Students Staff

PhD courses

AHRC funding

PhD student in library

Apply for a PhD studentship for your doctoral study funded by the Consortium for Humanities and the Arts South-East England (CHASE) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

We offer two PhDs that allow you to explore topics related to the history of art and visual culture, broadly defined. The first is a PhD in Art History and Theory, and the second is a practice-based PhD in Curating.

While you may address similar topics in both — including those related to the history of curating — the major difference lies in the final format you use to communicate your research:

  • the PhD in Art History and Theory culminates in a c. 80,000-word thesis
  • the practice-based PhD in Curating results in a 40,000-word thesis plus a major, research-based exhibition

Regardless of the PhD you pursue, you will find yourself in an environment that is both intellectually challenging and supportive. We are ranked 6th among art history departments in the UK for research excellence (REF 2014), and our doctoral students and academic staff regularly work together to form an active research community. For example, we run an ongoing programme of events that includes seminars, minicourses and conferences.

Our PhD students also get involved regularly in exhibition and research projects, as well as in the public programmes of the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) and Art Exchange gallery, both based at our Colchester Campus. Dialogue with other scholars and curators is further facilitated by our proximity to London, less than an hour away by train.

PhD Art History and Theory

The minimum duration for our full-time PhD Art History and Theory is three years and assessment is on the basis of a thesis (80,000 words maximum). Our part-time PhD Art History can be taken over a period of six years.

Read the full course description on our course finder:

PhD Curating

Drawing on the expertise of our Centre for Curatorial Studies, PhD Curating allows you to pursue advanced curatorial study through a combination of practical and theoretical work. Assessment is based on your curating a major, research-based exhibition with an accompanying thesis of c. 40,000 words over a minimum duration of three years full-time, or six years part-time study.

Read the full course description on our course finder:

Supervision areas and other information

A research degree in art history or curating allows you to conduct original research on a subject of your choice. We accept PhD students in all areas in which our academic staff are researching.

  • Supervision areas

    Our supervision areas and research strengths include:

    • Curating - practice and theory
    • Exhibition and museum history
    • 19th and 20th century European sculpture
    • 1960s counterculture
    • Activist art
    • Art and science
    • Contemporary architecture
    • History of photography
    • History of tattooing
    • Medical humanities
    • Renaissance art and architecture
    • Theories of the sublime
    • Urbanism and the built environment
    • Social issues in Renaissance art

    Our list of current PhD theses shows the wide range of research being carried out at Essex.

  • Entry requirements

    We normally require a good BA honours and a Masters degree, or equivalent, in art history or a related discipline. You need to demonstrate a capacity to conduct independent research and are required to submit a detailed research proposal. You attend regular supervisory board meetings throughout your doctoral study where the progress of your work is assessed.

  • Other research degrees

    Our MA by Dissertation in Art History is assessed on the basis of a thesis (30,000 words maximum). The minimum duration is two years. We normally require you have a good BA in art history (or related discipline) and you must demonstrate your capacity to conduct independent research, and submit a detailed research proposal. Our MPhil Art History can be taken part-time over a two- to four-year period.

AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership

The University of Essex is a member of CHASE: Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-East England, which has over 375 fully-funded PhD studentships to award over the next five years funded by the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC) and the seven CHASE partner institutions. Applicants for doctoral study in art history at Essex can apply to CHASE for AHRC studentships through our department and we will work closely with you on your application.

Postgraduate modules

New PhD students usually take our postgraduate Researching Art History module as an introduction to both practical and theoretical aspects of research study in art history. You are also welcome to sit in on MA modules in art history and philosophy offered by our School.

Professional teaching experience

When possible, we employ research students as Graduate Teaching Assistants. These paid positions are valuable opportunities for professional development and give you experience of teaching and marking essays at undergraduate and postgraduate level, a significant advantage when applying for academic positions.

Professional skills development

Our University’s Proficio scheme helps to develop your skills and knowledge and increase your employability potential for careers in academia and industry by providing funding for specialist training across a range of areas, including researching and managing your PhD, presenting your work and getting published.

Post-doctoral employment

Many of our former doctoral students succeed in gaining employment in academic positions around the world after completing their PhD at Essex.

Our academic staff

Professor Margaret Iversen

Our academic staff are internationally recognised for their expertise across a range of areas in art history. Find out more about their interests by reading their staff profiles.

How to apply

How to apply

Find out more about how to apply for a course in art history at Essex. We can provide help and advice, and guide you through the application process.

PG events

Book a place at a postgraduate event to find out about studying at a top 20 UK research university. Staff will be available to answer your questions and you can speak to students about life at Essex.

Doctoral training


Proficio is our innovative doctoral training scheme. Our University gives you funding to spend on a variety of courses, from research skills to personal development and career management.