Art history students examine a sculpture.

Department of Art History

Historical and interpretive studies

A Humanities Major in the Arts

Students can major or minor in art history, pursue a minor in architectural history, or work toward earning a museum studies certificate. Students have the opportunity to hold internships or assistantships at Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art, known particularly for its strong holdings in American, African American, and contemporary art.

Advanced Studies with Renowned Scholars

Our M.A. and Ph.D. programs provide candidates with the opportunity to pursue advanced study directly with renowned scholars. The department’s faculty are internationally recognized scholars and critics known for their dedication to their students.

Meet the Art History Faculty and Staff

Art History Department Newsletter


Department of Art History
240 Borland Building
University Park, PA 16802
814-865-1242 (fax)

Robin Thomas
Head of the Department of Art History

Erica Nodell
Administrative Support Coordinator, Department of Art History

Emily Sikora
Administrative Support Assistant, Art History

Research and Publications

Penn State Art History students, faculty, and staff are involved in a broad range of research initiatives. We invite you to explore.

Visit the Research and Publications Page

Photograph of Palaces of Reason by Robin L. Thomas.

Featured Research

Image of two bright red and dark red colors displayed above research text. From the research of Sarah Rich, Political Economy of Colorants.

"Kress Foundation grant to support collaborative research on pigment trade"

Sarah K. Rich, Associate Professor of Art History, and the Center for Virtual/Material Studies (CVMS) at Penn State have been awarded a Kress History of Art Grant of $20,000, along with supplemental funding from Penn State University Libraries, to facilitate research into the transatlantic trade in pigments from the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century.

The grant will support a collaborative research project titled “The Political Economy of Colorants in the Atlantic World, 1750-1850.” The project aims to uncover the economic and political contexts of the colorant trade in the Americas, Europe and Africa, highlighting the relationships among artists and different trades while also situating colorants in the context of indigenous-settler relationships and the slave trade. Colorants are dyes and pigments used for coloring materials.

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Strands of died yarn in red, yellow, and green hang from white strings.

Dyestuff: Historical Materials of Color

What do wheat bran, hydrangea branches, oak galls, safflower petals, lotus pods, nutritional yeast, snails, coal tar, and mud have in common? They have all been used to make cloth colorful. Come examine these materials, and learn how they have produced extraordinary colors throughout history and around the world.

Dr. Sarah Rich is Associate Professor of Art History and co-curator of the exhibition Sad Purple and Mauve: A History of Dyes, on view until January 6 at PSU’s Eberly Special Collections Library at University Park.

Split-screen image. On the left is a brown and red sculpture of clay, underglazes, gold leaf, and wood. On the right is a sculpture of a ceramic bird decorated with a red Coca Cola bottle cap.

Collecting the Andes

Amara Solari, professor of art history and anthropology, and Christopher Heaney, assistant professor of history, are working together on the three-part project celebrating Andean peoples and their art, culture, science, and history

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Three women stand facing a mural and one points at it.

Amara Solari Featured in Research | Penn State Fall 2022

Amara Solari and colleagues have scoured the Yucatán peninsula to document and preserve religious murals painted by Maya Christian artists more than 400 years ago, pairing art history with cutting-edge materials science to gain important new insights about these fragile artworks.

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faculty spotlight

Craig Zabel

Associate Professor of Art History

Dr. Zabel teaches courses in modern architecture, with particular emphases on the architecture of the United States, Germany, and Russia. His publications are primarily in the areas of early twentieth-century architecture, bank architecture, Prairie School architects, American public architecture, skyscrapers, and contemporary architects. His essay on Penn State’s architecture was published in This is Penn State: An Insider’s Guide to the University Park Campus (Penn State Press). His current research explores the history of the skyscraper and American popular culture, from P.T. Barnum’s oddities and NY’s Newspaper Row to the cinematic Emerald City of Oz. He is a recipient of the College of Arts and Architecture Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching, Penn State’s Graduate Program Chair Leadership Award, and the Penn State Teaching Fellow Award: The Alumni Association and Student Award for Teaching Excellence. Dr. Zabel served as Head of the Department of Art History from 1998 to 2017, after serving as interim head from 1996 to 1998. In 2019, he founded the Iconic Modern Chairs collection in Penn State’s Architecture & Landscape Architecture Library.

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Centers and Venues

Our broad program offerings are supported by rich research, archive, and display spaces.

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alumni spotlight

Ryan Jacobs

Ryan Jacobs is a College of Arts & Architecture Alumni that graduated in 2016 majoring in Art History with a double minor in Architectural History and Architecture Studies. Upon graduating Penn State he enrolled at Virginia Tech to attain a Master’s in Architecture. His thesis, “The Troupes of Theatre”, combined both of his passions for architecture and theatre. After finishing his graduate studies, returned to PA and works at PWWG Architects in downtown Pittsburgh.