Bard Graduate Center’s MA program began in the fall of 1993. Unique among American graduate programs, our students study the cultural history of the material world in all times and places, from the arts of the ancient world to the twenty-first century. It is a two-year program comprised of coursework, an internship, and a final qualifying paper.

For incoming students in the Master of Arts program, the year begins in August with a two-week mandatory orientation. In both the fall and spring terms, students register for four courses (12 credits), including the two-semester Survey of the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, and the one-semester course Approaches to the Object. During the summer between the first and second year, students complete their three-credit internship. Also between years one and two is the Bard Travel Program, in which all first-year students travel abroad with faculty for two weeks to study objects in situ. Travel, hotel, and entrance fees for this trip are paid for by Bard Graduate Center. Students complete the remaining credits of coursework during the fall and spring semesters of the second year. In the fall semester of the second year, students research their qualifying paper, which is completed and submitted in the spring. The qualifying paper is supervised by a member of the faculty and read by a second faculty member. MA diplomas confer a degree in Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture.
Degree Requirements

For Students starting in the Fall of 2017:

Students receive the Master of Arts degree in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture after successfully completing the following requirements:

August Orientation Session

Research, Library, and Digital Workshops; Language Classes.

  • No credit

500/501. Survey of the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture I and II (two semesters)

  • 6 credits

502. Approaches to the Object (one semester)

  • 3 credits

11 Elective Courses

  • Two electives must cover periods before 1800, and a third must be a non-Western course. Students may fulfill this requirement with an independent study.
  • 33 credits

Reading Knowledge of French, German, Italian, or Spanish.

  • MA students are required to pass a translation exam by the end of the first year of study.
  • No credit


  • 3 credits

Qualifying Paper

  • 3 credits
Total: 48 credits
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Our internship program is designed with your career development in mind. Utilizing our network of institutions and alumni, it is a chance to gain practical, real-world experience in a professional setting related to your academic interests and career goals. It is an extension of Bard Graduate Center’s object-centered curriculum, and students have fulfilled the requirement in a variety of settings—from the costume department of the Metropolitan Opera to the decorative arts wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The program is guided by our Director of Masters Studies, and students have completed internships in more than 250 cultural institutions in New York City and across the country. The program has also developed internationally with students spending recent summers at the V&A, the Ashmolean Museum, Waddesdon Manor, the Musée du Louvre, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Musée Carnavalet, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

All MA students must register for the required no-credit internship in April of their first year. Internships are typically completed during the summer between the first and second year of study though may also be done during the academic year. They are usually six to eight weeks in length, and must be a minimum of 100 hours (students often complete more). Internships are approved by the Director of Masters Studies and all students are evaluated by their host sites. The internship is graded Pass/Fail.

International Travel and Exchange

International outreach and institutional partnerships are a key part of Bard Graduate Center’s mission, and a number of opportunities are offered to MA students. Formal exchange programs are set up with the Royal College of Art in London, Humboldt University in Berlin, and the École du Louvre in Paris, where Bard Graduate Center hosts visiting students from these institutions for a semester and BGC students have the opportunity to reciprocally enroll for a semester (in the cases of the Royal College of Art and Humboldt) or to participate in a summer study session (at the École du Louvre). There is also a summer program at the University of Amsterdam, and BGC sends two doctoral students to participate in this two-week forum.

The summer travel program takes MA students abroad for a two-week, faculty-led study trip. Travel costs and accommodation are subvented by BGC, allowing all students in the program to participate.

The internship program has also developed internationally, and students are offered numerous opportunities overseas, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, Waddesdon Manor, Historic Royal Palaces, the Musée du Louvre, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Musée Carnavalet, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

This global vision is supported further by the numerous visiting scholars and speakers who come to BGC during the academic year and by courses co-taught with partner international institutions via video link.

Bard Graduate Center students have the opportunity to cross register at select graduate programs in New York City for credit toward their degrees. Students may enroll in classes at Columbia University, the Institute of Fine Arts-NYU, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World-NYU, the Cooper Hewitt program at Parsons/The New School for Design, the Graduate Center-CUNY, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Bard Graduate Center, in turn, hosts visiting students from these institutions as part of the academic program.
Qualifying Paper Symposium

Each May, we hold our annual Qualifying Paper Symposium, our MA students’ capstone academic event. The graduating class presents papers based on the research they did for their recently submitted qualifying papers to the wider community and invited guests.