Visual and Environmental Studies

Professor Ruth Lingford, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) is the curricular home of studio arts, photography, filmmaking, film studies, environmental studies, video art and performance, and critical theory. The department is unique in the way it fosters dialogue among makers, critics, and theorists. Its faculty comprises individuals working and teaching in all of these modes.

Working closely with our faculty—predominantly in small studios and seminars—VES concentrators gain an understanding of art and expression through both study and practice. The curriculum engages both practical and theoretical aspects of digital media, drawing, film, painting, performance, photography, printmaking, sculpture, sound, video, and writing. The modes of teaching combine the intensity of conservatory programs with the broad intellectual aims of a liberal arts college.

Within VES each course of study has slightly different requirements. These have been selected so that students will encounter several broad areas of concern. In film and studio arts, concentrators work toward comprehensive accomplishment in their chosen area while simultaneously exploring a variety of other practices and studying related history and theory. In film studies, students explore ways of understanding the theory and history of the moving image. All concentrators are required to do some course work outside their area of primary interest.

Upon graduation, concentrators in VES enter a wide variety of fields. Some pursue careers as artists or filmmakers while others go into publishing and communications. Among the graduate schools to which VES concentrators are admitted are schools of architecture, art, film, and photography, as well as programs in liberal arts, medicine, and business.

12 half-courses

  1. Required courses (vary by track):


    1. Introductory Studios: At least two half-courses should be completed by the end of the sophomore year related to the student's area of focus.

    2. Intermediate Studios: At least two half-courses should be completed by the end of the junior year related to the student's area of focus.
      Note: A film/video thesis will be allowed only if it represents the 5th and 6th half-courses in the medium of the thesis. A studio thesis application must be accompanied by a portfolio for review before a thesis will be approved (see further information under "Thesis").

    3. Historical and Theoretical Courses: At least three half-courses are required. Students must take at least two historical or theoretical half-courses related to their area of focus in VES and at least one historical or theoretical half-course outside of their area of focus (for example, a course on the history or theory of film for students focusing on studio, or a course on the history of art, architecture, or the built environment for students focusing on film/video).

    4. Electives within the concentration: Five additional half-courses in VES, two of which may be VES 99, the senior thesis or senior project tutorial. VES 99 is considered an elective and is not a required course.


    1. Introductory Courses: Three half-courses comprising Visual and Environmental Studies 70, 71 and72.

    2. Film Theory: One half-course in film theory.

    3. Electives: Four half-courses directly related to film and visual studies. Offerings under this heading will include both film studies classes offered in VES by regular and visiting faculty as well as pertinent film studies classes offered in departments outside of VES.

    4. Advanced Film Studies Seminars: At least two advanced film studies seminars.

    5. Thesis or Senior Project: Students who write a thesis or senior project essay will enroll in VES 99, which constitutes two half-courses. Students who choose not to write a thesis will instead take two additional advanced film studies courses (these choices are subject to the approval of the director of undergraduate studies). VES 99 is considered an elective and is not a required course.
      Note: A list of courses in film theory and other approved film studies courses may be obtained from the director of undergraduate studies in Film Studies and on the Film Studies website.


      Students interested in focusing on Environmental Studies should consult with the director of undergraduate studies to construct a Plan of Study reflecting these interests. The department offers courses in environmental studies, the history and theory of space, and the moving image. Additionally, students should consult the course listings of both the Graduate School of Design and M.I.T. for related courses which may be taken for credit. Students must consult with the director of undergraduate studies to have courses outside of VES and any courses outside the Faculty of Arts and Sciences count for concentration credit.


  1. Tutorials and Supervised Study:

    1. VES 97r and VES 98r: Sophomore and Junior Tutorials. Preparation for the thesis is begun in studios and seminars and is carried to completion in a VES 99 tutorial during senior year. In rare instances, students needing special preparation not available in regularly offered courses can enroll in an optional junior (VES 98r), or even sophomore (VES 97r) tutorial.

    2. VES 99: Tutorial-Senior Year. Senior Projects/Theses. VES 99 is presumed to be a full course, but may be divided if necessary. A thesis or senior project is not required. (for further information please see item 3, below).

    3. VES 91r: Special Projects: Open to advanced students who wish to carry out a special project under supervision. Professional specialization is not the aim of this course. It is intended for specially qualified students who wish to extend work begun in a regular department course. Students wishing to enroll in VES 91r must find a member of the faculty to advise the project and submit an application to the director of undergraduate studies.

      Note: All tutorials and special projects courses in VES are letter-graded only. Application forms for all VES tutorials are available in the department office or from the department's website.

  2. Thesis: Qualified students may only undertake a thesis upon approval by the VES Honors Board. A filmmaking thesis must represent the third year of work in film production. A thesis in video must represent the third year of work in film and/or video production. Students proposing theses in the studio area must submit a portfolio for review by the studio faculty before a thesis will be approved. All theses should be preceded by a related critical or historical course. Students who want to do a thesis should plan their sophomore and junior year courses accordingly. No concentrator in Visual and Environmental Studies is required to do a thesis or senior project to be recommended for honors.

    It is also possible to enroll in a VES 99 tutorial without doing a thesis. Like a thesis, these senior projects are undertaken with a tutorial adviser but do not undergo some of the rigors associated with the thesis (including thesis reviews, reader evaluations, and the requirement of a finished body of work). A final body of work may or may not result from a VES 99 senior project. For further information on the differences between a VES 99 tutorial with thesis and a VES 99 tutorial without thesis, please consult with the director of undergraduate studies or the department’s website.

  3. General Examination: None.

  4. Other information:

    1. Related courses for concentration credit: Ordinarily, no more than two half-courses taken outside Visual and Environmental Studies or History of Art and Architecture may be so counted. It is strongly recommended that studio concentrators with little background in the history of art take introductory courses in history of art and architecture as soon as possible.

      Concentrators in all areas of the department who wish to receive concentration credit for any non-VES course (in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, at another of Harvard’s graduate schools, at MIT, in the Harvard Summer School, or while studying out of residence) must submit a petition, even if the course is cross-listed. If the course is not cross-listed, a syllabus must accompany the petition. Syllabi are not required to accompany cross-listed course petitions.

      Courses in history of art and architecture, theater design, and some courses in the field of cultural studies may be counted for concentration credit, subject to the approval of the director of undergraduate studies when the Plan of Study is filed.

    2. Pass/Fail: Courses counting for concentration credit may not be taken Pass/Fail or SAT/UNS, except that one Freshman Seminar may be counted for concentration credit if taught by a department faculty member and consistent with VES department offerings, and the student has received a positive evaluation.

    3. Work done out of residence: A student wishing to count work done out of residence toward concentration requirements must have the plan for such work approved by the director of undergraduate studies and the Office of International Programs prior to undertaking it. No credit will be given for work done out of residence until this work, when completed, is evaluated by the faculty of the department. Ordinarily not more than three half-courses taken out of residence will be counted for concentration credit. For information on programs recommended by the faculty of the department, please visit the Office of International Programs website.

    4. Honors: Ordinarily, no student whose overall grade point average in the concentration falls below B will be recommended for honors. No concentrator in Visual and Environmental Studies is required to do a thesis to be eligible for an honors recommendation from the department.


Departmental academic advising is provided by the faculty and by the director of undergraduate studies who meets individually with concentrators to discuss course selection. Information and advice is also available throughout the year in the Carpenter Center from Paula Soares, manager of academic programs, who is available on a walk-in basis during most regular office hours. Each new concentrator is assigned a faculty adviser and is required to meet with the adviser at least once at the start of each term to review the Plan of Study. Students are reminded that they are each ultimately responsible for the fulfillment of concentration requirements, and should check regularly on the current status of their progress.

For up-to-date information on advising in Visual and Environmental Studies, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


Aside from providing the space in which the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies holds many of its classes, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, designed by world-renowned architect Le Corbusier, is an important landmark in the recent history of architecture and is the setting in which Harvard evidences its concern for contemporary expression in the visual arts. During the academic year exhibitions, performances, events, film screenings, and lectures are offered. In addition, the Harvard Film Archive, housed in the Carpenter Center, mounts an ongoing program of film screenings.

The Carpenter Center contains studios for the practice of the studio arts. The department also holds classes in Sever Hall, where most of the film, video, and animation studio courses are conducted. Studios at 6–8 Linden Street are used by practicing artists and photographers, including members of the faculty and senior concentrators doing thesis work.

Visual and Environmental Studies concentrators benefit from the unusually rich University collections of Harvard’s museums: The Sackler, Busch-Reisinger, Semitic, and Peabody museums containing Western, Asian, and ethnographic art. Harvard’s library holdings in art and archaeology include more than 250,000 books and more than 1,500,000 photographs and slides.

The Museum of Fine Arts is one of Boston’s great cultural resources. Other resources are the ICA Boston, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, and the commercial and non-profit galleries of the greater Boston area.


Further information about the concentration may be obtained from the director of undergraduate studies, Professor Ruth Lingford (617-495-9683or the manager of academic programs, Paula Soares (617-496-4469). The department has an extensive website, providing a range of information on the faculty, courses, the Carpenter Center lecture series as well as exhibition schedule. The department holds an open house at the Carpenter Center each year during Freshman Week. Please check the daily listings from the Freshman Dean's Office for exact dates and times.


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

†Foreign Cultures

Literature and Arts B

*Historical Study A

TWO of the areas marked †

*Historical Study B

ONE of the areas marked*.

†Literature and Arts A


†Literature and Arts C


Moral Reasoning


Quantitative Reasoning


Science A


Science B


*Social Analysis


For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.


Number of Concentrators as of December







Visual & Environmental Studies






Visual & Environmental Studies + another field






Another field + Visual & Environmental Studies