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Historical + 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.

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History of the Department

Contact + Connect

Research + Publications

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

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Featured Research

“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.

Read the full article here.


Dyestuff: Historical Materials of Color

Wednesday, December 6, 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Pasto Agricultural Museum

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 Dye-Making, on view through January 15, 2024, in the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, 104 Paterno, University Park.
This event is free, as is parking at the museum.
The Pasto Agricultural Museum is located at 2710 West Pine Grove Road, Gate K, Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center in Rock Springs, nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45.
For more information, call 814-863-1383, email, or see the museum’s website.







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.






Collecting the Andes

Three-part project probes, celebrates art, culture and history of Andean peoples

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


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.

Worlds Collide 

“Yucatán architecture and its associated artworks have remained like a time capsule of the 16th century.”

— Amara Solari 



Degrees +

Student participating in the Borland Project Space

B.A. in Art History

The B.A. in Art History offers an opportunity for students to explore and examine art while developing a deep understanding of how and why it brings the world closer.
Art History graduate investigating an artifact from the African Brilliance exhibition.

M.A. in Art History

Program Application Deadline The deadline for applications for AY 2024–25 is January 15, 2024. To be assured full consideration, please apply by this deadline. Review individual program descriptions for details...

Ph.D. in Art History (+Dual Ph.D.)

Advanced study of visual arts spanning periods, cultures, and geographies. The Art History Ph.D. program – with Asian Studies or Visual Studies dual-title options – can deepen your expertise and advance your Art History career.
A 20th century decorated wooden box called a Tukula container produced by Kuba carvers from the Democratic Rebublic of the Congo.

Art History Minor

Explore art from ancient to contemporary times, in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. This minor relates visual images to the big questions of humanity.
Students sitting at the ruins of Paestum, sketching the architecture.

Architectural History Minor

The Architectural History minor teaches exceptional visual acuity and analysis. You will better understand space, design processes, and construction practice within historical periods.
A public collection of late artwork displayed at the Palmer Museum of Art. A student explains the meaning of the piece to visitors.

Museum Studies Certificate

Learn the fundamentals of museum studies. Explore the history, theory, and practice of institutional collecting and conservation. Engage in a technical investigation of art.

News from A&A

Art History department head’s new book examines Italian royal residences

Art History Department Head's news book discusses three royal residences outside Naples, Italy, in Capodimonte, Portici and Caserta, all built during the 18th century.

Robin Thomas, head of Penn State’s Department of Art History and professor of art history and architecture, has written a new book, “Palaces of Reason: The Royal Residences of Bourbon

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College of Arts and Architecture to honor Alumni Award winners on Oct. 5

The College of Arts and Architecture will honor its 2023 Alumni Award recipients on Thursday, Oct. 5, at 5 p.m. at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center.
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Learn about flax’s role in the history of art at Ag Progress Days

The Center for Virtual/Material Studies (CV/MS) will exhibit materials about the relevance of flax and flax processing in the history of art at Ag Progress Days, August 8–10.
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Faculty Spotlight

John Hoke, Nike chief design officer describes how Dr. Zabel influenced his path.

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.

Headshot of Penn State Associate Professor of Art History Craig Zabel

Centers + Venues

Our broad program offerings are supported by rich research, archive, and display spaces.
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Art History graduate student digitally investigating color on a painting.
Art History graduate student digitally investigating color on a painting.

Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State is a free, vital, and accessible cultural resource for Penn State’s students, faculty, and scholars, as

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Art History graduate student digitally investigating color on a painting.

Borland Project Space

The Borland Project Space (BPS) illuminates the vibrant research culture of the College of Arts & Architecture. With this initiative we move beyond traditional

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Art History graduate student digitally investigating color on a painting.

Center for Virtual/Material Studies

The Center for Virtual/Material Studies (CVMS) supports research in both Technical and Digital Art History with the aim of fostering synthetic, collaborative scholarship across

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Alumni Spotlight

ARTH_ Brisa Smith Flores Head Shot

Alumni Spotlight

Brisa Smith Flores

B.A. in Art History 2016

Brisa Smith Flores completed her undergraduate career at The Pennsylvania State University. There she worked to earn three degrees, Art History, History, and Global and International Studies, along with three minors in African American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Latino/a Studies. Brisa received a Masters of Liberal Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Her thesis, “The Art of Ethnic Lynching: The Erasure of The Afro-Mexican from the National Identity of Mexico” analyzes how art and visual culture can be weaponized to maintain white supremacy. During her time in Philadelphia, she worked for the Association for Public Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Now, she is a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles in the World Arts and Culture/Dance Department, pursuing a PhD in Culture and Performance. Her dissertation topic explores the ways museums are part of the legacy of colonialism and how communities of the African diaspora across the Global South are challenging or reimaging how museums represent culture and identity.  She has presented her research at major conferences such as the Association of Black Women Historians Symposium, the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora, and the International Conference on the Inclusive Museum. Brisa also serves as the Graduate Fellow for the UCLA Prison Education Program, a program that provides interdisciplinary for-credit courses in correctional facilities across Los Angeles.

A display of two brown masks, one large and one small from alumnus Brisa Flores for Inside the Mask Exhibition, Hammer Museum 2020.