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William Thomas and his class visit artist Nina Chanel Abney. Photo by Robert Zimmerman.


Duke’s Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies (AAHVS) is devoted to the historical and interdisciplinary understanding of art works, visual experience, and material objects. Its diverse scholarly work draws on models from the humanities, social sciences, and the sciences to illuminate the production, circulation, and reception of the visual in past and present cultures. The department is committed to international research, interdisciplinary courses, and the study of visual culture across geographic and historical categories. It includes faculty specialists in African and African Diaspora, East Asian, and Latin American art histories in addition to still-growing strengths in European and North American art, from ancient times to the very latest.

In addition to the scholars, the department includes practicing artists, as well. It provides studio practice, lectures, small group formats, and one-on-one independent study experiences, all of which encourage the development and application of critical and technical skills in real-world settings.

Students Can Pursue Three Tracks:

Visual Arts

Visual Arts is devoted to all aspects of the practice of the arts, with an emphasis on research, vision, planning and reflection. In a rich artistic environment that encompasses traditional media and the latest digital practices, students are introduced to a broad selection of tools of the field, learning how to apply them critically, creatively and practically. They are encouraged to develop a personal artistic practice that is defined not only in formal terms but considers socially aware modes of production, as well. The advanced development of the individual—their sense of aesthetics, modes of authorship, social relation and creative “voice”—is a paramount value of the program. The Visual Arts track also fosters collaboration across a wide range of disciplinary domains—not only traditional partners in the arts and humanities, but also fields like engineering, computer science and environmental studies.

Art History

Art History emphasizes the historical and theoretical study of art. It is an interdisciplinary pursuit that considers artistic production in relation to the culture, languages, literature, politics and economics of the period in which it was produced. Coursework focused on the study and criticism of images and architectural forms demands the careful translation of visual experience into verbal and written terms. Students in the program develop an ability to formulate ideas orally and in writing. As in other areas of the humanities, students refine their powers of observation and analysis.

Visual & Media Studies

Visual & Media Studies is devoted to the critical study of visual and media practices in their rich diversity, from popular media (advertising, photography, television, film and video, new media and games) to professional contexts (the courtroom, the hospital, the gallery, the classroom). Gaining critical understanding of these complex and rapidly evolving contexts requires a historically-informed approach that integrates theory and practice. Working at the interface of the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences, students in the program develop a repertoire of twenty-first century competencies in research and art, theory, historiography, argumentation, analysis, computation, and multimedia storytelling.

Undergraduate Majors

Art History
Art History: Architecture
Art History: Museum Theory & Practice
Art History & Visual Arts
Visual Arts
Visual & Media Studies

Undergraduate Minors

Art History
Visual Arts
Visual & Media Studies


MA in Digital Art History
MA in Computational Media
MFA in Experimental & Documentary Arts
Ph.D. in Art History & Visual Culture
Ph.D. in Computational Media, Arts & Cultures