Doctor of Philosophy

The Institute of Fine Arts is dedicated to graduate teaching and advanced research in the history of art and archeology and in the conservation and technology of works of art. The Institute strives to give its students not only a sound knowledge in the history of art, but also a foundation in research, connoisseurship, and theory as a basis for independent critical judgment and research. The student following the PhD course of study gains a deeper understanding of a subject area, beyond what is normally acquired at the master’s level and develops a capacity for independent scholarship.

The PhD Program at the Institute of Fine Arts is a course of study designed for the person who wants to investigate the role of the visual arts in culture through detailed, object-based examination as well as historical and theoretical interpretation. The degree program provides a focused and rigorous experience supported by interaction with the leading scholars of the Institute, and access to New York area museums, curators, conservators, archaeological sites and NYU’s global network.

The program is designed for up to six years of full-time funded study. A total of 18 courses (72 points) are required for the PhD degree. Each student registers for three courses per semester for the first five semesters. One course in the fifth semester is dedicated to developing the dissertation proposal. In the sixth semester students register for 12 points devoted preparing for the oral exam and beginning work on the dissertation. Exceptions to full-time study are made only for urgent financial or medical reasons and must have the approval from the Director of Graduate Studies.

Distribution Requirements

Students must take at least one seminar in four fields outside of their area of specialization. The Proseminar may count as one of these seminars. Students are required to take one course in technical studies of works of art. The minimum total seminars for PhD students is six. Students may take courses in other relevant disciplines in consultation with their advisor, and subject to the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.

Distribution requirements are met by choosing courses in the following fields:

  • Pre-modern Asia
  • Pre-modern Africa and the Middle East
  • The Ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, including
  • Pre-modern Europe and the Americas
  • Post-1750 Global
  • Museum and Curatorial Studies
  • Technical Studies of Works of Art
  • Architectural History

Course Definitions and Requirements

Proseminar: The purpose of the Proseminar is to introduce students in the doctoral program to advanced research methods in the history of art. Because it is a dedicated course for the entering PhD student, it will serve to consolidate the cohort. It is taken during the first semester and is taught by a rotation of the Institute faculty, with a different faculty member chosen each year. Emphasis is placed on the specific practices of art-historical analysis in relation to visual and textual interpretation. The contents of the seminar vary each year according to the research interests of the chosen instructor. The class is structured around specific problems in the history of art rather than broad conceptual paradigms, with an emphasis on historical interpretation.

Colloquium: A colloquium provides an analysis or overview of the state of the literature on a given art historical topic or problem, with extensive reading, discussion, and presentations. There may be a final paper.

Seminar: A seminar is a focused advanced course that explores a topic in depth. Seminars are often based on an exhibition in the New York area. Students are expected to produce a substantive paper that demonstrates original research.

Lecture: Lecture courses explore topics or historical periods, giving overviews of major issues as well as detailed analysis of specific problems and works of art. Students are responsible for assigned and recommended reading, and may produce short papers and/or take an exam.

Language Requirement

PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in reading two modern research languages other than English that are relevant to their studies. Proficiency is demonstrated by passing an examination administered by the Institute of Fine Arts. International students focusing on a field of study in which their native language is relevant may be granted an exemption from the language requirement pending submission of an exemption form signed by their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Qualifying Paper

The Qualifying Paper may be developed from seminar work or might be on a topic devised in consultation with the student’s advisor. Normally, the student will be advised to produce a detailed study on a subject that leads towards the dissertation. It should be no longer than 10,000 words (excluding bibliography and footnotes).


Students are examined on a major field consisting of two contiguous areas and a third component that can be in a related field providing skills for their dissertation.


Students are encouraged to teach after passing the second year review. Opportunities for teaching at NYU and at other New York area colleges and universities will be coordinated by the Director of Graduate Studies.


PhD students are funded for up to six years, depending on the transfer of previous graduate work. The program is normally divided into three years of course work, exams, and submission of a dissertation proposal and three years for dissertation research and writing. Variations to this pattern might occur according to opportunities for students to develop skills or experience in their specialist fields, as approved by the student’s advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Students are encouraged to compete for outside fellowships. The award of such fellowships might extend the number of years taken to complete the program. Institute funding will be suspended during the period of outside fellowship support.

Students Entering with a Master’s Degree

To receive the PhD degree, all Institute requirements must have been fulfilled, including a Master’s thesis (of copy of which is submitted with the application), and a distribution of courses within areas of study that correspond to those outlined in Distribution Requirements. No credits will be automatically transferred; credit will be awarded based upon evaluation by the Institute Faculty at the First Year Course Review. In addition, at least one written comprehension exam in a foreign language must have been passed. The student entering with a MA degree must pass an exam in a second language, if not yet attained, by the end of his/her first year of study.

Entering students who have been awarded an MA at the Institute will begin as third year PhD students. They are expected to have a distribution of courses that meet the Course Distribution for the PhD and are required to pass a written comprehension exam in a second language.