The Dissertation

After the successful completion of the general examination, a topic and adviser for the dissertation should be chosen. Students should discuss potential topics with several faculty members before beginning. The final prospectus should be approved not later than 3 months (within the academic calendar -- September through May) of passing the general examinations in order to be considered to be making satisfactory progress toward the degree. This is the time when the Thesis Reader and Dissertation Proposal form should be completed and submitted to the department office or DGS.

Three signatures are now required on the thesis acceptance certificate. Two of the three signatories must be GSAS faculty. The primary adviser must be in the department of History of Art and Architecture; the secondary adviser need not be. In addition to the primary and secondary advisers the student may have one or more other readers. Two readers must be in the department.


Thesis Defense

The Department of History of Art and Architecture requires that all Ph.D. dissertations (of students entering in September 1997 and beyond) be defended. At the defense, the student has the opportunity to present and formally discuss the dissertation with respect to its sources, findings, interpretations, and conclusions, before a Defense Committee knowledgeable in the student's field of research. The Director of the thesis is a member of the Defense committee. A committee is permitted to convene in the absence of the thesis Director only in cases of emergency or other extreme circumstances.

The Defense Committee may consist of up to five members, but no fewer than three. The suggested make-up of the members of the committee should be brought to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval. Two members of this committee should be from the Department of History of Art and Architecture. One member can be outside the Department (either from another Harvard department or outside the University).

The Defense will be open to department members only (faculty and graduate students), but others may be invited at the discretion of the candidate. Travel for an outside committee member is not possible at this time; exceptions are made rarely.  We encourage the use of Skype or conference calling for those committee members outside of Cambridge and have accommodation for either.  A modest honorarium will be given for the reading of the thesis for one member of the jury outside the University.

A minimum of one month prior to scheduling the defense, a final draft of the dissertation should be submitted to two readers (normally the primary and secondary advisors). Once the two readers have informed the director of graduate studies that the dissertation is “approved for defense,” the candidate may schedule the date, room, and time for the defense in consultation with the department and the appointed committee. This date should be no less than six weeks after the time the director of graduate studies has been informed that the dissertation was approved for defense. It should be noted that preliminary approval of the thesis for defense does not guarantee that the thesis will be passed.

The defense normally lasts two hours. The candidate is asked to begin by summarizing the pertinent background and findings. The summary should be kept within 20 minutes. The Chair of the Defense Committee cannot be the main thesis advisor. The Chair is responsible for allotting time, normally allowing each member of the committee 20 to 30 minutes in which to make remarks on the thesis and elicit responses from the candidate. When each committee member has finished the questioning, the committee will convene in camera for the decision. The possible decisions are: Approved; Approved with Minor Changes; Approved Subject to Major Revision (within six months); Rejected. The majority vote determines the outcome.

--Approved with minor changes: The dissertation is deemed acceptable subject to minor revisions. The dissertation is corrected by the candidate, taking into account the comments made by the committee. The revisions will be supervised by the primary adviser. Upon completion of the required revision, the candidate is recommended for the degree.

--Approved subject to major revision within six months: The dissertation is deemed acceptable subject to major revisions. All revisions must be completed within six months from the date of the dissertation defense. Upon completion of the required revisions, the defense is considered to be successful. The revisions will be supervised by the primary adviser.

--Rejected: The dissertation is deemed unacceptable and the candidate is not recommended for the degree. A candidate may be re-examined only once upon recommendation of two readers. Rejection is expected to be very exceptional.

A written assessment of the thesis defense will be given to the candidate and filed in the Department by the Chair of the Defense Committee. Candidates should keep in mind the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences deadlines for submission of the thesis and degree application when scheduling the defense.


Submitting the Dissertation

Students ordinarily devote three years to research and writing the dissertation, and complete it prior to seeking full-time employment. The dissertation will be judged according to the highest standards of scholarship, and should be an original contribution to knowledge and understanding of art. The final manuscript must conform to University requirements described in the Supplement The Form of the Doctoral Thesis distributed by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Graduate students should negotiate with their readers the timing of submission of drafts prior to final revisions. However, the complete manuscript of the dissertation must be submitted to the thesis readers not later than August 1 for a November degree, November 1 for a March degree, and April 1 for a May degree (this in order to provide both the committee with time to read and the candidate to revise, if necessary). The thesis readers may have other expectations regarding dates for submission which should be discussed and handled on an individual basis. The student is still responsible for distribution of the thesis to the committee for reading. In cases where a thesis defense is scheduled, the thesis must be submitted to the primary adviser at least one month prior to the defense. The thesis defense must be scheduled at least two weeks prior to the university deadline for thesis submission.

A written assessment by dissertation readers must be included with the final approval of each thesis including suggestions, as appropriate, on how the dissertation might be adapted for later publication.

The Dissertation is submitted online.   The Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (original) must be on Harvard watermark paper and is submitted directly to the registrar’s office once it is signed.

Degree Application and Deadlines