Art History Undergraduate Programs

About the Program

Art History introduces students to the critical study of the plurality of forms of expression, both historic and contemporary, that inform the visual and built environments. The major prepares students to critically engage objects, spaces, visual traditions, and artistic practices from a broad range of periods and cultural contexts, and the diverse approaches and theories in the discipline essential to their study.

The undergraduate program in Art History provides a critical foundation for the analysis of visual and material culture, and an in-depth understanding of media, old and new. Because of the wide array of skills necessary for art historical research (including textual and visual analyses, historical research, and linguistic proficiency), the program helps students become critical and creative thinkers who excel in analyzing and integrating different modes of knowledge and are able to communicate and share this information in a clear and succinct manner. The undergraduate program in art history prepares students for a variety of careers, including in education, the arts and cultural heritage, and beyond.

Program Structure

The Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory offers four undergraduate programs in art history:

Program Outcomes

The Major in Art History is designed to progressively familiarize students with the diversity of objects of research, methodological approaches, and theoretical concerns of the discipline.
Through coursework students learn how to carry out independent research in art history.

Graduates from this program are able to:

  • Engage visual material. Graduates know how to look closely and engage in visual and formal analyses. They have an appropriate vocabulary for the discussion of art, and the visual and built environments from a variety of geographical and historical contexts. They recognize the specificity of the diverse media and materials used in art, and visual and material culture.
  • Identify critical issues in art historical research as they relate to specific contexts and the discipline more generally. Graduates recognize and explain the art historical significance of objects, artistic practices, and visual and built traditions, in relation to major debates in relevant subfields. They are likewise acquainted with the key discourses and positions that undergird the historical development of the academic discipline of art history and are able to apply these in their individual study and research.
  • Evaluate and integrate information gleaned from textual and non-textual sources. Graduates are able to analyze, compare, and appraise different forms of information in visual arts and art historical research. They are also able to use the UBC Music, Art and Architecture Library and associated research tools.
  • Synthesize, create, and present complex arguments, succinctly and effectively, in writing and other formats. Graduates are able to mobilize their research findings in order to generate and communicate new arguments on visual material.
  • Understand how art mediates ethical questions. Graduates understand the ethical implications of the production, circulation, and display of artworks, as well as the ethics of visual culture and its capacity for social change. They are able to analyze, evaluate, and produce informed qualitative judgments on these questions.

Honours in Art History Program Outcomes

The Honours Program is designed for particularly motivated students who are intending to continue their studies with advanced and focused work in art history, whether through graduate study or a career in arts and heritage, or a related field.

Building on the outcomes for the Major program, Honours graduates gain further experience in research and writing, demonstrating an enhanced capacity for independent and self-directed study in art history through the completion of an extended research thesis.


Undergraduate coursework in art history is designed to progressively familiarize students with the diversity of objects of research, methodological approaches, and theoretical concerns of the discipline. Students are encouraged to choose courses from a broad range of geographic and historical periods so as to gain a better understanding of the complexities of visuality and the built environment today.

Coursework is divided into lower- and upper-level courses. Lower-level courses (100- and 200-levels) introduce students to critical issues in the study of art and its histories, as well as the role of the visual in society. Lower-level courses may include broad chronological surveys according to geographical areas of the world, or more focused case studies structured thematically and foregrounding key concerns in the study of art and the visual. These courses introduce different types of objects and textual sources, tools of analysis and comparison, and basic forms of writing in the arts, preparing students for more specialized work in upper-level courses.

Upper-level courses (300- and 400-levels) include lectures and seminars where students are able to explore in detail specialist scholarship in a variety of art historical subfields. The Seminar on Methods and Approaches in Art History (ARTH 300) provides the foundation for all upper-level offerings, and is a required course for majors and minors in the program. ARTH 300 introduces students to key debates in the discipline, and focuses specifically on the development of critical reading and writing skills.

Upper-level lecture courses engage critical questions in specific subfields. Topics range from surveys of cultural practices in specific contexts (such as Chinese Art for the Afterlife; and Entangled Worlds: Art in Spain and Colonial Latin America) to focused examinations of the historical development of key ideas in the theory of art (The Artist in the World), and arguments about the place of sexuality in the discipline (Is Art History Queer?). Students will encounter a variety of assignments that involve research, different types of writing and presentation, as well as examinations.

The upper-level seminars (400-level) give students the opportunity to closely read and discuss key debates in a smaller group setting. Through focused course readings and seminar discussion, students gain knowledge of issues, approaches, and theories in the discipline. Students usually pursue individual research projects related to the topic of the seminar; they may be evaluated based on a combination of class participation, short written assignments (e.g., reading responses and reviews), and an original research component presented orally and as a research paper. Students normally enrol in seminars after taking ARTH 300 in addition to a relevant 300-level course; if they wish to enrol in a seminar prior to taking a 300-level course they should seek permission to do so from the instructor.

Learning and Connecting

The undergraduate program in art history at UBC offers a dynamic learning environment. Many on-campus resources are available to students and complement its rigorous program of study: the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery and the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) hold significant collections of art and archives; both institutions regularly organize important and challenging research-oriented exhibitions related to work and teaching in AHVA. The Library supports student learning through their collections, including those of the Music, Art and Architecture Library and Rare Books and Special Collections, both housed at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. The Visual Resources Centre at in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory has important collections of images as well as a dedicated film library. Many of these resources are mobilized in teaching by the faculty; they also provide ample opportunity for individual research.

Extensive programming throughout the year within the department and elsewhere at UBC supplements student learning: events include presentations, seminars from visiting scholars and artists, scholarly conferences, and exhibitions held both on and off campus.

The Art History Students’ Association offers unique ways to connect with others and the wider community. The annual Art History Undergraduate Symposium provides a student-driven component of the program, wherein students organize the event and submit their work for review by a committee of their peers, in an environment that is both supportive and challenging. The Undergraduate Journal of Art History and Visual Culture (UJAH) gives students an opportunity to have their work published in a student-run university journal. Students in Art History have many opportunities to connect with visual art students, through coursework and extracurricular activities: AHSA and the Visual Art Students' Association (VASA) collaborate closely in organizing events throughout the school year.