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Visual Studies Ph.D.

The Visual Studies Ph.D. offers an interdisciplinary program focused on visual-cultural scholarship, comprising specialized coursework and individual dissertation research in close coordination with faculty supervision.

The expansive expertise of our diverse faculty addresses, and offers a broad scope of supervisory possibilities in researching, a variety of art forms and visual cultures with historical and contemporary perspectives and with global reach, including such regions as Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North America, Latin America, the Indigenous Americas (including pre-colonial California), Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific Islands.

Our program provides students with unparalleled opportunities to consider the role of social, political, and cultural forces in both shaping and being shaped by assorted modes of visual experience and their relations as well to complex workings of multisensory perception. Areas of particular concern, both historical and current, include spatial and visual theories, environmental, social, and racial justice, colonial and decolonial visual culture, Anthropocene and Indigenous studies.

Our graduates consider a range of theoretical approaches and significant methodologies for the study of visuality, including object-centered, ecocritical, de- and post-colonial, new materialist, and social-historical (feminist, antiracist, Indigenous, and Marxist) varieties. Students explore diverse cultural perspectives across time and space, and cultivate the necessary skills, knowledge, and expertise—including those of archival analysis, site-specific research, live interview and digital humanities techniques—in order to excel in academic, curatorial, publishing, and other related professional careers.

Focusing on a wide range of visual culture, our program is unconstrained by traditional mediums of art or conventional canons of art history. The capacious array of subjects examined in our courses and in the research of our faculty and students are as diverse as landscapes, ritual, performance, material culture, bodily adornment, popular entertainment, digital art and cybernetic data, photography, film, advertising, and design, as well as painting, sculpture, and architecture. Our Ph.D. program is particularly strong in comparative studies with historical and geographical expansiveness, examining significant differences in how disparate cultural groups engage, shape, and interpret their visual worlds.

Commitment to Antiracism
The History of Art and Visual Culture Department affirms its commitment to recognizing, addressing, and combating all forms of racism, ethnic oppression, and discrimination. The department collectively seeks to empower students, colleagues, and our campus community toward the goal of creating a more inclusive, respectful, and equitable environment. We recognize that racism and xenophobia are not limited to the U.S. These are global challenges that impact a broad range of constituencies. Therefore, as a department, we share an ethical obligation to create a racially and ethnically unbiased environment that addresses the unique forms of bias that affect our diverse and multi-ethnic community.

The HAVC Department recognizes that public-facing statements of support are only one step toward achieving these goals and that consistent action is needed in order for positive change to occur. This is especially true in the contexts of education and the study of visual culture. Both have been used to create narratives that exclude the actions of many, often in service of a politics of marginalization or erasure. In our efforts to resist and oppose such hierarchies we have: 

  • Changed the name from Art History to History of Art and Visual Culture; re-naming, which was approved for fall 2003, was one of the first steps taken by the department to be more inclusive and less Euro-centric. 
  • Structured our curriculum around the complex intersections between cultures and identities
  • Taken voluntary training in unlearning biases as a united staff and faculty

As a department, we are committed to sustaining efforts to foster change and to consistently acknowledge how race and ethnicity impact our department, campus, and the community at large—while also addressing the unique effects that racial and ethnic insensitivity have on students, faculty, and staff members.

Core Faculty [more]

Elisabeth Cameron
Carolyn Dean
T.J. Demos
Maria Evangelatou
Jennifer González
Stacy Kamehiro
Yi Yi Mon (Rosaline) Kyo
Boreth Ly
Derek Conrad Murray
Albert Narath
Kyle Parry
Kailani Polzak


Program Learning Outcomes
PLO 1: Core Knowledge. Students will demonstrate mastery of the history of visual culture theory and methods by being able to describe and analyze the internal and external criticisms, debates, and reformulations of the field, both historical and current.

PLO 2: Research. Students will demonstrate the ability to use research methods and analysis appropriate for carrying out their independent and original research.

PLO 3: Pedagogy: Students will demonstrate the ability to plan curricula and learning programs, to express ideas clearly and explain them to others, and to assess student work fairly and accurately.

PLO 4: Scholarly Communication. Students will demonstrate effective communication skills in presenting research findings in oral and written forms.

PLO 5: Professionalism. Students will demonstrate professional preparation including the ability to write grants, to submit publications to journals and presses, and to participate in professional organizations and conferences.

Applications for admission in the fall of 2024 will be accepted from October 1- December 12, 2023 at 11:59pm (Pacific Standard Time). For information about the application process and to apply, please visit UCSC Graduate Studies and the application instructions.

For additional information, please contact the Graduate Program Coordinator at