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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

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

Fabrication: Virtual and Material Approaches to Global Textiles

CVMS will focus attention to fibers and fabrics–materials with which most art historians are unfamiliar despite their substantial impact on the arts. The art historical significance of textiles cannot be overstated. Culturally significant ornament and imagery have been woven and sewn since antiquity. Textiles of linen and silk have provided the support for global painting practices for centuries. Patterning of the most delicate and sophisticated variety has appeared in lace and embroidery as much as in sculpture and architecture. Some of the most urgent economic and humanitarian issues of the modern era–the global transit of materials along trajectories of colonial power, the enslavement or exploitation of workers, the gendering and racialization of labor, the swelling of consumer culture–have been most impactful in the context of textile production. 

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 



CVMS Lecture

The Center for Virtual/Material Studies is pleased to host a lecture by Dr. Elena Phipps:
Woven Brilliance: the subtle art of Andean textile traditions
Thursday, March 23, 6:00 PM

17th century dictionaries of the Andean languages of Quechua and Aymara produced by Spanish authorities in Peru and Bolivia, included terms for special textiles, such as Lipi or Tornesol, representing shiny or resplendent cloth. We do not know exactly how these textiles were made in the early colonial era, but find evidence of shimmering and brilliant cloth in the traditions of the highland weavers of the Southern Andes. Sometimes using gold, silver and silk threads, which have a natural shine to them, the majority of these fabrics appear to be woven solely of fine camelid hair, and so requires other actions in order to create the qualities of brilliance. This lecture will explore the ways in which these shimmering cloths manifest and look closely at how they were physically constructed, while contextualizing the significance of brilliance in Andean culture through concepts such as illa, or the value of things.

Elena Phipps, PhD in Precolumbian Art History and Archaeology, was Senior Museum Conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 34 years. During her tenure at the Met, she co-curated and co-authored the award-winning exhibition The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork 1430-1830 (MMA and Yale Univ Press 2003) and the Interwoven Globe: Worldwide Textile Trade (MMA, 2013). Elena has many publications on colors, dyes, textiles, and culture, including Cochineal Red (MMA 2010) and Looking at Textiles (Getty, 2013).  Her research focuses on the intersection of material, materiality and culture. Her recent publication Woven Brilliance: Approaching Color in Andean Textile Traditions (Textile Museum Journal, 2021) is the subject of her current lecture. She was President of the Textile Society of America from 2010 to 2014, and has been teaching textile materials, techniques and history since 2011, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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 2023–24 is January 15, 2023. To be assured full consideration, please apply by this deadline. Review individual program descriptions for details...
Students examining archives in Special Collections Library

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

College of Arts and Architecture to honor Alumni Award recipients on Oct. 14

The 2022 Alumni Award recipients will be recognized on Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. in the Palmer Lipcon Auditorium.

The College of Arts and Architecture will honor its 2022 Alumni Award recipients during an in-person ceremony, open to the public, on Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. in the Palmer

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Center for Virtual/Material Studies to hold opening celebration on Sept. 27

An opening celebration for the Center for Virtual/Material Studies will be held on Sept. 27.
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Art History, IST research project receives second NEH grant to study Constable’s clouds

“After Constable’s Clouds” is Phase 2 of “Seeing Constable’s Clouds,” which was supported by a level 1 NEH grant.
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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

Alumni Spotlight

Cali Buckley

Ph.D. in Art History (+Dual Ph.D.) 2017

Cali Buckley is the Content Manager of Education and Intellectual Property at CAA in New York City. At her multifaceted job she coordinate grants, awards, and juries; affiliated societies; the RAAMP program (Resources for Academic Art Museum Professionals); and will be putting together new programs for education and professional development. She participates in Museums and Humanities Advocacy Days asking Congress to consider funding the Institute of Museum and Library Studies (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and Fulbright-Hays program.

zoom meeting museum discussion
woman accepting award