History of Art and Architecture

The First Two Years


  • A total of sixteen four-credit courses are required for academic residence.
  • One four-credit course (two semesters) must be History of Art and Architecture 310.
  • At least nine four-credit courses must be chosen from the offerings of the Department of History of Art and Architecture.
  • Students must take one course in at least three fields of art/architectural history other than their own. For students in Western art, one of those courses must be in Asian, African, Native American, or Islamic art. For students in Asian, African, or Islamic art, one of the required courses must be in Western art. Non field-specific courses may be taken in place of one of the three field requirements. In non field-specific courses, a topic should be studied which promotes extra diversification methodologically and geographically.
  • Students may wish to develop a minor field in which a cluster of three courses must be taken. In that case, the regular field distribution requirement is waived, but one course outside the double fields is required to ensure breadth. A non-Western course must be taken if a Western field is both the primary and minor field and a Western course must be taken if a non-Western field is both the primary and minor field. As above, in non field-specific courses, a topic should be studied which promotes extra diversification methodologically and geographically.
  • If a course falls between two fields, it is important to specify the field, and to clarify the arrangement with the director of graduate studies (DGS) during the term the course is taken.
  • Field distribution and 200-level course requirements may be fulfilled by the same course, but may not be counted twice towards the sixteen.
  • Five four-credit courses, in addition to HAA310, must be intended primarily for graduates at the 200-level or the equivalent (e.g. 100 level seminars); partial credit may be given for graduate-level courses from other institutions, in which the student participated while enrolled in HAA.
  • HAA does not give credit for courses taken elsewhere, before coming to Harvard. Only in exceptional cases can the department depart from the rule. This requires: first, the consent of the intended dissertation supervisor; second, the approval of the DGS to submit the request to the Faculty; third, the approval of the Faculty.
  • Two four-credit courses may be in any language(s) appropriate for the student’s field of research.
  • Graduates enrolled in undergraduate lecture courses will not be required to fulfill additional requirements.
  • The examination of graduates enrolled in undergraduate lecture courses will be of the same format as those for the undergraduates, but it may be tailored to graduate level, as long as this does not lead to a quantitative increase. For example: when the examination consists of a written exam, a separate set of questions might be designed for the graduate students; or the questions might be the same, but the results judged by higher standards.
  • Graduate students can request a course upgrade. For this, they will need the consent of the teaching faculty member and the approval of the DGS.

Incomplete Grades (Applicable to G2+ Only)

Incomplete courses will not be accepted by the department for degree credit. A student must complete requirements for an incomplete course by the first day of the second consecutive term following that course, or file for an extension (form available in the department office). The extension for an Incomplete must be discussed with the head of the course. The practicalities involved in submitting a paper after the deadline and reasonable expectation of it being read should also be agreed upon well in advance of submitting the remainder of work. Students with Incomplete grades may not normally be employed as a teaching fellow in the department. G1 students are not allowed to receive or hold Incomplete grades.

Academic Standing and Satisfactory Progress

The necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) condition for students to remain in good standing in the Department of History of Art and Architecture is that they receive a minimum GPA of 3.5 (B+) in all departmental courses. At the end of the fall term each student’s progress is discussed by the faculty; if there are problems, a letter is sent at that time. At the end of the spring term, the faculty reviews the work of each graduate student, and students still taking coursework will receive a written evaluation of their progress from the director of graduate studies.

On the basis of grades and written evaluations (i.e., grades are not the only criteria), the department may vote that a student’s degree candidacy be terminated or that a warning letter be sent that will specify the department’s expectations for the following term or year. Suitability to the program is a major factor and may be grounds for terminating candidacy. If the student fails to meet these expectations, the department will ask GSAS to terminate the student’s degree candidacy.

Requirements for Satisfactory Progress

  • First-year students may not receive any grades of Incomplete.
  • No G2 and above students shall be permitted more than one grade of Incomplete per term. If not completed within the following term, the grade becomes Incomplete on the permanent record. No more than two permanent Incompletes will be permitted. A student who accumulates more than two will be required to withdraw, unless the faculty determines by a two-thirds’ majority vote that extraordinary circumstances warrant an extension, which shall in no case exceed one term.
  • For students to remain in good standing, the Department of History of Art and Architecture requires that they must receive a GPA of 3.5 in all departmental courses.
  • The requirements for languages should be met by the end of the fourth term.
  • The completed and approved qualifying paper (QP), with signed QP cover form, should be filed in the department office not later than June 1 of the 4th term in residence.
  • Students are expected to give an oral presentation in the fall of the G3 year on the research project that they hope will form the basis of their dissertation.
  • A final and approved dissertation proposal is required in the 5th term of residence (first semester of the G3 year).
  • Students are expected to take the general examination in the third year of residence and a final and approved dissertation proposal is required in the 5th term of residence (first semester of the G3 year) before submitting the petition to take the general examination. A final and approved dissertation proposal is required within three months of passing the general examination.
  • G4+ students are required to submit a progress report to the department of dissertation research and writing by December 15 of each year.
  • The final draft of the dissertation should be submitted to the readers at least six weeks and preferably two months prior to the registrar’s deadline. The final version with the signed dissertation acceptance certificate will be submitted online before the deadline established by the registrar.

Letter Grade Conversion to GPA

A=4.00, A-=3.67, B+=3.33, B=3.00, B-=2.67, C+=2.33, C=2.00, C-=1.67,
D+=1.33, D=1.00, D-=0.67.

Language Requirements

  • For all fields, the department’s minimum language requirement is a reading knowledge of two languages that are relevant to the student’s field of study and research interest (excluding the student's native language). The languages will have to be deemed necessary, and approved of, by a faculty member in the field and the DGS.
  • The requirements for languages should be met by the end of the fourth term.

Qualifying Paper (QP)

  • The QP will be written in the fourth term of residence. Students entering the program in the fall will write their QP in the spring term of the G2 year; those entering in spring term in the fall of the G3 year.
  • The QP will be a revised and in-depth version of a paper written for an HAA graduate seminar or any other course at Harvard in one of the preceding three terms. Papers written for courses at other institutions, before or during enrollment in the HAA program, are not admissible.
  • The QP will be no longer than about 10,000 words, double spaced, with a separate bibliography, standardized references and citations, and illustrations with captions.
  • The QP will be credited as a course on 300 level, fail or pass. Typically, a student will take three regular courses while working on the QP, making a total of four courses. The QP proposal form should be submitted at the beginning of the term for approval by the DGS.
  • The QP will be supervised by a first and a second reader. Although the first reader will be the primary responsible faculty member, the second reader will be involved at an early stage.
  • A third reader will be consulted when the first two readers cannot agree upon the evaluation of the QP.
  • All three readers will be informed about, and agree to, their roles in the first week of the term. Students have a responsibility to communicate with each faculty member on their QP committee and ensure a smooth process.
  • The QP supervisors (readers 1 and 2) meet regularly with the student, read drafts in a timely manner, and make comments and suggestions. Expectations for the involvement of QP supervisors who are on sabbatical should be made clear before the term.
  • The first meeting should be scheduled in week 1 or 2 of the term. Meetings should take place at least once every four weeks.
  • The final version of the QP will be submitted to the QP supervisor on the first day of the first week of the exam period. After the paper is vetted by the QP supervisor, it will be passed on to the second reader in the second week of the exam period. The QP cover form is submitted with the final version to the readers.
  • A copy of the QP with the signed cover form should be submitted to the department by June 1.
  • The final decision of the readers will be made before the end of term. The student will receive either a pass or a fail from the readers.
  • In case of a fail, the student must re-enter the whole procedure, with a different topic, at the beginning of the next term. This option is only granted in exceptional cases, however, and after consultation with the advisors and the entire faculty. If this permission is not granted, the student will be withdrawn from the program. If it is granted, the first fail will put the student into unsatisfactory progress status. In unsatisfactory status, the student is not eligible for financial aid or teaching. Two fails will mean that the student has not fulfilled the departmental requirements and will be withdrawn from the program.


Ordinarily, the director of graduate studies is a student’s primary advisor for the first two years of graduate study. Should additional advising be desired, it should be sought in consultation and agreement with the director of graduate studies.

Information on advising at other stages may be found in the sections on the qualifying paper, general examination, prospectus, and dissertation.

Master of Arts (AM)

The department does not admit candidates for a terminal AM degree. PhD candidates may apply for a master’s degree after satisfactorily completing eight four-credit courses. The degree may also be offered to students unable to complete the PhD.

General Examinations

The general exam (GE) will be taken no later than the sixth term in residence, typically spring term G3. The exams should take place during reading period of the spring term. Exceptions can only be proposed by the DGS, in close consultation with the dissertation supervisor, and must be approved by the faculty during a departmental meeting.

The petition to take general exams must be filed in the department by December 5 of the 5th semester of residence.

One term of intensive study should suffice to prepare for the GE.

The proposed dissertation supervisor, in consultation with the committee, will make sure that the bibliography is appropriate, but not over-burdened.

The final bibliography will be submitted to the DGS.

The general examination is given only during the academic year and not during holidays or summer.

The examination is designed to test the students’ mastery of their scholarly fields and their ability to proceed to writing a dissertation. Students are allowed access to the library and to other resources while answering Parts 1 and 2.

The examination consists of three parts:

  1. Written essay(s), Interpretation- General Field: Students often have a choice of one of three questions designed to test the student's grasp of broad art-historical issues (eight hours total).
  2. Written essay(s), Methods and Historiography- Specific Field: Students often have a choice of one of three questions designed to bring out the student's knowledge of sources, both primary and secondary, and of methodological issues (eight hours total).
  3. Oral examination, Analysis of Visual Material- General Field: The student will have one to two hours prior to the convening of the full committee to examine eight to twelve works of art, slides, or photographs in preparation for an oral discussion of all but one of them with the examination committee. The discussions may involve such issues as connoisseurship, contexts, iconography, formal analysis, patronage, technique, and condition. This is followed by an evaluation and review (two to three hours total).

In Parts 1 and 2, students will be given a choice of questions, normally one or two of several questions to be determined in consultation with committee members.

Students whose performance on the examination is not satisfactory will be given one opportunity to repeat all or a portion. Students may determine which of the first two sections of the examination they wish to take first, but whatever order is decided upon, Parts 1–3 must be taken within a period of five days.


The Dissertation Prospectus

After the completion of the G3 oral presentation, a topic and advisor for the dissertation should be chosen. Discussing potential topics with several faculty members is advisable before the student begins. Students will be expected to have a prospectus approved no later than the end of the fifth term of residence in order to be considered to be making satisfactory progress toward the degree.

Once a student has a topic and an advisor to guide his or her dissertation, a formal written dissertation proposal is the next step. Not including the bibliography, the prospectus should be five to ten pages in length, but not more. The prospectus should be submitted to the department.

Dissertation Defense

The Department of History of Art and Architecture requires that all PhD dissertations be defended. At the defense, the student has the opportunity to present and formally discuss the dissertation with respect to its sources, findings, interpretations, and conclusions, before a defense committee knowledgeable in the student’s field of research. The director of the dissertation is a member of the defense committee. A committee is permitted to convene in the absence of the dissertation director only in cases of emergency or other extreme circumstances.

The defense committee may consist of up to five members, but no fewer than three. The suggested makeup of the other members of the committee should be brought to the director of graduate studies for approval. Two members of this committee should be from the Department of History of Art and Architecture and one of these should be a tenured faculty member. One member should be outside the department (either from another Harvard department or outside the University).

A minimum of one month prior to scheduling the defense, a final draft of the dissertation should be submitted to two readers (normally the primary and secondary advisors). Once the two readers have informed the director of graduate studies that the dissertation is “approved for defense,” the candidate may schedule the date, room, and time for the defense in consultation with the department and the appointed committee. This date should be no less than six weeks after the time the director of graduate studies has been informed that the dissertation was approved for defense. It should be noted that preliminary approval of the dissertation for defense by the primary advisor and another reader does not guarantee that the dissertation will be passed.

The defense normally lasts two hours. The candidate is asked to begin by summarizing the pertinent background and findings. The summary should be kept within twenty minutes. The chair of the committee is responsible for allotting time, normally allowing each member of the committee twenty to thirty minutes in which to make remarks on the dissertation and elicit responses from the candidate.

When each committee member has finished the questioning, the committee will convene privately for the decision. The possible decisions are approved, approved with minor changes, approved subject to major revision within six months, or rejected. The majority vote determines the outcome.

  • Approved with minor changes: The dissertation is deemed acceptable subject to minor revisions. The dissertation is corrected by the candidate, taking into account the comments made by the committee. The revisions will be supervised by the primary advisor. Upon completion of the required revision, the candidate is recommended for the degree.
  • Approved subject to major revision within six months: The dissertation is deemed acceptable subject to major revisions. All revisions must be completed within six months from the date of the dissertation defense. Upon completion of the required revisions, the defense is considered to be successful. The revisions will be supervised by the primary advisor.
  • Rejected: The dissertation is deemed unacceptable and the candidate is not recommended for the degree. A candidate may be re-examined only once upon recommendation of two readers. Rejection is expected to be very exceptional.

The defense may be open to department members (faculty and graduate students) and/or others at the discretion of the candidate. If applicable, travel arrangements for an outside committee member should be made as far in advance as possible. The department will facilitate video conference sessions for outside committee members. A modest honorarium will be given for the reading of the dissertation for one member of the committee outside the University.

Candidates should keep in mind the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences deadlines for submission of the dissertation and degree application when scheduling the defense.