History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture


Professor Betsy Boone and students exploring texts in the Bruce Peel Collection.

Learn to see the world around you

The History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture is a liberal arts discipline that prepares you to interpret our visual world. Our program will train you in ways of seeing the images and objects around you. It will equip you to think imaginatively, read critically, and communicate your thoughts effectively with others. How we see and interpret what we see shapes critical conversations about globalization, the environment, social justice, and the impact of new and historical technologies, scientific discoveries, and medical practices on cultural and identity formations.

Courses range from the early modern to contemporary eras in Europe, East Asia, and the Americas, exploring fine and applied arts, architecture, design, and visual cultures.

Undergraduates can choose between three 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


Professor Lisa Claypool with students in the Mactaggart Collection.

Want to know more about performance art in China? Ever wonder what the Cubists were up to?

Our first- and second-year courses have no pre-requisites, so you can explore a wide variety of subjects such as the Italian Renaissance, the European Enlightenment, impressionism and art nouveau, the arts of China and Japan, and art and design cultures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We offer introductory 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 questions, themes, visual media, and practices of seeing. You will work closely with professors and fellow students to research paintings, sculptures, graphic designs, time-based arts, and visual objects that capture your imagination 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

Professor Walter Davis and HADVC student Sung Eun Cho discussing a work of art in the Print Study Centre.

Want to take your learning to the next step? Our graduate programs offer rigorous training toward master's and doctoral degrees in the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture.

During the first year of graduate study, students in the MA and PhD programs take seminars and begin to develop their thesis ideas in collaboration with a mentor. Master's students prepare a thesis proposal and work closely with a 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 have written theses about:

  • Indigenous and settler interactions in early Canadian photography
  • Political portraiture in Peronist Argentina
  • The aesthetics of distortion in Chinese landscape painting
  • Time and technology at the 1915 world's fair
  • 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 as well as research and teaching assistantships. In addition, we offer workshops on applying for scholarships and grants, building a curriculum vitae, giving conference papers, pedagogy and syllabus development, and publishing in the arts.

Our students have pursued further graduate study at Carleton University, McGill University, the University of British Columbia, New York University, the University of Sydney, UC San Diego, and Oxford University. Many work in museums, galleries, arts centres, universities, and other arts-based organizations in Canada and abroad.

Interviews with Students and Alumni

In this series of short videos, current and former Undergraduate and Graduate students discuss their experiences in the HADVC program.

How Did You Learn About HADVC?

Collections at the UofA

Developing a Thesis

Study Abroad


The following short video is an overview of the Long March Project, a series of pop-up exhibitions curated by the class of HADVC 215, China Art Now in March 2023.

Faculty and Research

Our faculty are internationally recognized scholars, publishing books with Brill, Cambridge University Press, Duke University Press, SUNY Press, the University of Toronto Press, and Yale University Press. Canadian and international fellowships and grants support their research.

Our faculty regularly curate exhibitions and have written catalogue essays for 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 worked at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome, 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.