Art History: Program Details

Art history students gathered in front of Francis Bacon paintings at the Portland Art Museum

Study art and visual culture from around the world

Art history looks at art in its historical context, taking into account the time, location, cultural ideals, philosophy, aesthetics, and techniques involved in its creation.

Art history is a great field for people who are intellectually curious about the world and want to hone their skills in research and communication. Our undergraduate art history degree has an unusual degree of flexibility allowing you to forge an individual path of study based on your interests and goals. You can even apply appropriate courses from other departments to this degree.

Our program offers a broad spectrum of courses covering art created in the earliest days of human culture to the contemporary art scene. You will delve into courses like Italian Renaissance Art, Chinese Painting, Islamic Art, and Latin American Women Artists, as well as thematic courses like Medieval Monsters and Nature into Art.

Most of our classes are small, ranging from 15-35 students, and offer research opportunities throughout the curriculum. Motivated students have the option of a senior year thesis project. We have a robust range of online courses but also value the first-hand study of art. We even have travel funds that allow several art history classes a year to take free-for-students trips to places like Los Angeles, New York, and Denver. These excursions often involve unique behind the scenes experiences not available to the general public.

We strive to make connections

Every year we host guest lectures by visiting scholars representing a variety of art-historical themes. You will also have the opportunity to create community through participation in our Art History Student Association. Some of our students participate in internships with local arts and non-profit institutions.

Our location in the heart of Downtown Portland places us just steps from museums, hundreds of independent art galleries, and Portland vibrant creative scene. The Portland Art Museum (PAM) is just a short walk down the Park Blocks. Students in our program like to take advantage of PAM's College Creative License which offers college students a year-long museum pass for the price of a single admission.

As an art history major at PSU, you will not only grow academically: you will be challenged to explore.

Art History Major - BA or BS Degree?

Studying art history enables you to think critically and communicate effectively about visual and textual evidence, skills that apply to a range of professions. We have one program with an individual path of study that you can use to deepen or extend your learning while earning a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Art History.

Your choice between the B.A. and B.S. should be discussed with an art history faculty advisor, but for most people both options can work well. If you’re interested in art conservation, though, choose the B.S., whereas the B.A. is the recommended option for those who anticipate continuing on to a graduate school in art history, museum studies, and related fields.

Art History Major - Thesis Project Option

Highly motivated art history majors can elect to do a senior year thesis project in lieu of one upper-level art history course by registering for ARH 403 Undergraduate Thesis instead. 

Your first step is to contact a potential advisor in the subject you’re interested in doing a project. The advisor must agree to the project before you proceed. Here is what to expect:

  • You can work on the project over one to three quarters, for a total of four credits of ARH 403 Undergraduate Thesis
  • Your final outcome should be a substantial research project. If the project takes the form of a traditional research paper, the final version should be at least 5000 words in length and offer a well-researched, cogently argued analysis. If you develop another kind of research-based project (such as a documentary, an online exhibition, etc.), it must be of equivalent scope and level of research as determined with your advisor.
  • The thesis can be based on prior research you’ve done for an art history class, but must substantially advance your knowledge of the topic. This is an opportunity to do an in-depth research project to culminate your studies.

PSU Honors College Students
If you are an art history student in the Honors College, you’ll follow the Honors College Thesis guidelines.

Art History Minor

Majoring in another field but have a passion for art history? You can add an Art History Minor to your degree in just 30 credits.

Required Courses Credits
Two of the following courses: ARH 204, 205, 206 8 credits
ART 104 Digital Tools and Resources –OR– ARH 106 Introduction to Visual Literacy 2 credits
Five Upper Division (300- or 400-level) Art History Courses 20 credits
Total 30 credits