The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, is a graduate research institute of Bard College that opened in New York City in 1993. Today the BGC offers two programs of study, one leading to a master of arts degree and the other to a doctor of philosophy degree. Students in these programs can select from a wide array of courses dealing with various aspects of the cultural history of the material world.
Students in the MA and PhD programs take the same courses, although their programs are articulated in different ways. The curriculum for the master’s degree includes a number of required courses, tutorials, independent studies, travel, and internships in fields chosen by the student in consultation with a faculty adviser.
Students are otherwise free to construct their own program of study (with their adviser’s help). The BGC has special areas of strength—in New York and American Material Culture; History and Theory of Museums; Modern Design History; Early Modern Europe; and Comparative Medieval Material Culture (China, Islam, Europe). But specialization in one of these areas is neither required nor necessarily encouraged for MA students. Doctoral candidates, by contrast, may wish to concentrate more and work in close collaboration with faculty advisers to craft a slate of electives in preparation for qualifying examinations and the dissertation.
In addition to formal classes, the BGC runs a series of evening colloquia designed to function in a kind of polyphony with the “for credit” course offerings. This fifth “course” is designed to avoid the peril that besets small fields and small institutions that become too comfortable and set standards that are too easily met. By bringing in interesting scholars from across the world of learning who ask questions that we have not posed or that are about things we do not study, the BGC ensures that our students’ horizons are as broad as possible and that our standard of excellence is as high as possible. Regular evening seminars, which are open to the academic public, serve as foci for the BGC’s areas of strength. In addition, the History and Theory of Museums program brings in speakers affiliated with current exhibitions, and the Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern Europe group cosponsors two annual events with the Columbia University interdepartmental group on Medieval and Renaissance studies. Also, endowed lecture series bring in a regular sequence of speakers on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France and on the history of glass. A monthly faculty work-in-progress seminar helps create and further house discourse. Every May the BGC participates, as the founding organizer, in the Consortium for American Material Culture, along with Yale University, Boston University, the University of Delaware, the University of Wisconsin—Madison, the Smithsonian Institution, and our local partners at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New-York Historical Society.
The hands-on examination of objects is an essential feature of study at the BGC. Incorporated into the first-year Survey of the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture course are “Materials Days,” events that focus on the making of things, so that students can experience materiality from the maker’s perspective. In the past, students have made sugar sculptures for the dining table with Ivan Day, an internationally acclaimed expert on the history of gastronomy, and spent a day visiting seventeenth-century archaeological digs in Brooklyn and an archaeology laboratory at Brooklyn College. More recent visits have included papermaking at a New York studio and a field trip to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Connecticut.
Our award-winning exhibition program allows students to learn about a range of artifacts and meanings and to better understand how exhibitions and galleries function. “Scholars Days” in the gallery bring together professors, curators, and connoisseurs in an informal but rigorous context and thus serve as a model for the kind of intellectual profile we believe in. In addition to what we offer in house, students have access to collections and curators at a variety of museums in the metropolitan New York area, including the Brooklyn Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, the American Museum of Natural History, the Hispanic Society of America, and Historic Hudson Valley. Auction houses, conservation studios, and commercial galleries also provide for students direct contact with objects.
Advising is an important part of the BGC’s graduate training. Upon admission, every student is assigned a faculty adviser who works closely with him or her, helping to plan a course of study, offering academic counseling, guiding the student toward professional activity and visibility, and, in a variety of ways, supporting and encouraging the student’s attainment of intellectual and vocational goals. In addition, each student has a specialist supervisor for his or her MA thesis or PhD dissertation.
Graduates of the BGC’s degree programs are prepared for careers or career advancement in academia, museums, historic houses, galleries, auction houses, corporate art management, and government agencies, as well as in the fields of research, consulting, publishing, and communications. Some recent BGC graduates are holding positions as curators at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the New-York Historical Society; the National Gallery of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Detroit Institute of Arts; Yale University Art Gallery; the Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Arts and Design; the Allentown Art Museum; and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
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