The Undergraduate Art History Program
at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Undergraduate Program Director: Mario Ontiveros


The Art History Program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is the only one at a public institution in New England that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Our emphasis is on the cultures of Western Europe, North America, and Islam. Opportunities to take classes at the Four Colleges—Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire—expand credited coursework to include the art of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The University’s location in the heart of New England enables easy access to a wide variety of collections, monuments, and historical sites in the Northeast. Visits to and research at institutions from Boston to New York are an integral part of the Program.

We also actively encourage students to study abroad and to seek internships in related fields. Our majors have an impressive record of participation in national summer internship programs. A combination of practical, hands-on experience and rigorous academic study has contributed to the notable success enjoyed by our majors continuing to work and study in the field after graduation.

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The faculty offer courses covering major fields of western European art and architecture: Ancient Greek and Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and the seventeenth through twentieth centuries. Courses are also offered in American and Islamic Art. Occasional undergraduate seminars and the required Junior Year Writing course designed for Art History majors round out the curriculum. With the instructor’s permission, qualified undergraduates may enroll in graduate research seminars.

The faculty work to provide students with a variety of approaches to the study of art history. We teach on all levels, from introductory surveys to graduate seminars, and we firmly believe that this practice enriches our undergraduate offerings. The Department’s Junior Year Writing course is always taught by a full-time faculty member because we consider writing to be an essential and integral part of the major. We represent broadly diverse views, and we encourage students to follow their own interests in order best to develop their own abilities.

Most Art History classes incorporate first-hand study of original works of art by requiring visits to regional museums. Field trips to area collections and special exhibitions, ranging as far as Boston (2 hours) and New York City (3 ½ hours), are frequently integrated with the curriculum. Students are encouraged to carry their classroom knowledge into museums and galleries with internships, for which they can receive course credit.

Students may cross-register for courses offered at other institutions in the Five-College consortium: Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith colleges. The consortium can provide wonderful opportunities, as in total it constitutes one of the largest art history faculties in the United States. Check for course listings each semester in the Program office or in the Undergraduate Advising office in Machmer Hall. Certain standards and limits may apply, so consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or your faculty advisor for more specific information.

Juniors and Seniors may arrange for Independent Study projects (1-6 credits) with a specific faculty member. Such projects invariably develop out of previous course work with the instructor and are formalized in a contract signed by both the student and the sponsor. Museum and gallery internships are defined in the same way.

Art History majors are encouraged to enroll in Honors sections of Art History courses. These are usually offered in three courses each semester: Art History 100/110 plus two upper-level courses. Honors sections meet for an additional class hour per week for discussion of specialized readings and normally entail additional or enhanced writing assignments. Graduate seminars, which are open to qualified undergraduates with the instructor’s consent, fulfill Honors requirements.

Majors are urged to gain reading knowledge of two foreign languages. One must be completed through the 240, or fourth–semester level. French and German are strongly recommended, as they both are necessary for graduate study and for many careers in the field. The Language Across the Curriculum (LAC) option allows students taking upper-level Art History courses to arrange with faculty for extra course-associated reading in a foreign language, usually accompanied by a journal or other written record, which is recorded as one hour of Independent Study credit.

Majors are also encouraged to take related courses in the Art Department—especially Art 102/103—but should realize that the class enrollments are limited due to limited studio space. Related courses in Anthropology, Archaeology, Classics, History, English, Film Studies, Music, and Philosophy will further strengthen the major in Art History.

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Students wishing to major in Art History should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. We encourage you to take two survey courses (preferably 100 and 110) before declaring the major, but exceptions are made, especially for transfer students. Each major selects or is assigned a faculty advisor and should plan to consult with the advisor each semester during counseling week in order to obtain approval for the following semester’s courses. Course listings (including those for other Five College Art History departments) are available in the Art History Office each semester.

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Offices and Classrooms
The Art History offices, seminar room, and medium–sized classrooms are located together in one wing of Bartlett Hall. Also in Bartlett Hall, rooms 221-227A house the Dorothy Perkins Slide Library and its workrooms; the library now contains over 250,000 2x2 glass-mounted slides. This collection, while primarily intended for the use of the faculty in teaching, is readily available to undergraduate students for class presentations.

The W.E.B. DuBois Library houses over 3 million items in a 26-story, open-stack facility. The art book collection located on the 9th floor, numbering more than 75,000 items, includes a particularly good selection of art history periodicals. Also available to University students on a non-circulating basis are the excellent libraries at Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges. Interlibrary loan services are quick and efficient, and the faculty are happy to advise students on obtaining research materials that are not available locally.

Professsor Denny’s class on oriental carpets on a field trip to the Springfield Art MuseumsThere are several art galleries at the University. The Student Union Gallery is completely run and financed by students and offers changing exhibitions that are often provocative and avant-garde in nature. Another gallery, housed in Herter Hall adjacent to Bartlett, is managed by the Art Department for the display of student and faculty work, often with accompanying presentations by the artists and critics. Students play a vital role in the organizing and carrying out of the Herter Gallery’s program. The Hampden Gallery, located in the Southwest Residential Area, a five-minute walk from Bartlett Hall, also pursues an active program of exhibitions and symposia, to which students from the Art History major have often contributed in significant ways.

The University Gallery in the Fine Arts Center holds the University Art Collection, composed primarily of 20th century prints, drawings, and photographs. The professionally-staffed University Gallery mounts several large-scale exhibitions each year, which are frequently of national interest. Undergraduate seminar classes at times participate in planning exhibitions.

Other Five-College institutions have notable collections of European and North American Art. The Smith College Museum of Art is one of the most significant museums of its type in the nation. Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum is especially rich in North American painting and decorative arts. The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum houses important ancient and oriental art.

University undergraduates in Art History frequently visit the museums in Williamstown, Springfield, Worcester, and Hartford. Courses in American art and architecture make use of the outstanding collections at nearby Historic Deerfield and Old Sturbridge Village, as well as focus on the incomparable architectural heritage of New England in general. Field trips or bus trips at reduced rates are regularly organized to museums in Boston and New York.

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If you are interested in special programs, please consult your undergraduate advisor.

Dealing directly with works of art in museums or galleries, consulting special collections related to art history in libraries, or working in the field of historic preservation can be essential parts of your undergraduate education. Art History students should contact faculty members in particular fields or the Director of Undergraduate Studies for information about internships; the Internship Office in the Mather Career Center also offers listings and counseling. Our students have recently interned at the Museum of Fine Arts and Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Cloisters and Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, and Historic Deerfield, as well as museums as far afield as Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

For more information on internships, see our FAQ on internships.

Study Abroad
Many Art History majors study abroad, especially in their Junior year, either individually or in exchange programs sponsored by the University. The University of Massachusetts programs in London, Sussex, and Leeds (England), Paris (France), Freiburg (Germany), and Siena (Italy) offer especially rewarding opportunities for Art History majors. There is also a University-sponsored summer program of long standing in Oxford (England). At present, the tuition and fees for a year’s study in programs abroad are equivalent to those at the University in Amherst. The two-semester school year runs from October to June, and all grades are transferred directly to UMass. The International Programs Office in the William S. Clark International Center (Hills South) has information on these programs, as well as a wide variety of study abroad options offered through other institutions. Students may apply a maximum of 30 credits earned toward graduation. Majors must be sure that the Director of Undergraduate Studies approves Art History courses in advance.

Summer Museum Programs
A number of museums offer undergraduates the chance to work during the summer as research or administrative assistants, education aides, and docents. Such internships are often very competitive, particularly those at the Metropolitan and Whitney museums (New York) as well as the National Gallery (Washington, DC).

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Graduate schools offer further training for art historians in teaching, historic preservation, conservation, and museum careers. Information on M.A. and Ph.D. programs can be obtained from your undergraduate advisor and other faculty, who can relate first-hand experiences; recent graduates are also happy to advise. The World Wide Web is an excellent way to consult up-to-date graduate catalogues with descriptions of programs, courses, and faculty. Most Masters programs require reading knowledge of one foreign language; doctoral programs require German and one other.

Art History majors have gone on to do graduate work at Berkeley, Columbia, Delaware, MIT, NYU, Princeton, Rutgers, Virginia, and other universities. Their areas of specialization, aside from Art History, have included art education, anthropology, archaeology, sculpture, conservation, museum training, management, and library science. Among graduates of our program are college and high school teachers, an art therapist, an architectural historian specializing in historic preservation, an arts foundation consultant, numerous museum staff members, private art dealers, specialists at auction houses, slide librarians, art program officers at private charitable foundations, and arts administrators at state, local, and federal agencies.

Choosing Career Options

Faculty advisors are always interested in discussing career options open to Art History majors. Students may consider double majors (recent graduates have double majored in the School of Management, English, Classics, and Anthropology) and other special options such as pre-med and pre-law. The Office of Internships within the Mather Career Counseling Center offers additional resources for students seeking work experience related to art history.

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Those admitted to the major should have completed any two of the four introductory courses: ArtHis 100, ArtHis 110, ArtHis 115, and ArtHis 191A (or, for transfer students, their equivalents).

The major requires a minimum of 13 courses (39 credits) in Art History distributed as follows:

  • Two 100-level survey courses: ArtHis 100, 110, 115, 191A
    The ArtHis 100, 110 sequence is especially recommended for majors.
  • One course at any level in Non-Western art
  • One course at any level in Architecture
  • One upper-level course in each of the following five areas:
    1. Ancient
    2. Modern (19th – 20th centuries)
    3. Medieval
    4. American
    5. Renaissance/Baroque
  • Three upper-level electives in Art History
  • ArtHis 370: the Program's Junior Year Writing Course. All majors must take the course in the fall semester of the junior year.*

To be counted toward the major, Art History courses must be completed with a grade of “C” or above. All 500-level courses are open to undergraduates who have satisfied the prerequisites.

One course may not be used to fulfill two separate requirements. For example, a course in modern American art may only count either for the modern requirement or for the American requirement, not for both. At the discretion of the instructor, Junior Year Writing (ArtHis 370) may also fulfill a distribution requirement, but if it does, a fourth upper-level elective in Art History is required.

Eight out of twelve of the classes needed for the major (not counting Junior Year Writing) should be taken in the University of Massachusetts Art History Program. The other four courses may be taken at other institutions, including other schools in the Five College Consortium and any programs abroad. Any upper-level courses for distribution taken off-campus must be approved by your advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Click here for printable checklist of requirements

* You do not need to take ArtHis 370 if you changed your major after completing Junior Year Writing in another department or if you are a double major and Art History is your secondary major.

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To enter the Art History Departmental Honors Program you must be a member in good standing of Commonwealth College with the ability to complete 48 graded (not pass/fail) credits in residence (registered at UMass Amherst, not transferred).

You must meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies to discuss requirements and departmental opportunities. The Director will sign a Change of Major form initiating a change to Art History Departmental Honors to indicate to the Commonwealth College and the Registrar’s Office an intention to admit you to the departmental honors track. The Change of Major form must be co-signed at the Commonwealth College Office to finalize admission to the track.

In addition to completing Commonwealth College Honors course requirements as specified in the student’s Commonwealth College contract, the following requirements must be completed within the department unless there are contracted accommodations:

  • 1 ArtHis Honors course at any level with grade of B or better
  • 1 ArtHis Honors course at 300 level or higher with grade of B or better
  • ArtHis 499Y “Honors Research” with grade of AB or A for Magna, A for Summa
  • ArtHis 499T “Honors Thesis” with grade of AB or A for Magna, A for Summa

In order to count four-credit courses taken at the Four Colleges for Honors credit you must petition the Director of Undergraduate Studies with a copy of the syllabus detailing the content of the course, readings, and assignments. Graduate level seminars taken in the department may qualify as 499Y if the student is using the course to develop an Honors thesis.

For the thesis, students must identify a faculty sponsor with whom they will work to draw up a prospectus and contract with a schedule of work to be completed. Most commonly, the thesis is a sustained, in-depth research project resulting in a 20-25 page paper. By arrangement with a faculty sponsor other types of projects, such as organizing an exhibition or creating a website, may be considered a “culminating experience” equivalent to the thesis.

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15 credits (5 courses) are needed for the minor as follows:

  • ArtHis 100 Survey: Ancient to Renaissance
  • ArtHis 110 Survey: Renaissance to Modern
  • Three upper-level courses: distribution may be determined by the student.

    - OR -

  • ArtHis 115: Introduction to the Visual Arts
  • Four upper-level courses selected by the student.

To be counted toward the minor, all Art History courses must be completed with a grade of “C” or higher. At least three of the five courses should be taken at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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This academic track is intended to give majors a general and approximate outline for their college careers as an Art History major; individual cases will of course vary. The track is based on a total of 120 credits needed to graduate (10 courses per year), a maximum requirement of 12 General Education courses, 13 courses required for the major (including Junior Year Writing), and the foreign language requirement.

First year
During the first year majors establish a solid background in art history, including knowledge of major monuments and works, visual analysis and comparison techniques, and the basic methodologies of art history. Outside the major, they pursue a diverse, broad education through the General Education program. They also improve their general writing skills and begin or continue foreign language study.

  • 2 Introductory Art History courses
    ArtHis 100 and ArtHis 110 are most highly recommended for majors
    Students who takes AH 115 instead are encourage to combine it with AH 191A
  • 1 College Writing course
  • 5 General Education requirements
  • 2 Foreign Language courses

Second year
During the second year, students begin more detailed study of particular periods and cultures. They begin writing more complex art history papers, often involving research. They are introduced to more complex methodological issues, research methods, and critical analysis of art historical literature. Outside the department they continue their language study, which may also have some applications in their Art History courses. They continue their diverse general education.

  • 3 upper level AH distribution requirements
  • 5 General Education requirements
  • 2 Foreign Language courses

Third Year
During the third year, students consolidate their writing skills, improve their research and critical analysis abilities, and deepen their understanding of methods. They broaden and deepen their scope of study to include upper level coursework in fields related to art history and are strongly encouraged to continue further study of their first foreign language and/or begin study of a second foreign language, all with possible applications in Art History courses. Students also often study abroad or pursue museum or other internships for a full year, a semester, or over the summer. Preliminary discussions with faculty regarding career plans and graduate study are encouraged.

  • 1 Junior Year Writing
  • 1 General Edudation requirement
  • 3 upper level AH requirements
  • 5 elective courses

Fourth Year
In the fourth year, majors polish their skills in writing, research, critical analysis, and methods. They are encouraged to begin giving oral presentations in undergraduate or graduate level seminars. They may also arrange independent study projects with specific faculty. Honors students are required to research and write a thesis during the fourth year. All majors continue upper level coursework in related fields and are strongly encouraged to continue foreign language study or begin study of a second foreign language. Students often study abroad for a semester or the summer and pursue internships for varying periods of time. Consultation with faculty on career plans and graduate study is strongly encouraged.

  • 4 upper level Art History requirements
  • 6 elective courses

Recommended General Education Courses (with an emphasis on those that fulfill requirements other than AT or AL)

Anthropology: 102 Archaeology and Prehistory, 104 Culture, Society, and People, 106 Culture Through Film, 150 Ancient Civilizations

Art: 104 Basic Studio/Drawing, 105 Basic Studio/Design

Computer Science: 105 Computer Literacy

Classics: 100 Greek Civilization, 102 Roman Civilization, 224 Greek Mythology, 300 Greek Archaeology, 301 Roman Archaeology

Geosciences: 102 The Human Landscape

History: 100 Western Thought to 1600, 101 Western Thought Since 1600, 112 Introduction to World Religions, 130 Middle Eastern History I, 131 Middle Eastern History II, 140 European History 1500-1815, 141 European History 1815 to present, 150 American Civ. to 1876, 151 American Civ. since 1876, 382 The City in Modern US History

Linguistics: 201 Intro. to Linguistic Theory

Mathematics: 100 Basic Mathematics Skills for the Modern World

Philosophy: 110 Intro to Logic, 361 Philosophy of Art

Theatre: 157 Survey of Costume History

Recommended Departments for Advanced Coursework

Anthropology, Art, Asian Languages and Literatures, Classics, History, Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, Literature (English, Foreign Language, Comp. Lit.), Music, Philosophy, Theatre, Women’s Studies

Chemistry (if considering a career in art conservation)

Economics and School of Management (if considering a career in arts administration)

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