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. Our doctoral students come with backgrounds in philosophy, religion, art history, historic preservation, and interior and graphic design. Research topics cover a wide-range of areas of material culture from military dress in the Revolutionary Atlantic to Chinese Bronzes on the Yuan dynasty. Completed dissertations have been on dress history in France in the 19th century, teenagers and the postwar American home, and alchemy in Puritan England and America, among many other topics. Alumni of our program go on to careers as curators and faculty.

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 directly to the doctoral program. They will complete all the requirements of the MA degree en route to the PhD.

Full-time doctoral students usually take eight courses (four each semester) in their first year, including the two-semester “Objects in Context: A Survey of Decorative Art, Design History, 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. At the end of the second year, students must take and pass examinations in three fields. The three exams are written and are held at the end of the spring semester. Written exams are followed by an oral exam covering all three areas, held later in the week. By October of the third year, students submit their dissertation proposal for faculty approval. Full-time students are expected to complete the dissertation by the end of their fifth year.

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.

  • August Orientation Session (not for credit)
  • 500/501. Objects in Context: A Survey of the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture I and II (two semesters) and Writing/Thinking Objects (doctoral students may petition to have this course requirement waived if they’ve taken something comparable at the graduate level)
  • 502. Approaches to the Object (doctoral students may petition to have this course requirement waived if they’ve taken something comparable at the graduate level)
  • 9 Elective Courses
  • 3 semester-long Directed Readings, done in preparation for field exams
  • Reading knowledge of two languages from among French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Upon successful petition to the faculty, these languages may be replaced by another language[s] relevant to the dissertation area.

  • Dissertation

Total: 51 credits. A maximum of 24 credits can be transferred from an external MA program for a total of 75 credits required for the PhD in Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture.

Funding and Support

Bard Graduate Center’s goal is to support all admitted PhD students with a combination of scholarships and fellowships so they can earn their degree with as little outside cost as possible. All applicants are considered for financial support; it is not necessary to apply separately for fellowships. Funding is currently for five years, which includes a full tuition scholarship and an annual research stipend. Additional research stipends may be available. There is also travel and research money to assist doctoral students in dissertation research and in conference travel. Dissertation grants in the final years of the program are also available.

Annual teaching opportunities for BGC doctoral candidates include being a Teaching Assistant for the “Objects in Context” course as well as being a Teaching Assistant for a Bard College undergraduate course. There is also an annual competitive doctoral teaching prize where a doctoral candidate may teach a graduate seminar at BGC. These positions all carry additional payment, and indeed teaching is not a required condition for receiving doctoral funding.