Art and Design History and Theory

  • The School of Art and Design History and Theory offers a comprehensive menu of courses in design studies, fashion studies, visual culture studies, spatial design studies, art and design history, and art and design criticism and writing to undergraduates from across Parsons and The New School.

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    Intellectual Fundamentals

    The undergraduate curriculum educates Parsons and New School students in visual literacy, research and writing skills, and critical analyses, and provides them with a systematic understanding of how art, design, and visual culture operate in various geographical and historical contexts. This helps students develop the intellectual rigor necessary to become the next generation of art and design leaders. Through the use of multidisciplinary approaches, students learn how to imaginatively frame questions and consider problems from multiple perspectives.

    Situated Learning in NYC

    Parsons' location in New York City enables the school to benefit from the resources of a major world city at every level of the curriculum. Classes draw on the resources of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, as well as the many smaller specialized museums and hundreds of art galleries that make New York City a center of the international art and design world.


    Core Courses and Elective Pathways

    The curriculum includes required courses for all Parsons students, depending on their degree program, as well as a broad range of electives. Core courses carry the Parsons student from freshman to senior year. Electives are organized into a series of pathways: Design Studies, Fashion Studies, Visual Culture Studies, Spatial Design Studies, Art and Design History, and Art and Design Criticism and Writing. Students interested in specific pathways can follow them through their choice of elective courses.

  • Faculty

    Program Contact

    • Rory O'Dea, Associate Dean of Art and Design History and Theory

    Full-Time Faculty

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      Required Courses

      The School of Art and Design History and Theory (ADHT) provides a core curriculum for Parsons undergraduate students from their first to their senior year. The school also offers elective and University Lecture courses open to undergraduate students in all divisions of The New School.

      First-Year Requirements

      First-year students are required to take three 3-credit ADHT courses: Objects as History, Integrative Seminar 1, and Integrative Seminar 2. The integrative seminars are designed to give students tools and methods with which to respond to the world critically, teaching them to connect text and visual elements, investigate how cultural values can be transmitted through art and design, and communicate their discoveries and opinions clearly in writing. Each seminar is paired with a corresponding studio course that shares a common theme. The history course traces world history through the social, cultural, technological, and religious functions of objects—from prehistory to the Industrial Revolution—that are found in collections throughout New York City.

      Upper-Level Core Courses

      After completing the first-year requirements, students are expected to take three additional ADHT courses.

      One course in the history of an art or design discipline, depending on the student’s major, is required. The following disciplinary history courses are offered through ADHT: History of Design: 1850–2000, History of Modern & Contemporary Art: Lecture, History of Architecture, History of Fashion, and History of Photography. Students should consult the curriculum of their program for the appropriate course.

      Students are also required to take one of two methodology courses, as designated by their major program. Introduction to Design Studies examines discourses generated by scholars and practitioners since the 1980s about the production, consumption, and interpretation of design. Its complement is Introduction to Visual Culture, which presents the key terms, debates, and concepts that have underpinned critical thinking about the relationship between art and visual practices since the advent of photography.

      In their junior or senior year, depending on their major, students choose from a range of courses designed to prepare them for their capstone experience. Advanced research seminar courses enable students to reflect critically on art, design, and visual practices as they relate to sustainability, politics, and social justice. Through these courses, students continue refining the skills and thought processes they have developed in their studies at Parsons: presentation skills, writing skills, self-reflection and peer reflection and assessment skills, executive skills, research skills, and systems thinking.

      English as a second language

      ESL classes develop students' ability to perform well in college-level courses conducted in standard American English. The English course placement test determines whether non-native English speaking students are required to take ESL courses and, if so, at what level. The test is given during the week before classes begin every fall and spring semester. All ESL classes instruct students in the writing of thesis-driven essays by addressing standard American English grammar, word usage, conventions of academic essays, and the various stages of the writing process. ESL courses also develop students' spoken English and their ability to comprehend both written and spoken English.

      ADHT will ensure that first-year students enrolled in ESL can complete their required courses in a timely fashion by offering the first-year integrative seminars with sections that address the language needs of ESL students. These sections, like all integrative seminars, will be paired with integrative studio courses.

      Please note that ESL courses for Parsons students are offered through the School of Languages at The New School for Public Engagement. For more information on ESL courses, contact

      Elective Courses

      In their first year, students can choose an ADHT liberal arts elective that focuses on an aspect of New York City. Beginning in their sophomore year, students choose elective courses organized into pathways that reflect the fields of knowledge particular to the School of Art and Design History and Theory. Students can choose to focus on one of the pathways or explore them on the basis of their interests.


      Design Studies establishes a discourse of design from multiple perspectives, viewing it as practice, process, and profession and, through its products, as part of the material or "artificial" environment. The faculty in the School of Art and Design History and Theory are leaders in this field who employ dynamic teaching methods that help designers and non-designers alike engage with the world people have made.

      Fashion Studies is an emerging international academic field in which the school is playing a crucial role at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. Fashion Studies addresses the cultural significance of fashion with reference to self-fashioning, embodiment, and modernity and globalization through the study of visual and material culture and written texts. Interpretation of fashion as visual and material culture enables students to gain a broad understanding and critical awareness of its meanings as material objects, images, and cultural practices that position people in time and space.

      Visual Culture Studies Images as well as texts are central to the way people represent and understand the world and themselves. Some argue that images — or visual culture — have replaced texts as the dominant form of representation and communication. The Visual Culture Studies pathway examines the relationship between visual culture and the subjects who look at and create it as well as the social, cultural, and historical significance of this exchange. This pathway familiarizes students with the key terms and debates of visual culture studies and establishes their historical relevance to cultural practices. Students examine practices of looking that are often taken for granted.

      Spatial Design Studies focuses on the theoretical and historical understanding of space. Space is considered as both a product to be designed and a framework of human operation and interaction within which social and cultural activities occur. These courses draw on a range of fields and methodologies to investigate the production, consumption, perception, and appropriation of space.

      The Art and Design History pathway includes both basic and advanced courses on the history of art, from the earliest times through the present. Including both broad surveys and specialized courses focusing on periods, movements, and cultures, the pathway emphasizes the importance of art history as a context for art practice and as a crucial part of history as a whole.