History of Decorative Arts and Design (MA)

Parsons offers the Master of Arts in the History of Decorative Arts and Design in collaboration with Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. The Master of Arts degree is awarded for completion of 48 credits of coursework and a master's examination or thesis. In order to sit for a master's examination or write a thesis, students must pass a proficiency exam in a foreign language related to their area of concentration. A maximum of 6 credits of graduate-level coursework can be transferred from another accredited institution. Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and fulfill all requirements in a timely manner.

First Year / Fall

PGHI 5100 Survey of Decorative Arts 1   3
PGHI 5105 Proseminar 3
Electives (2)

First Year / Spring

PGHI 5102 Survey of Decorative Arts 2 3
Electives (3)

Second Year / Fall

Electives (4)

Second Year / Spring

Electives (2, if writing a thesis)
PGHI 5902 Independent Study: Thesis 1 3
PGHI 5903 Independent Study: Thesis 2 3
Electives (3, if taking exams)
PGHI 5904 Independent Study: Master's Exam 3
Total Credits 48


The MA program is normally completed in two or three years of full-time study or four years of part-time study. Required courses are Proseminar, Survey of Decorative Arts 1 and 2, and an elective in either museology or art theory. Students declare major and minor areas of concentration for the MA examination after completing 24 credits; those with a 3.5 minimum grade point average can petition to write a master's thesis.


First Semester
Proseminar equips students with the skills required for scholarship in the history of decorative arts. Class discussions introduce a range of methodologies and critical approaches. Exercises train students in essential tasks such as conducting formal analyses, writing catalog entries, and making visual presentations. This writing-intensive course stresses the mechanics of expository writing through projects that require students to conduct research. Each student selects one work from the Cooper-Hewitt collection to study throughout the semester.

Survey of Decorative Arts I provides an overview of European decorative arts from the 15th through the 18th century, with a focus on Italy, France, and England. Discussions address the style, function, and meaning of the decorative arts in both ceremonies and daily life. Drawing on interdisciplinary readings, the class considers objects and ornament within their cultural, political, and social contexts. As the semester progresses, students explore the way the transmission of style, the migration of craftsmen, and the availability of new materials and techniques gave rise to an international vocabulary of design.

Second Semester
Survey of Decorative Arts II examines the decorative arts from the 19th century to the present. Sessions on the 19th century consider neoclassicism, revival styles, the Aesthetic movement, the Arts and Crafts movement, and art nouveau within the broader history of the period. Individual craftsmen, firms, and important style makers and commentators on the decorative arts are discussed, as is the effect of industrialization on design and objects. Sessions on the 20th and 21st centuries address modernism and industrial design. Topics include the Wiener Werkstätte, Bauhaus, art moderne, "good design," and postmodernism.


Contemporary Design Studies
Students can elect to take a suite of courses in contemporary design studies. These explore themes in design and in visual, material, and popular culture, with a focus on the post-1945 period. The curriculum is enriched by its connection to the contemporary design exhibitions of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Popular Culture
A sequence of three courses on aspects of 20th-century American popular culture is also offered: Twentieth-Century American Popular Culture; Advertising in 20th-Century America; and Looking at the Decorative Arts Through Film. These courses, which can be taken in any order, examine the intersection of the popular and the material in American culture and consider ordinary objects in terms of class, gender, and racial identity and the politics of taste.


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