Art History Department Courses and Requirements

Pomona College's Department of Art History guides its majors as they create works of art and interpret visual imagery critically and historically.

I. Learning Objectives in Art History

  1. Students will gain knowledge of the theory, history, and philosophy of art.
  2. Students will gain knowledge of a large set of art objects from cultures and periods stretching from the present to the past.
  3. Students will learn how to communicate effectively about art works in both written and oral forms.
  4. Students will learn how to carry on research in art history effectively.
  5. Students will attain the skills and knowledge to pursue a productive career or further education in art history.

II. Capstone Project in Art History

During their senior year in art history students write a sustained research paper on a subject of their choice that they demonstrate has disciplinary interest. During the fall semester faculty direct student research in a Senior Seminar that meets once each week. During the spring students collaborate closely with their faculty advisors to produce their final written theses.

Art History 190: Senior Seminar; Art History 191: Senior Thesis

What is a Senior Thesis?

The faculty in the Pomona and Scripps College Joint Program in Art History, along with the affiliated faculty at Pitzer College, require all majors to take Art History 190 (the senior seminar) and Art History 191 (the senior thesis), which culminate in a paper that demonstrates the student's ability to define a problem of art historical interest, use the resources readily available in our libraries, museums, and galleries to carry on an investigation that clarifies and/or resolves the question or questions posed, and present the results of the study with full documentation in clear prose following standard academic form.

Thesis writers complete their work by clearly presenting their results orally in public.

Seniors develop their theses over the course of one full academic year. They begin in the senior seminar 190, which meets in the fall, and then continue in 191 during the spring semester, meeting weekly with their first reader or project advisor. During the spring, thesis writers may meet two or three more times in group sessions led by the 190 professor.

First and Second Readers for the Thesis

Each senior thesis must be read by two faculty members: a main advisor and a second reader. Students should ideally select their main advisor from among those faculty with whom they have actually studied, and in whose field of expertise the proposed topic of study lies. The second reader may be any other faculty member (and need not be an art historian). The first reader works closely with the student during all phases of the thesis-writing project. The second reader may opt to read only an outline of the project, and then the finished thesis proper, or may be more involved, reading drafts of individual chapters or of the complete thesis before reading it in its final form. Each reader will evaluate the thesis independently, then consult on a grade. (In the unlikely event they are unable to agree on a grade, a third reader will be appointed in consultation with the Dean of Faculty, and the grade for the thesis will be established by a majority vote among the three readers.)

Selecting a Topic

Art history is an academic discipline and the topic that a student selects must have disciplinary significance. The best topics will link up with issues and concerns that currently occupy professionals in the field. Students begin by traveling paths marked out by others as full participants in the art historical enterprise. Having thus investigated a body of literature on a given topic and appraised others' results, they attempt to push at the art historical frontiers, to ask new questions, reframe disciplinary issues, and create new knowledge.

Art historians have traditionally taken up such topics as:

  • iconographical themes
  • stylistic developments
  • problems in connoisseurship (How might we attribute art works whose provenance and creator or creators are unknown?)
  • historiographic issues (How have people written about art?)
  • patronage and reception (Who made an art work and for what audience?)
  • display of art in a museum or gallery (Museum practice?)
  • critical theory (What is good art? What is a good display of art? What is the proper use of art? What is art?)

And the list goes on. But each of these topics has only an illusory autonomy or integrity and no art historical research project ever focuses purely on any one of them. Challenges to the traditional disciplinary endeavor from literary criticism, sociology, anthropology, economic theory, religious study, political theory, feminist thought, psychology, semiotics, and so forth have reshaped it radically-at its roots-in the last half century. Seniors explore and discuss this disciplinary crisis in ARHI190.


The advanced student already takes care to cite the work of others accurately and avoid any charge of plagiarizing; this topic will be discussed again in the senior thesis seminar. No study of any question can proceed in orderly fashion if the scholars engaged in the work do not set out the genealogy of ideas and information clearly. All scholars are obliged to leave a trace of their work, and all can expect those traces to be respected by others. Students following normal academic practice must not present the words of others as their own, but paraphrase and then attribute the borrowed idea or information as appropriate. They may do so either in the text proper, for emphasis; in a footnote; or in both places. Of course, quotations from others, carefully attributed, may be used (the actual words of a writer may well be important to your argument). Quotations of more than 50 words should be set off from the text by indentation, in single-spaced blocks.

Not only are scholars obliged to refer scrupulously to the work of others they depend on, they do so in order to highlight and draw attention to their own original ideas. At bottom citation constitutes a rhetorical strategy that leads a reader of a text quickly to its writer's own special contributions, which thus stand out more clearly.

Art historians, like historians generally in the U.S.A., format their manuscripts using The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).  

The Length and Appearance of the Thesis

The thesis must be prepared on a word processor and printed on good-quality 8 ½ x 11-inch paper in the Times New Roman font at 12-point size. The text must be double spaced with adequate margins (1" all around). Students must use footnotes, numbered consecutively chapter-by-chapter and single-spaced (with superscript numbers).

Theses ought to be of a length that will allow the writer opportunity to develop her/his topic fully, taking into account the limits on time that a one-credit course comprises. A senior thesis will be a research paper c. 30 pages in length, excluding front matter and back matter.

Theses will include (in this order):

  • a title page
  • acknowledgments
  • the text with footnotes
  • appendices (if any)
  • bibliography
  • illustrations

Please number your illustrations consecutively throughout, give each a title, and indicate the source. Please gather illustrations at the end of the thesis.

Students prepare two copies of the thesis, one for each reader, and bind both in hard or semi-hard covers. The first reader's copy will be placed in the departmental library.

Grading the Senior Thesis

A student's accomplishment in Art History 191 will be graded in much the same fashion as his/her work in any other course in art history, except that any grade less than a D will be considered failing and will oblige the student to rewrite the thesis.

The joint art history program of Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps College has established the following three general levels of student accomplishment for the senior capstone exercise:

A/A- These grades indicate that a student has produced a thesis of considerable originality which clearly pushes at an art historical frontier. The text will be lucid, even eloquent, and the documentation apt and complete; the oral presentation will be crisply compact and will compel assent. A- would indicate some slight deficiency in meeting these standards-for example, an argument that does not quite hold up under scrutiny, a documentation that for any reason does not seem quite so apt, and so forth.

B, B+, or B- These grades indicate a good, dutiful, and well done thesis, one in which the writer scrupulously follows through and presents her/his ideas orally in public with clarity. Very likely the student's research program will have stopped short of the disciplinary frontier, but will nevertheless have dealt with the literature on the topic adequately. The test will be clear and error-free, but the arguments will not be as rich nor as thorough as those graded A or A-. The B+ indicates a thesis of superior quality in this range, but one still lacking the originality and perception of the best theses. The B- would be flawed in its presentation textually and orally, having some unclear arguments or omissions.

C or C+ These heart-wrenching grades indicate a barely adequate thesis, one in which the student's entire project is marked by minimal effort, commitment, or desire to excel. The presentation in textual and oral form will be understandable on the whole though there may be serious flaws in the arguments, halting expression and/or inadequacies in the tracing of the literature on the topic.

This grade indicates an unacceptable thesis, one in which there is no clear evidence of commitment to the project. The writing contains grammatical and/or logical errors and inconsistencies and the research is marred by inaccuracies and/or glaring absences. The oral presentation exhibits all of the same problems.

Nota Bene: In evaluating the senior thesis, the first reader shall consult with the second: both must agree on the final grade.