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Hello everyone! I am currently an undergrad at John Brown University studying history. I hope to study art history post-grad (though I'm not sure of a specific area yet -- I'm considering Classical Greek or Roman, Renaissance, or 20th century American; kind of all over the place, but those are just the areas that have sparked my interest the most over the years). I will be a junior in the fall and am just getting started with the process of looking at grad programs. My goal is to get into a program at Columbia, Yale, Harvard, NYU, etc., but I am slightly overwhelmed by the amount of information that I've come across, so I was hoping to get some basic tips for starting the process.

In addition to asking for some basic information, I have some specific questions:

What do I need to do as far as learning foreign languages? (I am currently studying French)

Some of the schools I'm looking at mention undergraduate research. Can anyone shed some light on how I can go about being a part of successful research as an undergrad (or if it is necessary)?

I appreciate any help you can offer. Thanks!

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Undergraduate research in the humanities is (from the way way I look at it) usually limited to the writing of some kind of senoir or honors thesis or the publication/presentation of papers. There is a movement to expand these kinds of opportunities for humanities undergraduates to mirror the opportunities for science students to get their work out in public earlier. I would suggest trying to get something published in an undergraduate or graduate journal (Colorado State University has a good one) or going to an undergraduate research conference. An expereince which was absolutely marvelous for me was to present a paper at the undergraduate conference held by the Kule Institute at the UNiversity of Alberta http://www.kias.ualberta.ca . They provide support for attendance most of the time, and its a great opportunity to practice giving a paper. Some of your professors might know of other opportunites as well. Doing an ISP is also a good way of showing graduate schools that you can work on a large project outside of a class structure and would also give you the opportunity to explore some of your areas of interest further.

I would also suggest that you use your senior year to try and narrow your focus a bit. Even if you are applying for an MA program, you need to know in what sub-field you envison doing your research in. People do change their minds often, but to have a good SOP you need to have some idea at the start. For a Ph.D. track program, you need to be MUCH more focused. I was unable to really articulate what I wanted to study even within my own specialty field in my first set of applications and I believe that that really hurt me at the more competitive schools. You are thinking about your options early though, which is great and I wish you good luck in your applications!

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Thanks, that's really helpful! I actually presented a paper this past spring at a regional honors conference, but it was a history topic (nothing to do with art). My honors program regularly takes students to conferences like that, so it's definitely doable. I'll look into the one at the University of Alberta, too.

As far as narrowing my focus goes, how specific do you mean? So far, I've just been thinking along the lines of specific time periods and regions. In what way does it need to be more focused?

Also, what is an ISP? I hope that's not a silly question!

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Not a silly question at all, was wondering if that was a common accronym when I used it. An ISP is an independent study project, sort of like the grad level directed reading. You normally work with one professor and produce a single large paper or other kind of project through one semester (I curated an exhibit). Not all programs have this option, but its a good chance to show schools that you can work independently and handle the planning of a larger, longer project than a regular term paper. Since you are an honors student, I assume that you will be doing some kind of large project as part of your program so I would say its not totally necessary to pursue doing one if it would be difficult at your school. Narrowing down specific time periods and regions is a good start, and very necessary for help you narrow down your school choices, but most professors/programs will want to know what kinds of questions and objects you would look at in your research. Are you interested in paintings, sculptures, decorative arts? Would you be drawn to investigate gender relations within art or the philosophies behind the production of a certain kind of image? As an example, my time period is the Inka empire, but the questions that I will work on have to do with the way textiles acted to form, as well as illustrate, personal identity within the Inka culture, and then the ways this carried over to the colonial period. I also have larger interests in applying the phenomenological theory of Merleau-Ponty to the experience of textile arts. You can certainly change your specific research topic during grad study, as I'm sure I will, but having at least a few suggestions ready shows that you are focused and have given though to your future research. Are you looking at Masters programs or Ph.D.s?

Edited by Shelley Burian
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As far as foreign language study goes, it depends on your chosen subfield.

If you choose classical Greek or Roman, you will need French, German, Greek (ancient and probably modern, if you plan to research in Greece), and Latin.

Renaissance will require French, German, Italian and possibly others depending on geographic range.

20th century American will require French, German, and potentially a third language again depending on geography or specific interests.

For most of these subfields, a reading knowledge of French and German is enough. For others, a more sophisticated command is expected (for instance, Italian for Italian Ren, Greek for Classical Greek, etc.).

Since at the moment your potential research interests are broad, I'd suggest looking into terminal M.A. programs before aiming for a Ph.D. A terminal MA will give you a chance to work on your languages, narrow your focus and choose a subfield, and will also expose you to a larger pool of art historians that are available at your undergraduate institution. I'd recommend looking into the programs at Williams, Tufts, Boston University, SAIC (if you are leaning towards 20th century American), and the Courtauld.

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As of right now, I'm looking at both Masters and Ph.D. programs. Since it's pretty early in the process, I thought I'd look at everything. The idea of a terminal MA first makes a lot of sense, though, so thanks for the advice! I'll definitely look into those. It's also good to hear that studying French will benefit me.

As for my interests, they are somewhat varied. I like Classical Greek (and Roman) sculpture; the idealism behind it, and the society that it comes from in general fascinates me. However, I love to study painting as well, and the painters in which I'm interested are quite varied: Titian, Caravaggio, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Edward Hopper... so you see my problem, haha. I don't yet know which of these topics/artists I would most like to study, and which ones I can do without.

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  • 4 weeks later...

AmyAngell, I am in a similar place as you. I am having difficulty narrowing my focus as well. I will be graduating with BAs in Art History and Digital Media in Spring 2014 and have been researching Art History programs in my area (I have a non-mobile family). The locality issue limits my choices. I'm about halfway between Boston and Providence. I've been looking specifically at terminal MA programs but I'm not sure if this is the right thing to do or if I should go directly into a PhD program. That would open the options up dramatically as would looking at History of Art and Architecture Programs.

I do have a professor who is willing to do an independent study on Architectural History with me, I enjoy it, but haven't had the opportunity to study it in depth. I have actually been starting to look at a few of the schools on Chamomile's list; BU, Tufts and Williams (though I think Williams might be too far). I'm also looking at Rhode Island School of Design and University of Mass at Amhearst (also may be too far). If I go the PhD route Harvard is an option and I believe Northeastern (not sure, have to double check).

I'm an older student with a lot of other commitments, but I have so far been able to keep a good GPA so far, 3.96, so I don't see that as an issue, but finances will be.

Any help along this road will be deeply appreciated. AmyAngell, I'll be watching your progress and cheering you on...

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