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Department of History of Art


Admissions image 6

How will I be taught?

  • Small cohort of students, with around 30-35 in each year
  • Teaching delivered through a combination of lectures, seminars, supervisions, site visits and course trips
  • Lots of contact hours with the professors and lecturers who lead or contribute to each course
  • An emphasis on detailed study of objects in situ
  • Exposure to ground-breaking international research through both departmental and visiting lecturers and speakers
  • Optional language classes

Our carefully limited student numbers give you close contact with your tutors, who are themselves world-leading researchers in their field. You will meet with them on a weekly basis in a variety of teaching environments.

Each separate course (or ‘paper’) you study will be based around a series of lectures lasting for either a term or the full academic year. You will have between one and three lectures per paper each week. These take place in the department and everybody studying the paper is expected to attend.

Some papers include seminars. These are more informal sessions, usually requiring the students to read and discuss texts set beforehand and often including a presentation, either from the lecturer or some of the students.

In first year you will also be taught through objects classes. These are intensive visual analysis sessions that will take place in front of some of the amazing art and architecture that Cambridge has to offer. Each week you’ll be in a different museum or college, working with a world-leading researcher to deconstruct and analyse a variety of objects, artworks and buildings.

For each paper you will have a weekly supervision. These are a central part of the Cambridge system and give you high-levels of contact with your tutors. For these you are expected to prepare a weekly essay on a given topic, which you will then discuss in a group of two or three with your supervisor. Supervisions are an excellent way to explore and understand new ideas as well as a means of developing your academic confidence.

Your college will appoint one of its History of Art fellows (or sometimes another lecturer, teaching associate or fellow of another college) as your Director of Studies. You will meet with them regularly and they will oversee your academic work, arrange supervisors for you, and be there to help you with any difficulties that may arise.

In addition, some courses include an opportunity for optional travel overseas to study the art and architecture of other regions. Colleges often have bursaries to support these trips. History of Art is an international subject; our students come from many different countries and many also choose to take language classes during their time at Cambridge (either starting a new language or continuing a language they studied at school). You can learn more about the languages on offer at Cambridge through the Language Centre.

Alongside your degree studies, undergraduate students are encouraged to attend the weekly research seminars and lecture series hosted by the Department which feature leading researchers from around the world. The most famous of these is the Slade Lecture series, which brings a world-renowned art or architectural historian to give weekly talks for one term of each academic year. You won’t be assessed on these, but they are a wonderful opportunity to access ground-breaking international research and widen your understanding of the latest developments in the discipline.

How will I be assessed?

The course is entirely focused on the History of Art. There is no practical art component. Courses are assessed with a mixture of essay and visual analysis exam papers and coursework. In the first and third year you also prepare extended pieces of written work known as dissertations.

In addition to this, you will be asked to complete reading and write essays on a weekly basis for discussion in your supervisions. These do not form part of your overall degree mark but are a critical part of your study in developing your skills and knowledge.

How are my assessments reflected in my final degree?

Part I – you will receive an overall mark at the end of the academic year. This mark will be the average of the marks received for your Easter Term examinations, the Objects Portfolio, and the short dissertation, with the short dissertation mark being double-weighted.

Part IIA – you will receive an overall mark at the end of the academic year. This mark will be the average of the marks received for your coursework and Easter Term examinations.

Part IIB – you will receive an overall mark at the end of the academic year. This mark will be the average of the marks received for your coursework, Easter Term examinations and the dissertation, with the dissertation mark being double-weighted.

Overall Degree Classification:

Your Overall Degree Classification at the completion of the Tripos will be based upon 30% of the overall mark for Part IIA and 70% of the overall mark received for Part IIB.

What skills and knowledge will I gain?

The three-year degree equips students with intellectual, practical and transferable skills to:

  • Analyse visual imagery, buildings and material culture
  • Articulate sophisticated arguments verbally and in formal written language
  • Acquire subject-specific knowledge
  • Respond critically to ideas, texts and visual images
  • Develop and express a broad range of different ideas
  • Present research to different audiences in different contexts
  • Research independently
  • Work collaboratively in groups
  • Understand the ways in which artefacts (including buildings) are produced
  • Consider relevant social, historical, political or physical contexts
  • Address technical issues such as the medium, state of preservation and restoration of a work of art
  • Manage time and work to deadlines and under pressure


Part I (Year1)

On completion of Part I students should have:

1) made the transition in learning style and pace from school (or other educational backgrounds) to university;

2) acquired a basic understanding of the use of different media and the making of works of art;

3) acquired a basic familiarity with numerous traditions of iconography, and of architectural language;

4) acquired a facility to appreciate works of art at first hand and to recognise personal and period styles;

5) acquired basic learning skills in:

  • the analysis of visual images
  • the study of primary and secondary written sources
  • effective extraction of key ideas delivered in lectures
  • essay-writing, the formulation of argument, and use of evidence
  • effective participation in individually supervised and group discussion
  • oral presentation in seminar classes
  • experience in carrying out an independent research project


Part IIA (Year 2)

On completion of Part IIA, students should have acquired in addition:

1) subject-specific knowledge, through the study of four ‘Option Papers’, focused on particular periods, artists or themes;

2) critical understanding of the theory and historiography of the discipline

3) confidence in the independent exercise of the following subject-specific skills:

  • careful reading, analysis and critical interpretation of visual images, and of the literature of art;
  • the construction of arguments and the assembling of relevant evidence;
  • clear written expression in essay form; and
  • effective and constructive participation in individually supervised and group discussion.


Part IIB (Year 3

On completion of Part IIB students should have acquired:

1) advanced understanding of four further Option Papers  focused on particular periods, artists or themes;

2) an understanding of the role of art in society through the study of the relationship between art and its viewers (collecting, display and conservation)

3) through the writing of a dissertation, a more advanced level of subject-related skills including

  • detailed knowledge of specific issues in a chosen field, and sophisticated powers of visual analysis, the basic principles and skills of scholarly research, independent and critical judgement, and the construction of complex argument.

Students will also have had the opportunity to acquire increased proficiency in one or more European languages through their use in study, research and travel.