University of Colorado: Groundbreaking PhD Program in Art of the Americas

Arts and Media June 2024 PREMIUM

University of Colorado Boulder launched a unique Ph.D. program in art history focusing on the Arts of the Americas. Integrating various fields, it emphasizes interdisciplinary and transcultural study, aiming to prepare highly qualified professionals who can make significant contributions to academia, museum curation, and beyond.


In 2019, the University of Colorado Boulder launched a pioneering Ph.D. program in art history, specifically focusing on the rich and diverse artistic heritage of the Americas. Tailored to foster in-depth exploration, the Arts of the Americas program stands out as a distinctive offering in Colorado, providing the sole terminal degree in art history within the state. Our program is intentionally designed to be intimate and exclusive, prioritizing a comprehensive understanding of the cross-cultural transmission of visual expressions throughout the Americas, spanning from ancient times to the present day.

At the heart of our curriculum lies an ethos that encourages interdisciplinary discourse. By traversing established fields and subfields such as Pre-Columbian Art, Colonial Latin American Art, Modern and Contemporary Latin American/Latinx Art, Native North American Art, Modern and Contemporary American Art, African American Art, and Chicano/Chicanx Art, our students are empowered to contextualize American visual culture within the intricate webs of cross-cultural exchange, global intellectual pursuits, and commercial networks. This approach fosters a dynamic dialogue with disciplines ranging from anthropology, history, and ethnic studies to women and gender studies, religious studies, and beyond, encompassing the vast spectrum of the humanities, social sciences, and even the natural sciences.

The program welcomes applicants holding an M.A. in art history or equivalent qualifications, and it particularly targets professionals within the art sphere looking to elevate their careers through scholarly pursuit. For instance, individuals like museum educators with an M.A. in Museum Studies, aspiring to curatorship positions that require a Ph.D., find a tailored pathway in our program. Unlike traditional Ph.D. tracks in art history, which often span six or more years, our streamlined program offers an innovative alternative. We prioritize mentoring to ensure consistent progress, recognizing that individual timelines may vary.

Our program’s emphasis on the Arts of the Americas reflects a response to the burgeoning interest among museums and cultural institutions in expanding their collections. We believe it is the social responsibility of institutions of higher learning to produce qualified experts who can engage with the public in meaningful ways. Moreover, today’s museums and cultural institutions are becoming increasingly important venues through which local communities and tribal groups participate in their self-representation. Graduates from CU’s Ph.D. program in Arts of the Americas will be professionally equipped to make lasting contributions to the emerging dynamic that builds understanding among different sectors of society. In fact, our program is committed to public education and in-depth training in the arts of the Americas, which we conceived as a scholarly field of study that encompasses the Western Hemisphere culturally, historically, and intellectually. We anticipate that our initiative will emerge as a trailblazer, advocating for collaborative endeavors in preserving, disseminating, and cultivating cultural knowledge. 

By capitalizing on Colorado’s unparalleled cultural resources, encompassing the prestigious holdings of the university’s Natural History Museum and Art Museum, as well as the extensive array of artifacts housed in local institutions such as the Denver Art Museum, our objective is to establish collaborative ties with national and state-sponsored cultural centers, as well as smaller, community-oriented museums spanning the Western Hemisphere. The magnitude of collections in Colorado alone necessitates a succinct overview, owing to their global significance and yet-to-be-explored depths. From ancient Puebloan pottery and Indigenous Plains textiles to a diverse array of Pre-Columbian relics and boasting the most comprehensive collection of colonial Latin American art among all U.S. museums, Colorado presents a wealth of scholarly resources spanning multiple eras and cultures. The Arts of the Americas program is committed not only to producing Ph.D. professionals for these institutions but also to addressing the evolving landscape of the art world. This shift reflects a departure from an outdated model that portrays cultures and their artistic expressions as isolated and uniform entities, towards a more dynamic portrayal emphasizing diversity, cross-cultural interactions, and global interconnectedness. This perspective acknowledges the exchange of ideas, objects, and images across cultures, fostering a richer understanding of artistic production as a multifaceted and interconnected phenomenon.

Central to CU’s program is its commitment to nurturing scholars within an interdisciplinary, transcultural framework, focusing exclusively on the Arts of the Americas. This commitment finds resonance in the university’s robust support for Native American, Latinx, and African American issues, exemplified by the establishment of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), the Center for Latin American Studies (LASC), the Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS), and the Center of the American West. Moreover, CU’s substantial material resources, exemplified by the CU Art Museum and CU Museum of Natural History, serve as pillars supporting our academic endeavors.

In addition to taking foundational coursework in critical theories for art history, students also craft interdisciplinary concentrations complementing their primary and secondary fields of study. These concentrations, carefully curated in consultation with advisors and approved by the director of graduate studies for art history, span a diverse array of disciplines, from critical thought and philosophy to gender studies, film studies, anthropology, ethnic studies, and environmental studies, among others. Already, the program has garnered acclaim for attracting top-tier students with professional acumen in the arts and strives to help position them as authoritative figures within the field and competitive candidates for careers in museums, cultural institutions, and academe.

Our cohort of Ph.D. candidates has embarked on groundbreaking research endeavors, spanning from the intercontinental dissemination of colonial Mexican ceramics to the transcultural production of colonial Latin American defensive architecture. Their scholarship encompasses explorations of Pre-Columbian motifs in contemporary Chicanx and Latinx art, alongside investigations into Native American textiles and fashion. Bolstered by prestigious grants and fellowships, including the Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Grant, The Huntington Library Travel Grant and Exchange Fellowship, among others, our students are poised to make significant contributions to academia, museum curation, and beyond. As our inaugural wave of Ph.D. students prepares to defend their dissertations and embark on their professional journeys, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fostering intellectual excellence and advancing the frontiers of art-historical scholarship.

Details about this program can be found at: and at  


About the author

James M. Córdova, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Colorado Boulder, wrote The Art of Professing in Bourbon Mexico (2014). The Fulbright Commission, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Center for Advanced Study of the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, have supported his research.




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