MA in Decorative Arts & Design History

MA in Decorative Arts & Design History

The Master of Arts in Decorative Arts & Design History degree program is offered through a partnership between the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and the Smithsonian Associates. This unique graduate program covers a range of historical, cultural, and material topics. Through object-based study, students develop expertise in the history of objects, material culture, interiors, and architecture through cultural and stylistic influences, techniques and technology, and makers and materials.

Courses are taught at the Smithsonian Institution by GW professors, leading curators, scholars, and museum professionals in Washington, D.C. In addition to classes, students also participate in internships with arts institutions, organizations, and museum professionals. The internship experience complements the formal curriculum, enabling students to hone their research and writing skills in both professional and academic settings.

For some students, the Master of Arts in Decorative Arts & Design History is a terminal degree leading to professional careers as curators and scholars in galleries and museums. For others, the degree is completed in preparation for doctoral study.


Admission Requirements

For detailed information regarding admissions requirements such as application deadlines and required documentation, visit the GW Program Finder.


This 42-credit program is designed to expose students to the history of object culture, collections, craft, and design through a global and local lens from the Renaissance period through today. Students take two core course requirements, Proseminar and Survey of Decorative Arts and Design I (1400-1800), during the fall semester supplemented by elective courses. In the spring semester, students take their third core course requirement, Survey of Decorative Arts and Design I (1800-Present). Students are required to complete one internship for credit after completing 12 credit hours students. These internships provide unparalleled professional experience and mentorship from leading curators and scholars in Washington, DC and beyond. Other course requirements include one course in each of the following categories: Non-Western Influences, Museum Studies, Material Culture Theory, and Medium-Based Study in furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork, silver, textile, costume, etc. Upon successful completion of 32 credit hours, students select between completing their degree by writing a Master’s Thesis or passing Master’s Qualifying Examinations.

For detailed information regarding curriculum or completion requirements, visit the GW Bulletin.


Department Life

Our highly-specialized and accomplished faculty make up the core success of this master’s program. Our faculty comprises practitioners in the field--curators, appraisers, and other museum professionals—as well as professors who dedicate their scholarship to emerging theories and methods in the field. Connoisseurship and academic training structure this program and our faculty have led our students and alumni through rigorous and highly-rewarding courses and experiences that result in exciting careers.  

With the Decorative Arts & Design History department located at the Smithsonian, students gain privileged access to Smithsonian museums and collections, as well as lectures and events in and around Washington, DC.


Careers and Internships

Our students and alumni procure prestigious positions in Washington, DC as well as around the country and internationally as leading professionals in the decorative arts and design history. Here is a sampling of the museums, institutions, and universities where our students and alumni have held positions:

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

  • American Art Museum
  • Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage
  • Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
  • National Museum of African American Heritage & Clture
  • National Museum of American History
  • Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden
  • Freer Sackler Gallery
  • Renwick Gallery of the American Art Museum

Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD

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

Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Museum of Fine Arts, Rienzi Collection, Houston, TX

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, NY, NY

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO

Textile Museum, Washington, DC

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA

Winterthur Museum and Garden, Winterthur, DE

Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach, FL

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

Historic House Museums

  • Drayton Hall, Charleston, SC
  • Dumbarton House, Washington, DC
  • George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, VA
  • Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens, Washington, DC
  • Historic Annapolis Foundation, Annapolis, MD
  • Monticello, Charlottesville, VA
  • Montpelier, Orange, VA
  • Preservation Society of Newport County, Newport, RI
  • White House Historical Association, Washington, DC

Federal Consortium

  • U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Washington, DC
  • U.S. Department of State, Blair House, Washington, DC
  • U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Cultural Affairs
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury, Washington, DC
  • The White House, Office of the Curator, Washington, DC
  • White House Historical Association, Washington, DC
  • U.S. Supreme Court, Office of the Curator, Washington, DC

International Placements

  • Aetelier Arpagian, Charante, France
  • Cheltenham Arts & Crafts Gallery and Museum, Cheltenham, England
  • Fashion Museum, Bath, England
  • Glasgow Museums Resource Center, Glasgow, Scotland
  • Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong, China
  • Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, Scotland
  • Landesmuseum Karsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany
  • Musée National Adrien Dubouché (French Heritage Society), Limoges, France
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, London, England

Art & Design Market

  • Christie’s, New York, NY
  • Donghia Inc., Washington, DC
  • Doyle New York, Washington, DC and NY, NY
  • Francine Proulx Appraisals, Fairfax, VA
  • Herman Miller, Zeeland, MI
  • Knoll International, Washington, DC
  • Martin Fuller Appraisals, Tysons Corner, VA
  • Maureen Littleton Gallery, Washington, DC
  • The Potomack Company, Alexandria, VA
  • F. Schumacher & Co., Washington, DC
  • Sotheby’s Auction House, New York, NY
  • Sumpter Priddy III, Inc., Alexandria, VA



  • Library of Congress, Washington, DC
  • National Archives, Washington, DC