Decorative Arts and Design Students looking at stained glass

Decorative Arts & Design History


Become a connoisseur in the history of design, decorative arts, craft and material culture

The Master of Arts in Decorative Arts & Design History is offered through a partnership between the Corcoran School and the Smithsonian Associates, the education, outreach and membership unit of the Smithsonian Institution. One of three programs nationwide that specialize in this field, our unique curriculum covers a range of historical, cultural, and material topics. Through object-based study, you'll develop expertise in the history of objects, material culture, interiors, and architecture through cultural and stylistic influences, techniques and technology, and makers and materials.

Specialized seminars in the history of furniture, textiles, costume, glass, ceramics, silver and metalwork, jewelry, and interiors are taught at the Smithsonian by GW professors, curators, scholars, and museum professionals in Washington, D.C. Inside the classroom you'll learn to identify designers, makers, materials, technologies, and styles, while outside the classroom, our graduate students gain privileged access to museum professionals and collections at the Smithsonian and beyond.


In addition to classes, you will participate in internships with arts and historical institutions, organizations, and museum professionals to prepare for careers in the decorative arts and design. The internship experience complements the formal curriculum, enabling you to hone your research and writing skills in both professional and academic settings. Many of our students, for example, work alongside curators to prepare exciting exhibitions or contribute to important publications.



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Fashion and Costume

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Our 42-credit program exposes students to the history of objects, cultures, collections, craft, and design through a global and local lens from the Renaissance period through today. You'll take two core course requirements, Proseminar and Survey of Decorative Arts and Design I (1400-1800), during the fall semester supplemented by an elective course. In the spring semester, you'll take your third core course requirement, Survey of Decorative Arts and Design II (1800-Present). Other course requirements include one course in each of these categories:

Non-Western Influences

Museum Studies

Material Culture Theory

Medium-Based Study in furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork, textiles, costume, etc.

To earn your degree, you’ll choose to either research and write a Master’s Thesis or pass a written and oral Master’s Qualifying Comprehensive Examination in two complementary subject areas. Competence in a research language other than English must be demonstrated prior to submission of the thesis.

You're also required to complete one internship for credit after completing 12 credit hours. These internships provide unparalleled professional experience and mentorship from leading curators and scholars in Washington, D.C. and beyond.

Our faculty conduct your seminars with special training in connoisseurship where you'll engage directly with objects, understanding how objects are made and used. Students will gain skills to interpret the decorative arts and design within a scholarly framework. This balance between academic rigor and practical knowledge effectively prepares you for exciting and rewarding careers in museums, galleries and other cultural institutions.





For some students, our program is a terminal degree leading to professional careers as curators, specialists, historians, and scholars working with decorative and fine art collections in museums, galleries, historic sites, and other cultural institutions. For others, the degree is completed in preparation for doctoral study.

Our students and alumni procure prestigious local positions in Washington, D.C. as well as nationally and internationally as leading professional experts in the decorative arts and design history. Most recently our students have worked at museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, and the Textile Museum; regionally recognized historic house museums such as Mount Vernon, the White House Historical Association, and Dumbarton House; and auction houses including Christie's, Doyle, and Sotheby's.



outside of museum

  • Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD

  • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

  • Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA

  • Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY

  • Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI

  • Los Angeles County Museum, CA

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

  • Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

  • St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO

  • Textile Museum, Washington, DC

  • Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA

  • White House Historic Association, DC

  • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT 



Matt Monk, Decorative Arts & Design History 2018

As an recent graduate from Decorative Arts and Design History, Matt Monk looks forward to further pursuing his research in historic American furnishing textiles as a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware. Through an internship with National Museum of American History supervised by Curator of Textiles Madelyn Shaw, Monk catalogued and researched an extensive woven coverlet collection, which ultimately inspired his thesis in the economic transformation of antebellum weavers. This video was shot by Zhouyi Shen, an international student from China who came to D.C. to pursue her MA in New Media Photojournalism at the Corcoran.


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Tess Duncan, 2017

Tess Duncan accepted the position of Education, Research, and Development Specialist, working with alumna Marcee F. Craighill, Director & Curator with the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. Department of State.


Colette Loll

Colette Loll, 2009 


Loll started out her career in strategic marketing, but her passion for the arts led her back to graduate school.

Now, she preserves artistic history by studying fakes and forgeries for her own company, Art Fraud Insights.

In an interview with GW Alumni News, she said: "art forgery falls into the category of cultural heritage crime. In addition to the obvious financial and legal implications, it affects the art historical record for scholars and for generations to come."

Learn more about Loll's incredible journey from marketing entrepreneur to art fraud investigator!




Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr. SW, Suite 3077

Program Head
Laura Schiavo
[email protected]

Program Administrator
Kristin Barrow
[email protected]

Director of Graduate Studies
Erin Kuykendall
[email protected]