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 MA in Decorative Arts and Design History program is no longer accepting applicants, and will be closing the degree at the end of 2022. We are very appreciative of the dedication of the program’s faculty who have so ably taught the program’s curriculum and mentored its graduate students. The GW, Corcoran, and the DADH community of curators, specialists, historians, and scholars also celebrates the recent graduates at NEXT, and the remarkable work of students and alumni, from Collette Loll to the late Margaret Powell, and many others across the country. We encourage all alumni of the degree to stay involved with other graduates of the program through the GW Alumni Office.
Please email [email protected] if you have any questions about the program.


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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students viewing design book in library setting


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.

Student getting dressed in an 18th century gown

Faculty Highlight 

Assistant Professor of Design, Tanya Wetenhall, and her Decorative Arts & Design History students visit Colonial Williamsburg in her class, “Age of Revolution in Fashion, 1700-1825.” Led by the millinery shop’s apprentice, students inspect 18th century gowns and discuss men’s fashion with colonial master tailor Mark Hutter.



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.



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Internship Placements 

  • Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
  • Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY
  • Historic Annapolis Foundation, MD
  • Los Angeles County Museum,  CA
  • The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC 
  • Monticello, Charlottesville, VA
  • Preservation Society of Newport County, RI
  • Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, DE 
  • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven , CT 


Recent Alumni Employment 

  • Christie's New York, New York, NY
  • Chrysler Museum of Art, Norforlk, VA 
  • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
  • Cranbrook Art Museum, MI
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY 
  • Montpelier Foundation, Montpelier, VA 
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
  • Rienzi Collection, Houston, TX 
  • Museum of Arts & Design, New York, NY
  • Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, NY
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
  • Society of Arts & Crafts, Boston, MA
  • Sotheby's Auction House, New York, NY
  • The University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • The University of North Texas, Denton, TX
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
  • Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA



Phyllis Gerstell 

Phyllis Gerstell (M.A., '20) has re-invented herself many times: from lawyer, to musician/coomposer, to student of Russian language and culture, to decorative arts historian/researcher. Throughout, however, she has been a lover of "things" -starting from a childhood fascination with porcelain horse and dog figurines at Woolworth's. It is this love of things that has brought her to the DADH program. 


Phyllis takes her design inspiration from the history of decorative art gifts. How do our gift habits of today compare to spectacular gift commisons of the past? 


Phyllis Gerstell studying at desk in a decorative room

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!

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.


Student a library table intently listening to discussion

Decorative blue glass vases

Eva Brydson

Every year, Corcoran hosts NEXT, a year-end celebration of art and scholarship. In 2021, Decorative Arts and Design History M.A. students researched topics ranging from women designers to textiles in global trades. Eva Brydson explored one designer overshadowed by her husband, another design pioneer: “While Alvar Aalto is seen as one of the major contributors to the rise of modern Finnish design, Aino is often forgotten. This essay aims to correct that oversight through exploration and analysis of Aino’s individual designs and the couple’s truly collaborative works.”

View More Decorative Arts and Design History M.A. Projects




Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr. SW, Suite 3077
Mail To: P.O. Box 23293, Washington DC 20026

Museum Studies Program Head
Mary Coughlin
[email protected]

Director of Graduate Studies, Decorative Arts & Design History
Erin Kuykendall
[email protected]
[email protected]