Art & Design

History of Art, Design and Visual Culture

Lianne McTavish teaching students in Cortona, Italy

Learn to see the visual world around you

The History of Art, Design and Visual Culture (HADVC) is a liberal arts discipline that prepares you to interpret the visual world. Our program will train you in ways of seeing the images and objects around you; it also will equip you to think creatively, read critically, and communicate effectively with others. How we go about visual analysis is shaped by and in turn shapes critical conversations about globalization, ecology, social justice, and the impact of new and historical technologies, scientific discoveries, and medical practices on identity formations and understandings of our built and natural environments.

HADVC courses range from the early modern to contemporary eras in Europe, East Asia, and the Americas, concentrating on fine and applied arts, architecture, design, and visual cultures.

You can choose between three undergraduate programs:

  • BA (Honors) in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture
  • BA in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture
  • BA in Art and Design

Your Studies

Graduates of HADVC possess key transferable skills that are highly prized by employers. These skills include:

  • visual literacy
  • knowledge of critical art and design terminology and concepts
  • ability to develop effective lines of research and interpretation
  • analytical writing skills and close reading skills
  • time management
  • leadership

Our students develop excellent written and oral communication skills, are adept at analyzing and interpreting information from a range of sources, and know how to work independently and in groups.


Our graduates enter a variety of careers. You might go on to work in a museum, gallery, historic site, library, school, or archive.

Or you might decide to go into fields such as:

  • Conservation
  • Historic preservation
  • Publishing
  • Law
  • Journalism
  • Cultural policy
  • Arts administration
  • Public relations
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Non-profit management

Undergraduate Studies

Want to know more about cultural production in East Asia or North America? Ever wonder what the Cubists were up to?

Our first and second-year courses have no pre-requisites, so you can sample a wide variety of classes on such topics as the Italian renaissance, the enlightenment in Europe, impressionism and art nouveau, the arts of China and Japan, and the art and design of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We also have classes on the visual cultures of gender and sexuality, sustainable design, and the history of photography.

Third and fourth-year classes are run seminar style, engaging with specific themes, visual media, and practices of seeing art and design history. You will work closely with professors and fellow students to research questions that interest you and you will develop the oral presentation and written communication skills needed to present your ideas to the public.

Students who choose the BA (Honors) degree will spend their fourth year working one-on-one with a professor to develop a research project of mutual interest. There are also opportunities for internships, community engagement, and study abroad.

Graduate Studies

"In the work of ‘neurodivergent’ artists, Vanier scholar Alexandra Duncan sees a distinctive way of communicating with the world." (Image provided by the University of Alberta.)

Want to take your learning to the next step? Our graduate programs offer rigorous training toward the Masters and Doctoral degrees in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture (HADVC).

During the first year of study, students in the MA and PhD programs take seminars and begin to develop their thesis ideas in collaboration with a mentor. Masters students prepare a thesis proposal and work closely with their supervisor during the second year to research and write an original thesis on a topic of their choice. The MA thesis is defended in an oral exam before the supervisor and two additional faculty members at the end of the program.

Doctoral students spend their second year preparing for the candidacy exam, which will demonstrate their mastery of a primary and a secondary field of specialization. After approval of the dissertation proposal by a supervisory committee of three faculty members, the third and fourth years are devoted to doing original research and writing the dissertation. The dissertation is defended in an oral examination before the supervisory committee and two additional faculty members at the end of the program.

Students in our program have written MA and PhD theses on the following topics:

  • Architectural politics in early modern France
  • Indigenous and settler interactions in early Canadian photography
  • Print culture in late Imperial Russia
  • Democratic design practice in eastern Europe and the West
  • Political portraiture in Peronist Argentina
  • The aesthetics of distortion in Chinese landscape painting
  • Time and technology at the 1915 world's fair
  • The painting of Irish nationalism
  • Polish surrealism
  • The political possibilities of play in contemporary installation art
  • Representations of cancer in medical discourse and contemporary art

We are committed to supporting graduate students through scholarships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships. In addition, we offer workshops on applying for scholarships and grants, building a curriculum vita, giving conference papers, pedagogy and syllabus development, and publishing in the arts.

Faculty and Facilities

Faculty in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture specialize in the study of Europe, the Americas and Asia. We focus on three areas: Modern and Contemporary Visual Art and Theory (from the 16th century to the present); Modern and Contemporary Design and Design Theory; and the Visual and Material Cultures of East Asia. These three areas of focus are linked by their interrogation of various forms of modernity, attention to critical theory, and emphasis on the international exchange of material goods and ideas. Your study of art, design and visual culture will be supported by excellent libraries and collections, among them the Mactaggart Collection of rare Chinese paintings and textiles, the Print Study Centre, the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, and the Rawlinson Rare Medical Books Collection.


Our faculty are first-rate scholars, publishing their books with Ashgate, Brill, Cambridge University Press, State University of New York (SUNY) Press, University of Toronto Press, and Yale University Press. They receive national and international fellowships and awards to support their research.

Our faculty are involved with curatorial work, organizing and writing for exhibitions held at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Edmonton’s Art Gallery of Alberta, and the University of Alberta Libraries and Museums. They have also worked at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago de Chile, and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Our students are regularly accepted into such graduate programs as Carleton University, McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Illinois, New York University, the University of Sidney, and Oxford University.

Our graduates are engaged members of the community. They work in museums, galleries, arts centres, universities, and other arts-based organizations in Canada and abroad.