Academic Policies

For comprehensive academic policies, please refer to the Graduate Program Handbook.

The Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art is 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.

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 and preparation of a Qualifying Paper in the second. At the end of the second year, all students present a shortened version of the Qualifying Paper in the annual Graduate Symposium. Students must also demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language, though further study in primary-research languages is encouraged. Further information regarding language study at Williams can be found here.

At least seven of the twelve courses required for graduation must be graduate seminars (students are free to pursue additional courses beyond those required for 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
- Europe and the Mediterranean Basin
- Asia and the Pacific
- The Americas
- Africa and the Middle East

Chronological Periods
- Prehistoric to 1200
- 1200 to 1800
- 1800 to the present

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 by submitting petitions to the Director describing the substance of their projects and the nature of the work they will submit for evaluation.

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 requires—as a minimum–– A2-level proficiency in one language other than English (or two college-level classes or equivalent), in a language of scholarly and academic relevance to the student’s art-historical interests. This requirement can be fulfilled by college-level language coursework prior to matriculating at Williams, by language coursework at Williams College, by summer language study, or by other methods (such as language exposure at home). The requirement represents the minimum for graduation; the program supports and strongly encourages proficiency in multiple languages, with the understanding that, now more than ever, the capacity to conduct primary and secondary research across a range of scholarly languages, and to communicate with colleagues in an increasingly global and international field, are essential art-historical skills.

Many students choose to pursue additional language work beyond the program requirements. All language classes at Williams listed in the course catalog, as well as Williams’ Critical Languages Program, are open to MA students, although the coordination of undergraduate and graduate schedules can be challenging. The Graduate Program also has limited funding to support summer language study.

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, subject to instructor approval.

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Updated August 2023