Developing Your Thesis Topic
Students should begin formulating their thesis topic in the semester prior to the semester in which they intend to begin researching their thesis. The topic should be discussed with the intended advisor. During the summer or winter break (depending on the thesis start date), students should prepare a thesis proposal and submit it along with the Masters Thesis Proposal form to the Graduate Programs Manager on the designated deadline.
The Masters Thesis Proposal form and actual thesis proposal are normally due during the first four weeks of classes in the semester in which students intend to begin thesis research. Students should contact their intended advisor to discuss their proposal well before it is due. The topic and advisor are approved only when a faculty member signs the form, thereby agreeing to be the advisor. The form is only an application and therefore any faculty member to whom it is submitted may either decline to be the advisor or require that students resubmit their proposal with suggested changes before agreeing to sign it.
Guidelines for the Thesis
The MA thesis is a substantial piece of critical writing that develops an original argument about an important issue in art and art history. It should not just summarize existing literature on a topic, but make a new contribution to the literature through research and critical thinking. You may focus, for example, on an artwork, a group of artworks, an artist, an art movement, an art institution, an aesthetic idea/theory or historiography. It is better to write in depth on a relatively narrow topic than superficially on a broad topic. The thesis is distinct from a seminar paper; however, it may expand upon an existing seminar paper with the consent of the advisor. It should develop a topic in substantial depth, show a command of the existing literature, and be organized into chapters or sections that guide the reader through its argument. While exact length of the thesis is dependent upon the topic and selected methodology, as well as the requirements of the thesis advisor, the benchmark is about 40-80 pages of writing including footnotes (10,000-20,000 words), but excluding illustrations and bibliography.
Throughout the thesis year, students should meet regularly with their advisor to discuss their progress. The frequency of these meetings should be decided with the advisor. Students are responsible for scheduling them. (Note: If a student is working with a faculty member who has agreed to be their advisor but is on leave at some point during the process, students should arrange individually with them on how to keep in contact.) When appropriate, students may ask a faculty member from within or outside the Department (the latter with permission of the Director) to serve as a second reader. The second reader may offer initial suggestions at the proposal stage, but they generally do not assist in the research and writing process; their central role is to read and offer feedback on the final draft and confer with the faculty advisor on the final grade.
Generally speaking, students should aim to complete all research and begin writing during the first semester, and devote the second semester to completing the writing and revisions based upon advisor feedback. Students should set a date with their advisor for the submission of a complete rough draft of the thesis with plenty of time left for revision before the final draft is due. Students who do not arrange for a submitted draft early enough to allow appropriate time for advisor feedback and subsequent revisions risk not being able to graduate on time. It is the student's responsibility to be mindful of deadlines and time frames.
The style of the thesis need not conform to the requirements of the Columbia University PhD dissertation office. A consistent and recognized format must be employed, however, especially with regard to citations and footnotes. Students are advised to employ such style as is standard for art history journals and seminar papers. Illustrations should be of excellent quality and annotated with captions. Expectations vary between advisors; therefore, it is imperative that students discuss specific formal and organizational requirements with their advisor early in the writing process.
Submitting the Thesis
For graduation approval all students must submit to the Graduate Programs Manager a final bound copy of the thesis and the MA Thesis Approval Cover Sheet signed by the advisor by the due date as determined by the Department of Art History and Archaeology.
Thesis Presentation Event
All the MA thesis writers are required to participate in the joint MA and MODA thesis presentation event during their thesis year. It is an opportunity for them to present their work to and receive feedback from peers and faculty; train in giving conference-type presentations; and keep momentum on the research and writing process, thus ensuring the timely completion of a quality thesis. The event includes 2 parts: part 1 (theses-in-progress) takes place towards the end of the fall semester; part 2 (final theses) takes place towards the end of the spring semester.
Students who earn an A or A+ on their thesis have the option to submit their work to Columbia's Academic Commons. Please consult the Graduate Programs Manager for more details.