Bard Graduate Center’s PhD program began in the fall of 1998. Unique among American graduate programs, our students study the cultural history of the material world in all times and places, from the arts of the ancient world to the twenty-first century.

For a full list of current doctoral students and their research interests, visit here.


For a list of completed doctoral dissertations, visit here.


For a list of dissertations in progress, visit here.

Overview

It is recommended that applicants to the doctoral program hold an MA in either the decorative arts or a related field, such as art history, history, cultural or museum anthropology, archaeology, or cultural studies. Applicants without an MA may be accepted to the doctoral program though they will be required to complete the MA degree and undergo a review before matriculating into the doctoral program. Students who have completed the terminal MA program at Bard Graduate Center and who wish to continue study toward the PhD must make a separate application to the doctoral program. Students entering the program with an MA from another institution are required to take additional courses as part of their program of study for candidacy for the PhD.

Following the MA, students complete one to two years of courses, depending on their backgrounds, do three field exams, and complete a dissertation. Our doctoral students have completed dissertations on topics including dress history in France in the 19th century, teenagers and the postwar American home, and alchemy in Puritan England and America, and are working on a wide-range of areas of material culture from military dress in the Revolutionary Atlantic to Chinese Bronzes on the Yuan dynasty.

Degree Requirements

In the fall of 1998, Bard Graduate Center formally initiated its doctoral program, the first of its kind in North America, after approval by the New York State Board of Regents. Doctoral diplomas confer a doctorate in Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture.


The Doctor of Philosophy degree is awarded upon successful completion of the following requirements:

For all students:

  • Reading knowledge of two languages from among French, German, Italian, and Spanish. One of these may, upon successful petition to the faculty, be replaced by another language relevant to the dissertation area. Incoming PhD students are required to take a language exam during the first week of orientation in August.


For doctoral students who enter with an MA in Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture from Bard Graduate Center:

  • Courses (4 electives): 12 credits

  • Directed Readings (3, proposed in preparation for exams): 9 credits

  • Doctoral Dissertation: 6 credits

  • Total: 27 credits

  • 48 credits transferred from the MA for a total of 75 credits required for the doctoral degree

Full-time doctoral students who must complete 27 credits take four elective courses in the fall semester of their first year. In the spring semester, students prepare for their qualifying examinations by taking three directed reading courses (approved directed readings fields). At the end of the first year, students must take and pass examinations in three fields. Exams are written and are held early in the designated exam week. The written exams are followed by an oral exam covering all three areas, held later in the same week. By October of their second year, students must have their dissertation proposal approved. Full-time students must complete the dissertation by the end of their fourth year.


For doctoral students who enter with MA degrees from other institutions, 24 credits can be transferred from another MA program upon successful petition to the faculty. This is the maximum amount accepted from any outside degree.

  • Courses (12, including Survey I and II and Approaches): 36 credits

  • Directed Readings (3, proposed in preparation for exams): 9 credits

  • Doctoral Dissertation: 6 credits

  • Total: 51 credits

  • 24 credits transferred from an external MA program for a total of 75 credits required for the doctoral degree

Full-time doctoral students who must complete 51 credits usually take eight courses (four each semester) in their first year, including the two-semester Survey of the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, and Approaches to the Object. Incoming students who have previously taken an equivalent course or courses may petition the faculty committee for a waiver; those courses would then be substituted by additional electives. In their second year, students take four elective courses in the fall term and three directed readings in preparation for the qualifying exams in the spring term (approved directed readings fields). At the end of the second year, students must take and pass examinations in three fields. The three exams are written and are held early in the designated exam week in the spring semester. The written exams are followed by an oral exam covering all three areas, held later in the week. By October of the third year, students must have their dissertation proposal approved. Full-time students must complete the dissertation by the end of their fifth year.

Doctoral Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation should make a significant contribution to the understanding of the decorative arts, design history, and material culture. Bard Graduate Center assists students in seeking financial support for dissertation work, including funds for travel, archival research, and fellowships. The student is responsible for keeping the members of the Dissertation Committee informed of progress and for soliciting advice and guidance as needed.

Dissertation Proposal

The process of selecting a dissertation topic and writing the dissertation is as follows:

  1. After consulting with the director of Doctoral Studies, the student nominates a dissertation committee consisting of three individuals, including a dissertation advisor who is a member of the full-time faculty. At least two committee members are usually drawn from Bard Graduate Center faculty.

  2. The student undertakes a feasibility study in order to determine the availability and accessibility of research resources, such as objects or archives necessary to the successful completion of the dissertation within the set time limits. This may involve a preliminary research trip to relevant sites of objects or archives.

  3. The student prepares a dissertation proposal that demonstrates he or she is familiar with the relevant literature and existing research, shows cognizance of appropriate methodologies, and suggests how the proposed dissertation will contribute to the scholarly discourse on the chosen topic. The student should include a dissertation outline laying out the envisaged structure, a preliminary bibliography listing primary and secondary sources, and a proposed timeline of work to be undertaken. The proposal is submitted to the Graduate Committee for discussion. The Graduate Committee makes the final decision on approval of the dissertation proposal.

Presentation and Defense of the Dissertation

All three members of the Dissertation Committee must approve the completed doctoral dissertation. The student presents and defends the dissertation orally.