History of Art and Visual Culture

Great Wall of China


The study of visual culture encompasses the production, use, form, and reception of images past and present. It incorporates the painting, sculpture, and architecture traditionally defined by art history, and extends throughout the fields of visual imagery beyond the conventional boundaries formerly drawn by the academy. The History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC) Department offers courses covering a wide variety of representations from the cultures of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific Islands, including areas as diverse as ritual, performance, bodily adornment, oil painting, installation art, textiles, architecture, and photography.

Students of visual culture at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) investigate complex questions concerning the social, political, economic, religious, and psychological impact of images from the perspective of their producers, users, and viewers. Images play a central role in the formation of values and beliefs, including the perception of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and class. Through attentive historical study and close analysis, students are taught to recognize and assess these systems of value, and are introduced to theoretical and methodological frameworks for future research. Students also have the opportunity to take independent study courses and write senior theses.

Degrees Offered

  • B.A.
  • Minor
  • Ph.D.

Study and Research Opportunities

Information for First-Year Students (Freshmen)

Students planning to major in HAVC need no specific preparation beyond the courses required for UC admission. Writing skills, however, are particularly useful to HAVC majors. Please note that AP courses are not applicable to the HAVC requirements.

All students considering the major or minor are encouraged to complete lower-division courses early in their studies and consult with the history of art and visual culture undergraduate adviser to develop a plan of study. To declare the major, students must complete two HAVC courses, chosen from two different geographical regions. Students are eligible to declare the HAVC minor at any time.

Information for Transfers

Transfer students will find it helpful to complete courses that satisfy campus general education requirements before coming to UC Santa Cruz. As preparation, transfer students interested in pursuing HAVC as a course of study are encouraged to fulfill some of the lower-division HAVC requirements prior to transfer. Refer to the ASSIST.ORG articulation agreements (between UCSC and California community colleges) for approved lower-division courses. A student may transfer up to five art history courses toward the major: 3 lower division and 2 upper division. Upper-division transfer credit is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and must be approved by the Department Chair.


The preparation students receive from the B.A. degree in history of art and visual culture provides skills that can lead to successful careers in law, business, and social services, in addition to a more specific focus on museum curating, art restoration, studies in architecture, and studies in art history leading to a graduate degree. Many history of art and visual culture students have gone on to careers in the following fields:

  • Architecture
  • Art book publishing
  • Art criticism
  • Art history
  • Art law
  • Art restoration
  • Arts administration
  • Auction management
  • Curatorial work
  • Exhibition design
  • Freelance writing
  • Gallery management
  • Historic preservation
  • Interior design
  • Museum education
  • Museum exhibition installation
  • Publishing
  • Teaching and research
  • Visual resource librarian

These are only samples of the field’s many possibilities.


UCSC Programs Abroad provides undergraduate students with many opportunities to study university-level academic programs abroad. Students are encouraged to explore these options on the International Education Office web site. Students may receive transfer credit for a maximum of two upper-division art history courses taken through UCSC Programs Abroad. Many programs require competency in a language besides English. Students should consult with a faculty member about their course of study before going abroad.

Awards, Honors, and Recognitions

  • Professors Carolyn Dean and Albert Narath have been awarded Getty Research Institute Postdoctoral Fellowships for 2016-17. 
  • Professor Demos published Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology in 2016.
  • Professor Murray published Queering Post-Black Art: Artists Transforming African-American Identity after Civil Rights in 2016.
  • Professor González’s monograph Pepón Osorio (2013) received the second place award for Best Latino Arts Book by International Latino Book Awards.
  • Professor Berger published Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle in 2013.

Alumni Focus

Alumni include: Curator, Orange County Museum of Art; Assoc. Curator, J. Paul Getty Museum; Assistant Curator, Art Institute of Chicago; Editor, Architectural Digest; Associate Prof. & Chair, U. North Texas; Assistant Prof., DePaul U; Assistant Prof., Williams College; Associate Prof., San Francisco State U; Associate Prof., Middlebury College; Assistant Prof., U. Hawaii; Exec. Dir., CA Association of Museums; Assistant Registrar of Exhibitions, LA County Museum of Art; Digital Reference Specialist, Library of Congress.

Department Website

General Catalog Information

More Information

Please contact the HAVC undergraduate adviser
(831) 459-4564
Office hours: 9:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m, 1:30 p.m.–4:00 p.m., M–Th (No advising on Fridays)