultural Center (DSCC)
The Dennis Small Cultural Center exists to serve underrepresented student groups on the CU-Boulder campus by providing programmatic support and a safe space for cultural expression and community gatherings. It serves the campus community as a whole by providing opportunities to enhance cultural awareness and celebrate diversity. The DSCC is committed to facilitating programs and resources that contribute to the intellectual, cultural, social, ethical and personal growth of all students. Their office is located in UMC 457.

Special Collections and Archives
Special Collections Special Collections houses rare works and contemporary artworks that support teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and sciences. The Collections include rare books, medieval manuscripts, contemporary artists’ books, and a signature photo book and photography collection.

Special subject collections reflect the interests and research of the CU-Boulder community and the state.The SCA Reading Room (Norlin N345) is open to all students, scholars and members of the general public who wish to use our materials. All users must register and show a current photo ID upon their first visit to the reading room. Email or call 303-492-6144 to schedule an appointment. The reading room is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm. You can also request copies and scans of materials.

Archives The Archives of Special Collections contains more than 1500 collections and 50,000 linear feet of materials, including manuscripts, correspondence, files, diaries, photographs, posters, newspapers and published works. Established in 1917, the Archives holds internationally renowned manuscript, photograph, records and media collections relating to Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West and transnational subjects. It also serves as a repository for the records of the University of Colorado Boulder.

The Alliance for Technology, Learning, and Society (ATLAS)
ATLAS is a radically interdisciplinary research and teaching institute at the University of Colorado Boulder. Dedicated to integrating information technologies into all facets of modern life, ATLAS researchers and educators describe themselves as “dreamers and doers who seek to predict the future by inventing it.” Organized under the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the Institute’s undergraduate and graduate programs encourage out-of-the-box thinking and creative exploration.

United Government of Graduate Students (UGGS) 
UGGS is the primary advocacy group for graduate and professional students on the CU-Boulder campus. UGGS is committed to enhancing the graduate student experience at the University by interacting with the University administration and the University of Colorado Student Government (CUSG) concerning issues such as financial aid, graduate stipends, health care, tuition and fees and graduate student well-being. Graduate students from each department and program are solicited to serve on the UGGS Assembly, ensuring a diverse and complete representation of the graduate student body.

Information about other On-Campus Resources including the Gender and Sexuality Center, Career Services, Dining and Housing, CU Nightride, the Recreation Center, the Office of Student Conduct, and the Office of Victims Assistance can be found here:

3. Boulder and Denver Area  Resources

Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art 
Founded in 1972 by a group of local artists, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) is one of Colorado’s premier venues for the exploration of contemporary art. Throughout its history, BMoCA has been a vibrant cultural cornerstone in its community. Each year, the museum presents an ambitious exhibition schedule and an innovative series of educational programs for audiences of all ages and interests. By welcoming diverse aesthetics and perspectives, BMoCA provides an open forum for dialog and an investigation of contemporary art through the creative expression of ideas.

Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum is an educational, nonprofit resource with collections of ancient and modern art from all cultures around the world. It has extensive collections in European, Asian, African, and American art, with exceptional, mostly unpublished, holdings in Precolumbian and Viceregal Art of the Americas. The Petrie Institute of Western American Art is another important resource of the Museum. The mission of the Denver Art Museum is to enrich the lives of present and future generations through the acquisition, presentation, and preservation of works of art, supported by exemplary scholarship and public programs related to both its permanent collections and to temporary exhibitions presented by the museum.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (MCA Denver) 
The MCA explores the art and culture of our time through rotating exhibitions and public educational programs. Featuring regional, national and international artists, MCA Denver offers a wide range of exhibitions promoting creative experimentation with art and ideas. MCA Denver is an innovative forum for contemporary art that inspires and challenges all audiences, creating understanding and dialog about the art of our time.

Clyfford Still Museum
The Clyfford Still Museum opened in 2011 and is the newest addition to Denver’s Cultural Arts District. It located adjacent to the Denver Art Museum in the city’s Civic Center Cultural Complex. The Museum is the main repository for the work of Clyfford Still (1904-1980), an artist and teacher associated with the formation of Abstract Expressionism. The Museum was designed to exhibit his paintings and includes an extensive archive available to scholars.

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art 
The Museum houses three principal collections: an international decorative arts collection, a regional collection with a focus on Colorado art, and a retrospective of the work of Vance Kirkland (1904-1981).

The Anschutz Collection at the American Museum of Western Art
The Museum’s mission is to promote the public’s understanding and appreciation of art depicting the American West from the early 1800s through the present day.

Museo de las Americas 
Museo de las Americas is dedicated to the exhibition of Latino art and culture in the American West and offers extensive public programs.

The Museum of Outdoor Arts
Headquartered in Englewood, the Museum of Outdoor Arts is a multifaceted arts organization that offers outdoor and indoor exhibitions.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science offers diverse exhibitions spanning the arts and sciences. Its holding include an extensive collection of Native American art.

The Denver Center for Performing Arts is the nation’s largest nonprofit theater organization. The venue hosts musicals, opera, plays and more.

The Art Students League of Denver is an art school modeled after the Art Students League in New York that provides an inclusive art community where professional artists guide individuals of all abilities to reach their highest potential.

An extensive list of cultural and arts related resources in Boulder can be found here: A compilation of Denver area resources and events can be found here: