photo of students in front of stained glass window

MA in Decorative Arts & Design History


photo of students at luce centerLearn more at the upcoming info session!

We invite you to join us on Wednesday, February 28 at 6:30-7:30 p.m. EST for an online information session and Q&A with Elizabeth Deans, graduate program director and Assistant Professor for our Master of Arts in Decorative Arts and Design History!

Learn how our graduate degree trains students to study historic objects and spaces across cultures in preparation for careers in museums, auction houses, historic houses, and more. Offered in partnership between GW Corcoran and Smithsonian Associates, our graduate students have the privilege of studying inside the Smithsonian alongside curators and university professors.



RSVP for the DADH information session




About the Program

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.

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

In addition to classes, students participate in internships with arts institutions, organizations, and museum professionals to prepare for careers in the decorative arts and design. The internship experience complements the formal curriculum, enabling students to hone their 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.

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. Check out this article about students' work in the program.


photo of students working in the decorative arts and design history program


photo of students at the luce center in the smithsonian american art museum


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. 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.

Expert Faculty

Our highly-specialized and accomplished faculty are the core of this master’s program. Our faculty comprises practitioners in the field--curators, appraisers, and other museum professionals—as well as GWU professors who dedicate their scholarship to emerging theories and methods in the field. Some of our professors are full-time scholars while others are active curators and museum professionals who merge their professional experience with the classroom experience. Our faculty structure lessons with special training in connoisseurship where students engage directly with objects, understanding how objects are made and interpreting design within a scholarly framework. This balance between academic rigor and practical knowledge that our faculty designs effectively prepares students for exciting and rewarding careers.

See a full list of faculty here

Careers and Internships

Our students and alumni procure prestigious positions in Washington, DC as well as around the country 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 Mount Vernon, White House Historical Association, and Dumbarton House; and auction houses Christie's, Doyle New York and Sotheby's.

Summer Study Abroad Program with Decorative Arts and Design History

"Venice to Villas: 500 years of Italian Design” photo of burano, venice

Dates: June 4 - 21, 2018
Apply via GW Passport - click here!
Application Deadline: March 1.

Course Details:

This summer, in June 2018, the Decorative Arts & Design History MA Program is offering a short-term study abroad course to Venice and the Veneto in Northern Italy. This study abroad program, “Venice to Villas: 500 years of Italian Design,” explores the rich and influential history of designers, makers, and movements in Northern Italy from the Venetian Republic to today. This course may be an introduction to some students or be an in-depth study of the multi-cultural underpinnings of Italian design. 

This three-week program of study includes one week of preliminary meetings during which students discuss the academic framework and topics to be explored in greater depth abroad. 

Meetings are held at the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley Center from June 4-8, followed by ten days abroad in Northern Italy, split between Venice and the Veneto, spending five days in Venice and five days in Vicenza, our home base in the Veneto. Students depart for Venice on Sunday, June 10th and return to Washington, DC on June 21st. 

As a result of this course, students will have been exposed to an exceptional array of collections, historic palaces, artisans, and scholars; practice new interdisciplinary methodologies, and hone critical analysis skills to produce meaningful research projects. Students will develop their knowledge of Italian design and a discrete vocabulary for tracing historical developments of glass, ceramics, print, textiles, furniture, interiors, architecture and urban design. Topics for in-class meetings include Venetian Renaissance architecture and interiors, the varied role of women in fashion and luxury, international trade, guild systems, glass production, print culture, Palladian villas, architectural theory, the Grand Tour, and Italian design for technology and the modern world. Once abroad in Venice, students learn about the social and economic developments that sparked cultural advancement through commerce and innovation. Course meetings are spent visiting world-class museums, ateliers of top glass artisans, weaver’s workshops, historic palaces, churches, and theaters paired with intermittent discussion relating visits to readings.