Art History student looking at photograph.

Art History

As a student of Art History at UAB you will learn visual literacy and critical thinking skills to analyze a wide variety of artifacts from all geographic regions and historic eras, including our own. By engaging in visual approaches to learning and thinking, Art History prepares students for fulfilling careers in a variety of professional tracks.

Recent graduates have gone on to work in museums, galleries, non-profit organizations, and other cultural institutions, or have pursued further graduate study in art history, arts education, historic preservation, arts management, and library science.

Important area resources for art history students include the Abroms-Engel Institute for Visual Arts, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art, and numerous local and regional art spaces and galleries. The department also maintains a regular program of visiting artists, scholars, and critics.

BA Art History

Art History concerns itself with human history through the study of painting, sculpture, architecture and the graphic and decorative arts. Art History considers these arts as creative processes—as expressions of human ideas, feelings and conditions of life. The study of Art History allows students to immerse themselves in cultural and aesthetic issues.

Through the study of Art History, students gain an awareness of the values and social conditions embodied in great works of art. This knowledge is shaped by a familiarity with the art and architecture produced by world civilizations and an ability to analyze and understand the quality of art from diverse cultures and periods.

A master's in Art History emphasizes visual as well as verbal and written literacy, tools that are critically important in a global society. The study of Art History fosters skills that can serve as a foundation for careers in professions as diverse as law, medicine, and business. The skills learned from the study of art history are widely transferable, and highly valued by employers across all business sectors. Alumni work in a variety of professions, including teaching, publishing, arts administration, museums, galleries, historic preservation, art libraries, journalism, advertising, and art conservation.


MA Art History

The Master of Arts degree in Art History, offered jointly with the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, is the only art history graduate program in the state. The MA degree in Art History prepares students for further academic study at the doctoral level or for professional careers in teaching, museums, galleries, and other arts-related fields. Students may enroll on either campus and must take at least 6 hours of course work on the other campus.

The MA program offers a wide range of art history courses and graduate seminars. Each student must take ARH 680 (Methods and Approaches to the History of Art). The MA program offers specialized study in: Medieval Art, Early Modern Art, Eighteenth-Century/Nineteenth-Century Art, Twentieth-Century/Contemporary Art, South Asian Art, and East Asian Art. The small size of the program affords graduate students the opportunity to work closely with individual faculty members on both campuses in seminars and directed research projects. The MA in Art History provides students with a thorough grounding in art history, critical thinking, and research methods.

The MA in Art History is a 30-hour research degree consisting of 24 hours of art history course work and 6 hours of thesis research. Degree requirements include a comprehensive examination and a thesis. In addition, prior to taking the comprehensive examination, a student must demonstrate a reading knowledge of a language, appropriate to the student’s field of study. The program offers funding for graduate students in the forms of graduate assistantships and a UAB/Birmingham Museum of Art Curatorial Fellowship. UAB/BMA student fellows have engaged in a variety of exciting research projects at the BMA and organized such exhibitions as The Golden Age: Illustration from the Birmingham Museum of Art Collection, a show that was presented in conjunction with Norman Rockwell’s America, and Vanguard Views, an exhibition celebrating innovation in visual art and design in the early twentieth century. The art history faculty also regularly offer study abroad programs for students in South Asia and Europe.

Each year, graduate students present their research at the Annual Graduate Symposium organized by the joint UAB/UA M.A. Program in Art History. They also participate in UAB’s Graduate Student Research Day, where they compete for prizes against other UAB graduate students in the humanities.

A minimum GPA of 3.0 (B) is required for acceptance into the program. The applicant should also have completed 24 semester hours in art history and related areas such as history, aesthetics, archaeology, and anthropology.

Students may apply for admission for either the fall or spring semester.

Spring admission: applications due by October 1 
Fall admission: applications due by April 1


What Can You Do with a Master's in Art History?

Arts Education

A degree in Art History provides an excellent foundation for acquiring specialty graduate training in Art Education or History. At the college level, Art History is a fascinating collection of specializations and the career of a professor means research into your favorite historical periods and ideas as well as teaching at an advanced level.

State Arts Agency Director/Staff Member

State arts agencies strive to increase public access to the arts and work to support and grow their state’s arts sector. Most states have a state arts agency, which draws funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that was established by Congress in 1965. State arts agencies offer unique combinations of grants and services for artists, arts organizations, schools and community groups. These agencies require directors, art program liaisons, editors, and other staff, whose roles vary depending upon the particular agency’s initiatives.

Museum Curator

Gallery or museum curators research, plan, organize and manage exhibitions of art, antiques, fossils and other cultural artifacts in art galleries, museums and other places that celebrate cultural heritage. They acquire and care for the items in their organization’s collection, examine them to determine their condition, authenticity and value, arrange them for display in exhibitions and showings, and maintain records about their collections. They also liaise with historians, conservators and other experts about the best way to preserve and maintain the pieces in their care.

Museum Conservation

A background in Art History is very important if you’re interested in pursuing art restoration. Museums, collectors, and others require the services of art restorers to repair and preserve valuable historical objects. A degree in Art History provides the knowledge of artistic materials and techniques from the past that is critical to maintaining artworks for the future.

Art Crime Investigator

The FBI’s Art Theft program coordinates an Art Crime Team consisting of 14 special agents and three prosecuting attorneys. These roles require an inquisitive nature, an interest in research, a high level of physical fitness, and investigative skill. Art crime investigators can also expect significant job variety, travel, and excellent benefits.

Auction Houses

Businesses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s rely on trained Art Historians to provide the research and evaluation of the artworks they sell. Specialists in various periods and cultures help identify and assess the value of historical objects from jewelry to furniture to fine art. A degree in Art History is a requirement for this career.

Art Lawyer

Massive amounts of money, time, and talent flow through the art world, which gives rise to a multitude of legal disputes. Litigation can center around copyright concerns, contract disputes, fraud, and artists’ rights concerns. In addition to their art history master’s degree, art lawyers will need a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and expertise in contract law.

Art Journalist

Writing about art as a career for newspapers, magazines and art-world internet sites requires an academic background in Art History as a professional qualification. Art journalists write articles in which they interpret and analyze the meaning and quality of an artist’s work. This career is usually open only to those who have years of experience teaching art or art history or in working with museums and art galleries; some art critics may also have journalism experience.

Art Galleries

To work in the competitive field of commercial art galleries, it is key to have qualifications in Art History. Understanding the interpretation and historical context of artworks is central to a career in the fast-paced world of art marketing in galleries and international art fairs.

Art & Antique Dealer

Successful art dealers have the ability to cultivate a network of artists and simultaneously establish connections with collectors and museums who are interested in the work of their artists. The very best dealers develop reputations for anticipating swings in taste and value. Some seem to be able to create demand for an artist by simply agreeing to represent him or her. Most dealers specialize in a period, style, or type of art, such as eighteenth century painting, works of the New York School, or contemporary sculpture. All dealers must keep up with developments in the art world, particularly in their areas of specialty, so their careers depend upon maintaining a wide range of contacts among critics, curators, auction houses, artists, and collectors.

Art Economist

The purchase of fine art represents a unique combination of acquisition for personal enjoyment and investment for financial gain. This dynamic becomes even more pronounced during periods of economic downturn, such as the current recession. The recent emergence of publications like The Art Economist and firms specializing in analysis of the art economy displays the increasing level of interest in the study of the art market through a macroeconomic and microeconomic lens. An academic and practical study of the modern art economy represents an opportunity for art historians to apply research skills in a real-world setting.

Art Insurance Adjustor

An art insurance adjustor works for an insurance company to examine damage to an insured item, decide what work needs to be done to repair, clean, or restore it, and determine how much money the repair work will cost. Art insurance adjustors understand multiple artistic mediums, methods for cleaning, restoring, and otherwise repairing artwork, and must have the ability to creatively problem-solve for each unique case as it occurs. Adjustors may contract cleaning or restoration services, oversee the safe removal and transport of works, interact with artists and artwork owners, and may also work with police, emergency services, government personnel, or the FBI to remove and repair artwork damaged during major emergencies.

Careers beyond the Art World

Key transferable skills highly prized by employers include visual and critical awareness, problem solving, and time management. As an art history graduate you will have developed effective written and oral communication skills, be adept at analyzing and interpreting information from a range of sources, and be able to work independently.

“Regular readers of our column know that we are unabashed fans and supporters of the humanities and the creative and performing arts.” Thus began David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler’s essay, “Does Your Major Matter?” in the October 29, 2012 issue of Forbes Magazine. They go on to say, “We believe that the world’s thorniest problems will not be solved—nor will our nation be secure—without an understanding of ethics, cultures other than our own, and what it means to be fully human. And we have seen first-hand that students who complete liberal arts degrees have deeply satisfying—and productive—personal and professional lives.”

In fact, art historical training can prepare students for real world investigation. In her 2013 TedTalk “How Art Can Help You Analyze,” Amy Herman explains that “The study of art can enhance our perception, and our ability to translate to others what we see. Those skills are useful. Those skills can save lives.” She goes on: “Close study of art can train viewers to study thoroughly, analyze the elements observed, articulate them succinctly, and formulate questions to address seeming inconsistencies.” These are critically important skills, she notes, for people looking at X-rays, interrogating suspects, or in a number of other professions.

Skorton and Altschuler also write, “The liberal arts … serves as a preferred pathway to rewarding and remunerative careers. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), medical schools accepted 43 percent of the biological sciences majors, 47 percent of physical sciences majors, 51 percent of humanities majors, and 45 percent of social sciences majors who applied in 2010.” Writers analyzing other fields have found the same phenomenon to be true. In the August 17, 2015 issues of Forbes Magazine, George Anders remarked, “Throughout the major U.S. tech hubs, whether Silicon Valley or Seattle, Boston or Austin, Tex., software companies are discovering that liberal arts thinking makes them stronger.”

“I think the primary benefit of art in education is that it promotes lateral thinking. I would think that is a benefit to anyone who must try and visualize things that no one can actually see, like particle physics, microbiology, cosmology, and astrophysics as well as figuring out how things work out in quantum mechanics to produce the results we see experimentally.”

Or as Business Insider (Feb. 19, 2014) concisely put it, “Next time you’re looking for an employee, consider an art history major.”

Meet Our Graduates

Celeste Paxton

  • MA in Art History, 2017
  • Thesis: Ritual, Self-Defense, and Territoriality at the Rock Art Site of Chaturbhujnath Nala, India
  • Current position: Museum Data Support Team Lead at the U. S. Army Center of Military History Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia

Amelia Hobson

  • MA in Art History, 2016
  • Thesis: Andy Loves Richard: The Revelations of “Vote McGovern” (1972)
  • Current position: Instructor at Auburn University-Montgomery

Amy Williamson

  • MA in Art History, 2016
  • Thesis: “The Ladies” Who Founded MOMA: How Three Female Art Collectors Created One of the World’s Leading Museums
  • Current position: Curator of Public Programs at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. During her graduate career at UAB she interned extensively at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Angie May

  • MA in Art History, 2014
  • Thesis: Sak Yant: The Transition From Indic Yantras To Thai “Magical” Buddhist Tattoos
  • Current position: Assistant Curator of Education, The Birmingham Museum of Art

Ruoxin Wang

  • MA in Art History, 2015
  • Thesis: Aping Nobility: Reinterpreting the MMA “Monkey Cup”
  • Recent position: PhD Program in Art History, Rice University. Advisor: Diane Wolfthal

Joanna Wilson

  • MA in Art History, 2014
  • Thesis: The Bear And The Tiger: Decoding Attitudes And Anxieties Towards Nature Through A.A. Milne’s Winnie-The-Pooh In Post WWI Britain
  • Current position: Joanna is the a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Kohler Foundation Fellow

Bethany Bekane McClellan

  • MA in Art History, 2013
  • Thesis: Science of Sleep: Tracing the Visual Language of Dreams from Fuseli to Gondry
  • Current position: Curatorial Assistant at the Birmingham Museum of Art

Linda Pierini

  • MA in Art History, 2012
  • Thesis: Objects of Worship Based on the Lotus Sutra: The Gohonzon by Nichiren
  • Current position: Instructor of Art History at Birmingham-Southern College

Kathryn Sullivan

  • MA in Art History, 2009
  • Thesis: Borso D’Este and the Arthurian Legend: A Reconsideration of the Hall of the Months in the Palazzo Schifanoia
  • Current position: Manager of the Warner Foundation Collection of American Art, Tuscaloosa; Instructor of Art History, Samford University, Birmingham Alabama

Michele Forman

  • MA in Art History, 2009
  • Thesis: “Voyeurizing the Voyeurs”: An Analysis of the Gaze of the Non-Human Other in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil
  • Current position: Director, Media Studies Program/Visual Literacy, UAB; President of the Board, Sidewalk Film Festival

Harley Acres

  • MA in Art History, 2007
  • Thesis: Gender Bending and Comic Books as Art: Issues of Appropriation, Gender, and Sexuality in Japanese Art
  • Current position: Faculty at Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Lindsay Mouyal Parris

  • MA in Art Education, 2007
  • Current position: Visual Arts Teacher, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Alabama Art Education Association

Kristen Greenwood

  • MA in Art History, 2006
  • Thesis: Images Of Inhumanity: George Bellows’s War Series
  • Current position: Director, Girls Inc., Birmingham, Alabama

Adrian Smythies

  • MA in Art History, 2006
  • Thesis: The Architecture And Iconography Of The Hindu Temple In Eads, Tennessee
  • Current position: Adrian Smythies has written seven publications on the architecture and iconography of American Hindu temples.