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History of Art

The Department of History of Art treats critically the major fields in world art, from ancient through modern, and serves to connect the arts to the other humanities. Interdisciplinary by definition, the department encourages students to develop both visual and cultural literacy by extensive study of works of art and the historical contexts in which they were created. Images are both subtle and ambiguous; they can both complement and contradict other texts. The ability to see, interpret, and evaluate visual images of all types is an ever more important skill set in the increasingly visual world. From cave painting to computer-generated virtual realities, students endeavor to engage the visual legacy of the past while preparing to function in the realm of the non-textual. 

The Department of History of Art offers a major, plus art and architectural history minors. We encourage students to consider courses in cognate disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Courses are offered at all levels and in most major subfields of the discipline. Students who major in history of art are required to take at least two advanced seminars that are closely related to the faculty’s areas of research and publication. These courses offer an important opportunity to interact closely with professors while pursuing a focused research topic. 

The Visual Resources Center is a dynamic entity, providing not only imaging services (including a searchable online database of images—DIMLI), but also serving as a key facilitator in cutting-edge digital humanities projects through their fearless exploration of engaging new technologies. The university also has access to the ARTstor digital image library. These collections are available for advanced undergraduate research. In addition, the Fine Arts Gallery oversees an active program of exhibitions and a varied study collection related to history of art courses.

 Recently Offered Courses

The Department offers courses with different approaches, including broad survey courses in the history of Western art and architecture presented every semester, and a wide selection of Asian art history courses offered each academic year. In addition, more specialized lecture courses and advanced seminars enhance the curriculum by
allowing students to engage in research related to their own interests.

The history of Greek art and architecture, Roman art and architecture, medieval art, Renaissance and Baroque art, American art, modern European art and architecture, contemporary art and sound art, urbanism and landscape design, together with the history of Asian architecture, art and architecture of China and Japan, and Indian, Himalayan, and Islamic art, are among the Department’s most recently offered courses. An exciting addition to the curriculum, Exhibiting Historical Art, allows students to work firsthand with objects in the seminar setting, in preparation for a student-curated exhibition in the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery.

Honors Program and Undergraduate Research

The departmental honors program allows exceptional undergraduate majors to undertake independent research projects in consultation with appropriate faculty members. The program is open to all History of Art majors with junior standing who meet the set grade point averages in their general university courses and in History of Art courses. Students must also be approved for acceptance into the Honors Program by the departmental faculty and the Associate Dean for Special Academic Programs. Requirements for the program include an independent research course beyond the major requirements and an honors thesis. There is also funding available for student travel to collections, libraries or exhibitions related to the thesis project, awarded on a competitive basis. Students completing the honors program will receive a Vanderbilt diploma that records Honors or High Honors in History of Art.

Other Special Opportunities

History of art students may earn pass/fail academic credit for internships, which the Department greatly encourages. These internships may be in museums or galleries, historic houses or other cultural institutions and, with departmental approval, may lead to an independent research course or may help to develop a project for an honors thesis. Majors and minors are encouraged to join the History of Art student organization, the History of Art Society, which sponsors a series of events each year, including an Alumni Roundtable that features former students presenting ideas on how to find satisfying careers based on skills and interests they gained while studying in the Department.

Most History of Art students participate in Vanderbilt pre-approved study-abroad programs, including Maymesters, and are able to take history of art courses in Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Australia, among other locations.

After Vanderbilt

Majors in history of art continue to be accepted into competitive graduate programs in the discipline or in professional schools such as architecture, law, medicine and dentistry, business, social work, public policy, and many others. Other majors find employment in galleries, museums, auction houses, and design-related fields. Our discipline teaches students how to think critically and write with clarity. Analytical skills, both visual and textual, based on sophisticated research methodology and the ability to present information through images, uniquely position our graduates for a wide variety of post-graduate studies and careers.


The History of Art faculty consists of eleven members and is dedicated to the highest standards of teaching and research. Our pedagogical mission is to instill a heightened consciousness of artistic cultures both past and present that will stay with students for a lifetime, through our own passion for the arts. In terms of research, we are dedicated to participating at the highest level in the formation of the discourse in our various areas of research and publication. Our areas of research and teaching are global, covering the entirety of the Western canon from Greco-Roman Antiquity through Modernism in Europe and America, and both East Asian and South Asian art and architectural traditions.

History of Art Website