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 Draft 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 eight of the twelve courses must be graduate seminars. Included among them are three required of all students: ARTH 504, “Methods of Art History,” 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 eight graduate seminars. The Curatorial Workshop, ARTH 563 is taken pass/fail only; the workshop does not count among the twelve courses required to complete the degree.

Students must also fulfill a distribution requirement by undertaking coursework in three of six areas:

  1. East Asian, Indian, Islamic art
  2. Ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art
  3. Early Christian, Byzantine, and Western Medieval art to 1400
  4. Western art, 1400 to 1780
  5. Western art, 1780 to present
  6. Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas (Pre-Hispanic or Native American cultures)

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

Undergraduate Courses and Private Tutorials

With permission from the Director and the individual instructors, students may take up to four 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 up to two private tutorials (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 students and their faculty supervisors.

Of the minimum requirement of twelve courses, the combined number of private tutorials and undergraduate courses applied to the degree may not exceed four.

The Qualifying Paper

The Qualifying Paper is normally a revision of a seminar or private tutorial paper produced 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 to the Director 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.

On the first Friday of their fourth semester, students submit drafts of their Qualifying Paper, including illustrations, to three faculty readers (generally the original faculty supervisor, the Director, and the Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow). Although a draft, this version of the paper should be brought to a high level of completion.

Early in the fourth semester, students and their readers meet together to discuss the drafts. Within six weeks of these discussions (at a date determined by the Director), students submit their final Qualifying Papers. Qualifying Papers should not exceed 8,000 words, including footnotes and bibliography.

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, but are not limited to, the Director, one additional faculty mentor, one first-year graduate student, and one second-year graduate student). Preparations include at least three practice runs for each student. Speakers present the first and third of these run-throughs to the ad hoc committee, the second to the other second-year students in a workshop scheduled by the Director. Speakers distribute copies of their paper in each practice run.


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. Many students select French as the second although, with permission from the Director, other languages may serve. 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.

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 eight 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 resign 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 resign 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 September 2014