Grad Art

Academic Policies

General requirements for the degree.

To qualify for the Master of Arts degree in art history, candidates complete a minimum of twelve courses for graduate credit plus two winter study periods, the latter comprising an International Study Trip in the first year (ARTH 51) and preparation of a Qualifying Paper in the second (ARTH 52). Students must also demonstrate reading proficiency in two foreign languages, one of them German. At the end of the second year, all students present a shortened version of the Qualifying Paper in the annual Graduate Symposium.

At least seven of the twelve courses must be graduate seminars. Included among them are three required of all students: ARTH 504, “Proseminar in Research and Method,” to be taken in the first semester of study; ARTH 506, “Graduate Art History Writing Workshop,” to be taken in the second, and ARTH 509, “Graduate Student Symposium,” to be taken in the fourth semester. Additionally, all students must complete ARTH 507, “Object Workshop,” in their first year of study. This workshop is pass/fail only, and does not count as one of the seven graduate seminars. The Curatorial Workshop, ARTH 563 is taken pass/fail only; the workshop also does not count among the seven graduate seminars required to complete the degree. Neither ARTH 507 nor ARTH 563 count among the twelve courses required to complete the degree.

Students must also fulfill a distribution requirement by undertaking coursework in two of four geographical areas and two of three chronological periods:

Geographical Areas:

1)   Europe and the Mediterranean Basin

2)   Asia and the Pacific

3)   The Americas

4)   Africa and the Middle East

Chronological Periods:

1) Prehistoric to 1200

2) 1200 to 1800

3) 1800 to the present

Students may petition the Director to apply a thematic or non- period/geographic specific course toward the distribution requirement by demonstrating substantial work in an appropriate area.

Undergraduate Courses and Independent Studies

With permission from the Director and the individual instructors, students may take up to five undergraduate courses for graduate credit, with the understanding that research papers submitted in such courses meet a standard commensurate with those prepared for graduate seminars.

In addition to regularly offered seminars and classes, students may arrange one independent study (ARTH 595/596) by submitting petitions to the Director describing the substance of their projects and the nature of the work they will submit for evaluation. The petitions must be co-signed in advance by both the student and their faculty supervisor.

Of the minimum requirement of twelve courses, the combined  number of independent studies and undergraduate courses applied to the degree may not exceed five.

The Qualifying Paper

The Qualifying Paper is a substantially revised piece of academic writing produced in coursework at Williams in one of the previous three semesters, expanded and refined over the second Winter Study term and a portion of the fourth semester. Students submit the topic of the Qualifying Paper in writing by the final day of exams of their third semester. Before this, students must obtain their original faculty supervisor’s agreement to be engaged in the Qualifying Paper process.

Three weeks prior to the Friday before Spring Break, students submit the final draft of the Qualifying Paper, including illustrations, to three faculty readers (generally the original faculty supervisor, the Director, and the Associate Director). Qualifying Papers should not exceed 8,000 words, including footnotes and bibliography.

Before Spring Break, students meet with their three readers to receive critical comments on the final QP and discuss its transformation into a twenty-minute presentation.

The Graduate Symposium

All second-year students speak in the Symposium, presenting 20- minute talks developed from their Qualifying Papers. Each student has an ad hoc committee to give advice in preparing these presentations (ad hoc committees comprise the Director, the Associate Director, one additional faculty mentor, one first-year graduate student, and one second-year graduate student). Each student completes at least three practice runs; the first and third of these run-throughs are presented to the ad hoc committee, the second to the other second-year students in a workshop scheduled by the Director. The Graduate Symposium is scheduled for the Friday prior to Williams graduation weekend.


The Graduate Program’s degree requirements include reading competence in two languages (other than English) of scholarly and academic relevance to the history of art. One of the languages must be German. At this time the Program offers dedicated courses in reading French and German for art history. Other language classes at Williams are listed in the course catalog, although the coordination of undergraduate and graduate schedules can be challenging.

Incoming students’ language preparation is assessed through exams administered at the outset of the semester. In French and German, reading examinations will determine placement within the two- semester sequence. Students with other language competences, for example Spanish, Chinese or other relevant languages, should consult the Director regarding assessment of language competence.

Some students choose to pursue additional language work beyond the program requirements. Beyond the required languages, a maximum number of two additional language courses may be applied to the degree. Such additional language work may not count towards the seven required graduate seminars. Additional language work may be taken for a letter grade, pass/fail, or audit as determined by the instructor at the time of enrollment. Only language classes taken for a letter grade may be applied to the twelve classes required to complete the degree (to a maximum of two).

Grades and Academic Standing

The Program uses the following grading system:

A+ = truly exceptional (4.33) A = outstanding (4.00)

A- = excellent (3.67) B+ = good (3.33)

B = satisfactory (3.00)

B- = barely adequate (2.67) C = inadequate (0)

E = failing (0)

Courses in which students receive a grade below B- do not receive graduate credit.

Letter grades are used in all seminars except ARTH 507, 563, and 509. These and the Winter Study courses (ARTH 51 and 52) are Pass/Fail. Grades in language courses are converted to Pass/Fail on the Williams transcript and are not calculated in the GPA. The Director reviews students’ records at the end of their first year; those with GPAs of 3.00 or lower may be asked to withdraw from the Program.

Course instructors set the deadlines for coursework. If students seek and receive extensions that result in semester grades of Incomplete, they must hand in their work by the instructor’s revised deadline, which will be no later than the second Monday of the next semester’s classes. Extensions beyond this date will be solely at the discretion of the Director (in consultation with the instructor).

Students who withdraw from the Program may, after a period of at least one year, petition to the Director for re-admission. Such a petition must include evidence that deficiencies have been remedied and that the student is capable of completing the course of study without further interruption.

The M.A. requirements are designed for completion in two consecutive academic years in residence. There is no credit for coursework done prior to matriculation in the Program. The Program is full-time, requires students to live in Williamstown or its vicinity, and does not normally admit students on a part-time basis.

Revised May 2019