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Writing an art history masters thesis

Writing an art history masters thesis and Architectural History

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Thesis Requirement

Developing Your Thesis Topic:
Students should begin formulating their thesis topic in the semester prior to the semester in which they intend to begin researching their thesis. The topic should be discussed with the intended advisor. During the summer or winter break (depending on the thesis start date), students should prepare a thesis proposal and submit it along with the Masters Thesis Proposal form to the Graduate Student Coordinator on the designated deadline.

Thesis Proposal:
The Masters Thesis Proposal form and related thesis proposal are normally due during the first four weeks of classes in the semester in which students intend to begin thesis research. Students should contact their intended advisor to discuss their proposal well before it is due. The topic and advisor are approved only when a faculty member signs the form, thereby agreeing to be the advisor. The form is only an application and therefore any faculty member to whom it is submitted may either decline to be the advisor or require that students resubmit their proposal with suggested changes before agreeing to sign it.

Guidelines for the Thesis:

The MA thesis is a substantial piece of critical writing that develops an original argument about an important issue in art and art history. It should not just summarize existing literature on a topic, but make a new contribution to the literature through research and critical thinking. You may focus, for example, on an artwork, a group of artworks, an artist, an art movement, an art institution, an aesthetic idea/theory or historiography. It is better to write in depth on a relatively narrow topic than superficially on a broad topic. The thesis is distinct from a seminar paper; however, it may expand upon an existing seminar paper with the consent of the advisor. It should develop a topic in substantial depth, show a command of the existing literature, and be organized into chapters or sections that guide the reader through its argument. While exact length of the thesis is dependent upon the topic and selected methodology, as well as the requirements of the thesis advisor, the benchmark is about 40-80 pages of writing including footnotes (10,000-20,000 words), but excluding illustrations and bibliography.

Throughout the thesis year, students should meet regularly with their advisor to discuss their progress. The frequency of these meetings should be decided with the advisor. Students are responsible for scheduling them. (Note: If a student is working with a faculty member who has agreed to be their advisor but is on leave at some point during the process, students should arrange individually with him/her on how to keep in contact.) When appropriate, students may ask a faculty member from within or outside the department (the latter with permission of the Director) to serve as a second reader. The second reader may offer initial suggestions at the proposal stage, but they generally do not assist in the research and writing process; their central role is to read and offer feedback on the final draft and confer with the faculty advisor on the final grade.

Generally speaking, students should aim to complete all research and begin writing during the first semester, and devote the second semester to completing the writing and revisions based upon advisor feedback. Students should set a date with their advisor for the submission of a complete rough draft of the thesis with plenty of time left for revision before the final draft is due. Students who do not arrange for a submitted draft early enough to allow appropriate time for advisor feedback and subsequent revisions risk not being able to graduate on time. It is the student’s responsibility to be mindful of deadlines and time frames.

The style of the thesis need not conform to the requirements of the Columbia University PhD dissertation office. A consistent and recognized format must be employed, however, especially with regard to citations and footnotes. Students are advised to employ such style as is standard for art history journals and seminar papers. Illustrations should be of excellent quality and annotated with captions. Expectations vary between advisors; therefore, it is imperative that students discuss specific formal and organizational requirements with their advisor early in the writing process.

Submitting the Thesis:
For graduation approval all students must submit to the Graduate Program Coordinator a final bound copy of the thesis and the MA Thesis Approval Cover Sheet signed by the advisor by the due date as determined by the Department of Art History and Archaeology.

MA Theses Since 2010


Samantha Clay Reagan – Bearden’s Migration: A Reading of Romare Bearden’s 1964 Projections Series as a Narrative of the Great Migration (K. Jones)

Ariel Cohen – Systems and Patterns of Constructing Culture: Ephraim Moses Lilien in the Nexuses of Zionism (A. Shalem)

Celia Durkin – Form as Concept: Levels of Mental Construal Involved in Processing Abstract Art (D. Freedberg)

Yifu Liu – The Prints of Bosch: Towards a More Nuanced Attribution (D. Bodart)

Claire Pierce – Between Tradition and Innovation: Titian’s Gonfalone for the Compagnia Corpus Domini in Urbino Reconsidered (M. Cole)

Lili Varzhapetyan – Queens and Princesses: Female Art Patrons in Medieval Armenia (H. Klein)

Kelly Wang – The Four Birds: An Ink Painting by Emperor Song Huizong (R. Harrist)


Olympia Arco – Between Film Foto: Fifo 1929 (Noam Elcott)

Xin Du –Two Paths to Abstraction: Paintings of Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guanzhong (Robert Harrist)

Marguerite Mott – The Sensuous Feminine: The Handheld Mirror in the Statuary of South Asian Antiquity (Vidya Dehejia)

Lauren Robbins – Redefining Renoir’s Classicism: A Reevaluation of his Mythological Artworks (Frédérique Baumgartner)

Mary Schmidt – Training the Next Generation to Teach: Blending Pedagogy and Content to Train Student Gallery Teachers at University Art Museums (Anne Higonnet)


Jose Blanco Perales – The End of the Iberian Century in Japan: A Study of the Painting Martyrdom of Fifty-two Christians at Nagasaki in 1622 (Matthew McKelway)

Ying Chen – The Painted Flowers: Buddhism and the Patronage of the Xuanhua Tombs from the Liao Dynasty (Robert Harrist)

Cynthia Dare – Goddess, Heroine, Beast: Anna Hyatt Huntington’s New York Sculpture, 1902-1936 (Anne Higonnet)

Anne Dolmatch – Style at the Crossroads: A Late Gothic Entombment from Biron, France (Stephen Murray)

Yuan Fang – Medium, Post-Medium, or Else? A Theoretical Showcase of Contemporary Chinese Ink (John Rajchman)

Ruiying Gao – Collecting Nature: Traditions of Zahua Tu Juan from Song to Yuan (Robert Harrist)

Hilah Loewenstein – Polyxena and her Hydria: A Maiden’s Tragic Fate and Self-Referentiality in Athenian Vase-Painting (Ioannis Mylonopoulos)

Giulia Theodoli – The Art Project Bulletin. A Paginated Practice in the Age of Conceptualism (Francesco Benelli)

Tim Trombley – Visualizing Domestic Architecture at Olynthos: Lighting Analysis of Activity Spaces in the Greek House (Ioannis Mylonopoulos)

Amanda Tsao – Screens of Change: Two Pairs of Nanban Folding Screens from the Kobe City Museum and Suntory Museum of Art (Matthew McKelway)


Catherine Carruthers Picturing Chance: Gerhard Richter’s and Gilles Deleuze’s Abstraction (John Rajchman)

Sarah Marsh Staging Photography: The Legacy of the Tableau Vivant in Nineteenth Century Photography (Noam Elcott)

Lauren Murtagh Sexual Violence, Typologies of the Feminine, and Otto Weininger Revisited: The Lustmord Pictures of George Grosz (Noam Elcott)


Kerry Lee Gaertner Becoming Janez Janša: The NAME Readymade Project Rosalyn Deutsche

Jessica Rose Garrett Michelangelo and Raphael: Drawing, Writing, & Building after Antiquity Francesco Benelli

Alma Gharib Aesthetic Perception and Cognition of Faces David Freedberg

C. Nicole Leist Gods in Plain Sight: The Personification of Mountains and Rivers in Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Art Ioannis Mylonopoulos

Lois Martin Mother Monster Maize: Reading Coatlicue as Chicomecoatl through the Lens of Aztec Science (and Youtube) Esther Pasztory

Kaitlin Richardson The Ancien-Régime Fan: A Sophisticated Synthesis of Design, Function and Use Anne Higonnet

Carol Santoleri Turner and the Picturesque Tour: Mist, Spray and Ripples on the River Seine Vittoria Di Palma

Lauren Turchioe Repetitive Patterning as Signs of Wealth and Power in Chimu Textiles Esther Pasztory


Jane Elizabeth Braun Reconfiguration, Redistribution, Recharacterization: The Second Empire Renovations of the Bois de Boulogne and the Development of the Culture of Popular Display at the Hippodrome de Longchamp Anne Higonnet

Sara King — Mourning and Matronage in the Bliss Collection — Anne Higonnet

Timothy King Aztec Gold Ornaments: Use, Production, Distribution, Iconographic, and Stylistic Elements, and Attribution of Aztec Gold Esther Pasztory

Aubrey Knox Life after Death: The Du d’Aumale’s and Albert C. Barnes’ Quests for Control, Validation, and Ideological Integrity Through Their Collections Anne Higonnet

Carol Santoleri Turner and the Picturesque Tour: Mist, Spray and Ripples on the River Seine Vittoria Di Palma

Elizabeth Seeman The Naumann Panel: A Memento Mori as Symbol of Selfhood in Sixteenth Century Venice Michael Cole

Xin Wang Traditions Animés: The Art of Ink in the Age of Digital Reproductions Robert Harrist


Alyssa Bryk Rivals in Cinquecento Italy: The Stigmas and Triumphs of Michelangelo and Titian David Rosand

Eduardo A. Escobar Metal Casters and Metal Casting at Ugarit during the Late Bronze Age Zainab Bahrani

Neil Ghosh Internationalizing the Art of Bengal: the Artwork of Paritosh Sen, Jogen Chowdhury, and Bikash Bhattacharjee Vidya Dehejia

Heather Hoge Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule: Ramifications of Regional Architectural Types on a Central Locale Stephen Murray

Martha Susan Roy The Cultural, Social and Architectural History of the Family Fallout Shelter during the Early Cold War (19501965) Hilary Ballon

Sydney Weinberg The Architecture of War: Francesco di Giogio, Federico da Montefeltro and The Art of Defense Francesco Benelli

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