Decorative Arts & Design History

Smithsonian Associates in partnership with
The George Washington University


The MA in Decorative Arts & Design History is offered in partnership with The Smithsonian Associates. It presents students with the challenge of integrating the history of the decorative arts into the study of art history and cultural studies as a whole. Students take courses in decorative arts, design history and theory, material culture, and museology.

The program prepares students for employment at museums, historic organizations, and in the commercial art and design marketplace. It is also excellent preparation for a number of doctoral programs.

For policies governing all graduate degrees, see the Academic Policies section of the catalog.

Degree Requirements (Catalog Year 2017-2018)

42 credit hours total including 39 graduate course work and a 3-credit internship. During the first fall semester, students are required to complete Proseminar (CDAD 6570) and Survey of Decorative Arts and Design I (CDAD 6571), and during the first spring semester students take Survey of Decorative Arts and Design II (CDAD 6572). Students may take up to 6 credits of internship applied toward their degree and up to 6 credits of independent study where students may pursue individual academic interests with a faculty member or museum curator. As many as 12 credits of graduate course work may be completed outside the department with approval of the head of the department. The semester prior to graduating students must pass a reading examination in a foreign language (either French, German, or Italian) or another language approved by the department if it applies directly to the student’s academic focus. As part of the non-course completion requirements, all students must successfully complete either a Thesis or Master’s comprehensive examination.

Eight core courses (24 credits)

Proseminar in History of Decorative Arts
Survey of Decorative Arts I
Survey of Decorative Arts II
Material Culture Studies
European Decorative Arts
Global Decorative Arts
Museum Studies
Design and Design History

Six to eight elective courses (18-24 credits)

Students choose electives in consultation with an advisor. Courses with variable topics may be repeated for credit when the topic varies. A total of 6 credits of independent study and 6 credits of internship each may be applied to the degree.

Students may apply 3 or 6 credits of thesis in place of 1 or 2 elective courses. Students who do not complete a thesis complete 24 elective credits and a comprehensive examination.

Choose from:

Internship in Art History and the Decorative Arts
The Museum
Independent Study
Special Topics in Art History and the Decorative Arts
Theory of Decorative Arts
Topics in Individual Decorative Arts
Material Culture Studies
European Decorative Arts
Global Decorative Arts
Museum Studies
Design and Design History

Examination or thesis

Students must successfully pass a comprehensive examination or complete a 3-6 credit thesis.


The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to test the student’s familiarity with the important objects and literature relating to one major and one minor field. Fields are defined by country, medium, and century. The student is expected to be conversant with bibliographic references, be able to evaluate information critically, and be able to recognize objects, makers, and styles. The exam consists of a one-hour oral component on the major and minor fields followed by an essay on the major field.

Thesis (3 - 6 credits)

A thesis requires a minimum of 1 semester. Students who undertake a 3-credit thesis take 3 fewer elective credits. Students who undertake a 6-credit thesis register for 3 credits the first semester and 3 credits the second semester; they take 6 fewer elective credits.

Once enrolled, students are required to maintain continuous registration until the thesis is submitted to and accepted by the University Library. The continuous registration policy is specified in the Academic Policies section of the catalog.

Master's Thesis

Total: 42 credits

Requirements may be different for earlier catalog years. See the University Catalog archives.