Doctoral Field Essays


The core of the doctoral program consists of studies in visual and material culture, specifically in the history of Western art and architecture from the Middle Ages to the Contemporary. In this context, the collection, display and interpretation of non-Western art and architecture is also studied. The department is strongly committed to training graduate students in a variety of approaches, methodologies and issues. The aim of the Doctoral Field Essays, which are assessed in Comprehensive Exams, is to assess the Ph.D student's readiness to pursue advanced and original research. The student will be expected to demonstrate critical understanding og the major approaches, methods and issues informing art historical scholarship of the chosen areas. To do so, he/she must show knowledge of significant works of art and architecture of the period and of the relevant literature of art history.

Format and Timetable

The Doctoral Field Essays (credited as ARTH 904 and 905) are normally taken within one year of completion of the three courses required in the first two term They should be completed at the end of the Fall Term or the beginning of the Winter Term of the second year of the program. The two essays may be examined separately, on different dates, or at the same time, as determined by the supervisor.

The Doctoral Field Essays consist of two written papers on different subjects, which assess the state of scholarship in each area, focusing on historiography and current directions. The supervisor, in consultation with the student and the other members of the Examining Committee, shall determine the topic and scope of the field essays, as deemed appropriate to the student's program and intended thesis research. The temporal and thematic scope of the field essays varies, but they should be related to but broader than the focus of the student's dissertation. Often one field is larger in scope and the other more specialized. The aim is to provide a context for dissertation research, as well to prepare the student to teach. The selection shall be made by May 15th of the first year.

The student shall prepare, in consultation with the examiners, a bibliography for each area, which shall form the basis for the written paper. These bibliographies tend to include approximately 60 sources for each area, but the number varies depending on the field and the type of sources. The form of each field essay is determined by the supervisor in consultation with the student. The field essays can each take various forms, most commonly one of these two options:

  1. A brief essay (of ca. 2500-5000 words) accompanied by an annotated bibliography (approximately 60 sources, the majority of which are annotated with brief descriptions, which vary in length from one sentence to a paragraph).
  2. An 'article' or 'book chapter' length essay (ca. 6000-9000 words) accompanied by a bibliography (without annotations).

The field essays should take the form of a literature search, describing the research most relevant to the designated area and should represent a historiography of the most important material, as well as indicate an understanding of recent developments in the field. They should thus combine a description of relevant scholarship with a critical analysis that indicates the student's methodological concerns and approach. These are completed by an Oral Examination for each (about 1 hour in length for each field, given either together as a single 2 hour examination or separately as two 1 hour examinations).


The Examining Committee(s) for every Ph.D student's Doctoral Field Essay shall be appointed by the Art History Graduate Committee. The committee(s) will read the relevant written paper(s) and conduct the Oral Comprehensive Exams. The selection process shall be initiated by the Graduate Coordinator and the supervisor, in consultation with the student and the Graduate Committee. The Examining Committee(s) shall consist of at least three examiners who teach in the appropriate fields, including the student's supervisor(s).


The Comprehensive Exam(s) shall be given a preliminary pass/fail mark by the Examining Committee(s) as soon as possible after completion. To this end, each examiner shall submit a short written assessment and interim pass/fail mark. The Comprehensive Exams shall determine the final standing (pass/fail) for each of the Doctoral Field Essays (ARTH 904 and 905). The committee shall meet immediately after the Exams to determine the pass/fail mark in the Comprehensive Field Examinations of the Doctoral Field Essays and to notify the student at once of their decision(s). The written records of each examiner's assessment and grade shall be filed in the departmental office. The School of Graduate Studies shall be notified of the successful completion of the Comprehensive Exams. If the student does not receive a "pass" in one of the Doctoral Field Essays, by the end of the following term the student must rewrite the essay, and complete an additional Exam, in order to remain in the program.

Appeal Procedures

In the first instance, appeal of the composition of an Examining Committee or of a mark(s) received in the Doctoral Field Essay(s) may be made by petitioning the Art History Graduate Committee through the Head or the Coordinator of Graduate Studies within two weeks of the student's notification of the results. In the case of an appeal of the final grade, the committee shall appoint the Head and one other faculty member not already on an Examining Committee for that student to review the examiners' assessment. The results of the appeal shall be communicated to the student within two weeks of the initiation of the review. Once this procedure has been exhausted, further appeals should be directed to the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies.