Undergraduate Program

Undergraduate Program Handbook

The History of Art and Architecture concentration offers training in the historical interpretation and critical analysis of the visual arts and architecture.   

The concentration is an effective core to a liberal arts education, and not merely pre-professional training for future art historians working in the academy or in the museum. The history of art and architecture is virtually unique among academic disciplines in studying the products of societies in every part of the world over the entire span of human history, from Paleolithic cave paintings to the works of our closest contemporaries. And the concentration develops skills of visual discrimination and verbal expression fundamental to many fields of inquiry and action.

Art history is itself a multifaceted discipline embracing many different methods, perspectives, and interests. Sometimes it deduces from works of art the time and place of their making, or the identity of their makers. Sometimes it examines how concepts, ideals, and sensibilities of people of the past are expressed in—and shaped by—their art. Sometimes it explores within large-scale fabrications (buildings, towns, cities) the dynamic between human and natural or technological worlds. These and other approaches are reflected in the teaching and scholarship of the History of Art and Architecture faculty.  


Students going to and from class at 485 Broadway

Photography by Anton Grassl    

Training in the critical analysis of art seeks to clarify the perception—and understanding—of how artworks relate to the techniques and materials used in their making, and to the environment in which they are seen. It also fosters visual literacy and the ability to make and explain judgments of cultural resonance, social impact, and formal coherence. Instruction in critical analysis is aided by the department’s partnership with the Harvard Art Museums, one of the world’s greatest teaching museums, comprising the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Sackler museums. This offers students a unique opportunity of first-hand study of original works of art in many media. Other collections on campus commonly used in teaching include those of the Peabody and Semitic museums and the Houghton Library. The Fine Arts Library also boasts an expansive special collections that comprises unique books, facsimiles, albums, prints, and photographs. 

Concentration requirements ensure that students are well versed in both the historical and critical facets of the field. Generally, course work offers coverage of the history of art and architecture, while a sequence of small-group tutorials develops critical skills. For students with a special interest in architecture, the concentration offers courses on architectural history and urban planning, while also helping to advise in, and coordinate, relevant coursework undertaken beyond the department. (Architecture Studies is a track within the concentration, jointly administered by the History of Art and Architecture and the Graduate School of Design. The track has its own requirements, which are detailed below.) Students wishing to pursue other specific interests may receive advising from appropriate faculty as arranged by the director of undergraduate studies.  

Courses in the History of Art and Architecture undergraduate curriculum are structured as a three-tier system, consisting of a sequence of entry-level and field-specific introductory courses, upper-level courses, and tutorials.  

HUMAN 20, “A Colloquium in the Visual Arts,” and HAA 11, “Landmarks of World Architecture,” are general, conceptual introductions (to world art from pre-history to the present, and the history of world architecture, respectively) each of which could serve as a point of entry into the courses and concentration of History of Art and Architecture. Other double-digit lecture courses in HAA, or offered by HAA faculty through the program in General Education, are also suitable points of entry into the concentration.  

Tutorials are small-group seminars which discuss the methodology of the discipline or examine a specific research topic in the discipline. These are intended to provide increasing expertise in critical and analytical thinking and serve as a basis for independent senior research projects. The senior thesis offers a student the opportunity to apply in greater depth one or more of the methods and aims developed in courses and tutorials, although, of course, theses often deal with subjects not included in class work.  


Students studying in communal study space at 485 Broadway

Photography by Anton Grassl    

The concentration in History of Art and Architecture can be pursued in conjunction with several other concentrations, most commonly Art, Film, and Visual Studies, English, Anthropology, a number of area studies, or Romance Languages. Together with the Departments of the Classics, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Anthropology, the Department of History of Art and Architecture initiates students in the study of archaeology.

Requirements for all concentrators, joint and full, provide exposure to a variety of areas within the history of art and architecture, as well as allow for the selection of a major field focus from among the following: African, African-American, American, Ancient (Egypt, Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome), Architecture, Baroque and Rococo, Byzantine, Chinese, European 18th and 19th centuries, Japanese, South Asian, Islamic, Latin American/Pre-Columbian, Medieval, Modern and Contemporary, Photography, and Renaissance (Northern and Southern).

Students concerned with joint concentration, credit for work done elsewhere, and late transfer into History of Art and Architecture should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. All concentrators should arrange advising appointments with the Director of Undergraduate Studies at the start of each term. General advising about course offerings and concentration requirements is provided by the Undergraduate Coordinator.  

For more information, please visit the HAA Undergraduate Program Handbook