University of Minnesota
Art History

Art History Home Page

Undergraduate Programs

Art History is the study of the visual world, both past and present. It looks closely at a wide array of images, objects, buildings, and sites in order to better understand human societies.

Art History operates with the understanding that visual/ material artifacts may speak more directly and deeply about a culture than its written record. Put another way, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then Art History equips students to read it. This is called “visual literacy” and it is an invaluable skill in our increasingly visual world.

Students in Art History learn to analyze a wide variety of artifacts from all geographic regions and historical eras, including our own. Not limited strictly to the so-called “fine arts,” Art History seeks to understand visual and material culture more broadly: from paintings and sculpture, to architecture and urban design; from films and photographs, to ceramics and textiles; from scientific illustration and political posters, to performance art and street graffiti.

Through engaging closely with these and other forms of visual expression, students of Art History become adept practitioners of the following skills: visual analysis and interpretation, original research and careful argumentation, image-based thinking and communication, and clear and persuasive writing in a variety of modes (e.g., analytical, creative, and journalistic).

Engaging visual approaches to learning and thinking, Art History prepares a diverse student body for a variety of professional tracks. Graduates from this major go on to enjoy careers in the following fields: visual arts (e.g., art criticism, art appraisal and sales, art therapy, fashion, interior design, museums, and conservation), the humanities (e.g., grant writing, historic preservation, and philanthropy), media and marketing (e.g., advertising, film, journalism, radio, and television), K-12 and post-secondary education (e.g., teaching and administration), information science and collections management (e.g., libraries and archives in public, non-profit, and corporate contexts), and medicine and law, two fields that have long prized Art History alumni for their analytical precision, skills at information mastery, and “right-brain/left-brain” balance.

For these and other reasons, students of Art History go on to enjoy higher job satisfaction and lower unemployment rates over the course of their working life than peers in vocational tracks.

Majors in Art History are required to fulfill a variety of distribution requirements across geographic regions and historical eras; one studio art class is also required for the major. Most classes have no prerequisites. The 30-unit credit for the major makes it an attractive option for double-majors and transfer students. Students considering pursuing graduate-level work in the discipline should aim to take more than the required two 5xxx-level courses, with as many professors in the department as possible; they should also strongly consider making French or German their chosen foreign language.