Visual and Environmental Studies

The principal educational goal of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) is to provide students in a liberal arts college with an opportunity to gain an understanding of visual quality and expression through both study and practice. The aim is to achieve an understanding of the structure and meaning of the visual arts and culture through practical and theoretical explorations of media such as drawing, film, painting, performance, photography, printmaking, sculpture, sound, video and writing. In addition to offering a regular concentration in these areas, the department also offers students the opportunity to explore VES as a secondary field. Specifically, the secondary field offerings reflect the department's diversity by providing students with four distinct areas of focus. In each area a total of six courses are required; however, each area has its own set of requirements and students may choose only one area when filing for a secondary field.  Ordinarily, secondary field credit is only granted for courses taken in residence.

Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies designates multi-disciplinary analysis of two- and three-dimensional spatial contexts altered or created by people. Examples range from the very large scale (theaters of warfare, rural regions, continental coastal zones) to mid-scale (cities, suburbs, resort islands, wheat ranches) to small-scale (neighborhoods, parks, yards, film sets) to micro media, and virtual reality, including the non-manifest imagination.

Requirements: 6 half-courses

A total of six courses are required for students wishing to pursue Environmental Studies as a secondary field. Students choosing this secondary field option should ordinarily enroll first in VES 107. Possible courses include VES 107, 160, 166 and 167; VES 182, 184, and 185; ENG-SCI 6 and 103. In addition, courses taken at the GSD as well as other relevant courses taken at the College may be acceptable. Please consult Professor John Stilgoe (617-495-1949) for other possible courses to fulfill a secondary field in environmental studies.


Visual and Environmental Studies offers a secondary field in film/video production. Courses in film, video and animation may be arranged in any combination to maximize each student's interests. This field is imagined to be of particular value as a complement to disciplines that include the study of culture—such as anthropology or area studies—where the moving image can be used as a tool for observation and research.

Requirements: 6 half-courses

  1. Four VES courses in film or video making.

  2. Two courses in the history or theory of the moving image.

Film Studies

Visual and Environmental Studies offers a secondary field in film studies for students wishing to explore the history and aesthetics of moving image media in conjunction with other disciplines in the arts and humanities.

Requirements: 6 half-courses

  1. VES 70: The Art of Film.

  2. VES 71: Silent Cinema or VES 72: Sound Cinema.

  3. One course in film theory.

  4. Three additional courses in film studies chosen from an approved list.

Courses in film theory and other approved film studies courses may be obtained from the manager of academic programs and on the Film Studies website.


Requirements: 6 half-courses

  1. Four studio courses (of the student's choosing) in drawing, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and video/installation art. Studio courses in film making and video can also count.

  2. Two lectures or seminars in art history or theory, ordinarily offered by the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. Art history or theory courses offered in the Department of History of Art and Architecture may also be counted.

Students can see sample secondary field courses of study on the VES Department website.

Other Information

Courses in the studio arts and film/video production are, of necessity, small and intensive, and priority is given to concentrators. Additionally, some courses in environmental studies also have an enrollment limit. Students wishing to pursue any of these areas as a secondary field are welcome to apply to limited-enrollment classes but will not be given preferential access to them.

All secondary field courses must be taken for a letter grade with the exception of a Freshman Seminar given by a VES faculty member. There is no minimum grade for counting courses for the secondary field.

Harvard Summer School and study abroad courses taught by department faculty may count towards the secondary field. Students may petition the department to count, at most, one related study abroad or summer school course taught by non-department faculty by submitting a course requirement substitution form, available from the manager of academic programs or on the department's website. Approval occurs after the course is completed and the syllabus and work are reviewed by the director of undergraduate studies. It is therefore advisable to check with the director of undergraduate studies before making plans.

Up to one related cross-listed course may count toward the secondary field.

Advising Resources and Expectations

In addition to informational meetings at the start of each term, to which all students are invited, advising is done by regular faculty as well as the director of undergraduate studies, Ruth Lingford ( and the manager of academic programs, Paula Soares ( Students are not required to inform the department if they are doing a secondary field; however, to be added to the department's mailing list, to receive information about courses and events in the department, and to receive information about special advising hours, students should attend one of the information sessions or inform the program using the secondary fields web tool.