History of Art and Architecture

Degree Requirements

Incoming students are admitted directly into the doctoral program.  For students entering without an approved master’s degree, the MA is earned in the second year as a step toward the doctorate. Students entering with an MA in history of art and architecture from another institution may have this requirement waived pending approval from their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. 

All graduate coursework done before the MA counts toward PhD requirements. Students who have been admitted into the Film and Media Studies PhD with a concentration in History of Art and Architecture must satisfy degree requirements for both programs (for more information please visit the Film and Media Studies website). Requirements for the PhD include:

Course work

The PhD requires a total of 72 credits.

12 graduate-level classroom courses (for students without an MA)/9 graduate-level classroom courses (for students with an approved MA) 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 (nine credits). The courses must include:

  • HAA 2005 - Methods Research and Scholarship 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.)
  • Four or five HAA graduate seminars (depending on MA status)
  • Three or five elective courses (depending on MA status), in HAA or in other departments

The remaining credits may be amassed through various independent study options and additional courses if necessary.

The departmental faculty teach across many areas. In line with the department’s 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.


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 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. Similarly, students specializing in other areas must have at least two years/four semesters of college-level instruction, with a grade of B+ or better, or equivalent knowledge of a research language prior to admission.

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 Administrator by the end of the first week of the term; the Administrator 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 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 early in their time in the program soon as possible. Pre-MA students must be certified in at least one of the two languages required for the PhD by the fourth semester review if they wish to continue in the PhD program. No student will become ABD without completing language requirements.

The MA paper and degree

Normally, the MA degree is 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 (for students admitted before Fall 2016, 27 credits)
  • a minimum  of 7 required HAA courses
    • HAA 2005, 2007, 2000 (6 credits), and 5 seminars of choice
  • plus at least 1 (cognate) course outside HAA
  • at least one foreign language certified
  • an MA paper passed by majority vote of the graduate faculty.

The MA paper is a 25- to 45-page paper with an original argument based on original research. The paper functions as a demonstration of the student’s ability to carry out research and writing of PhD caliber. Ideally, it will be 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) undergo a review for continuation in the PhD program. Students submit a dossier including:

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

The graduate 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 is granted and the student is officially approved to continue 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 faculty members drawn from HAA.

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 providing they have met the MA requirements and the graduate faculty by majority vote deems the MA paper creditable.

Preliminary exam

In the fifth semester (for students entering without an approved MA), 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 student’s committee 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 third or fourth year (or second or third 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 recommended 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.

Teaching Portfolio

Graduate students must produce teaching portfolios to advance to candidacy. They will do so in the context of the pedagogy seminar, HAA 2970 - Teaching of Art History.  Thereafter, they should include the teaching portfolio with the materials they send to their PhD committee for their annual meetings. PhD committees are encouraged to give further feedback to the student as appropriate, especially as the student’s thinking about pedagogy evolves, as the student readies themselves for the job market, et cetera.


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 paper can be a piece of the final dissertation. 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 HAA faculty (chaired by 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 a dissertation committee consisting of four members (including one faculty member from outside HAA). Once the student completes writing the dissertation, they must pass a defense, normally a two-hour conversation with the committee (including the 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 or 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.