Academic Programs

Art | Art History | Creative Writing | Dance | Film & Media Studies | Music | Theater 


A student works on her sculptureThe artists and art historians at Swarthmore College consider visual intelligence to be fundamental to a liberal arts education. We believe that the ability to understand works of art -- either through analysis or practice -- is the key to a richer understanding of the human experience. The study of art is the most direct way of developing a better understanding and appreciation of the cultures and societies of our contemporary world, the visual phenomena found in it-both in nature and in society -- and the historical record of human development. Artists have and continue to interpret their experiences and art historians have and continue to interpret the objects made.

Our students learn and create in a department that is made up of a close-knit group of practitioners and historians of art. This unique environment allows the kind of one-on-one relationship to faculty and colleagues that enables our students to gain the skills they need to succeed in their chosen paths. The proximity to Philadelphia and to some of the most important collections of art in the United States, as well as to the lively young artists scene and events such as First Friday, puts Swarthmore in a unique position compared to other liberal arts colleges across the country. Learn more about the Art program.

Art History

A student presents slides in Art HistoryMuch of the knowledge and information produced in the 21st century is communicated through images. Studying art history provides students with the skills to critically analyze and comprehend the visual arguments conveyed in these images. Art history also provides students with the tools necessary to communicate this understanding in coherent written and verbal forms.

Studying art history allows students to engage with the ways in which people in the past and present--patrons, artists, users and viewers--have created and employed images and to what ends. Indeed, students of art history study works of art that embody the most important ideas and cherished aspirations of cultures through time and across the globe. As a result, they gain a deeper understanding of a global, and multicultural, past and present.

In studying art history students consider how scholars and others have thought about a given work and are asked to find their place in that discussion. In the art history classroom we carefully look at images and analyze them, research the cultures in which they were produced and make arguments about their meanings and impact. Learn more about the Art History program.

Creative Writing

Literary writing at Swarthmore, though a relatively new emphasis within the Department of English Literature, has a long and distinguished history at the College. Visiting writers on our faculty in the past have included poets W.H. Auden, Adrienne Rich, Ireland's Brendan Kennelly, South African Denis Brutus, and Kofi Anyidoho of Ghana; and such novelists as Hilma Wolitzer, Elizabeth Benedict, and Jonathan Franzen.

The many alumni of the College who have achieved prominence in the world of letters include fiction writers James Michener, Norman Rush, Alan Gordon, Jonathan Franzen, Adam Haslett, and Christopher Castellani; and poets such as John Ridland, Diane Di Prima, William D. Ehrhart, Daisy Fried, and Jessica Fisher . In recent years, Swarthmore graduates have pursued advanced degrees in writing at Brooklyn, Brown, Colorado, Columbia, Cornell, Iowa, San Francisco State, and other institutions. Learn more about the Creative Writing program.


Dancers jumping in the airSwarthmore’s Dance program brings together a talented group of students to perform a global repertoire of dance styles from around the world and simultaneously engage in critical thinking and writing.  Our vibrant and diverse community of artists and scholars pursue dance as a field of academic inquiry, artistic creation, and civic engagement.  We offer special scholarships for our majors and minors to study specific styles with some of the finest master teachers and choreographers in Philadelphia or develop as art activists through immersion in an international or local community.  Our students are often double majors or special majors in fields such as Anthropology, Classics, Art History, English, Education, as well as Biology and Psychology. Learn more about the Dance program.

Film & Media Studies

Students work on editing a filmMoving image media have been one of the most distinctive innovations and experiences of the past century. In today's media-dependent culture, developing a critical understanding and a historical knowledge of media forms is vital. Film and Media Studies provides an interdisciplinary understanding of the history, theory, language, and social and cultural aspects of film, television and digital media; introduces research and analytical methods; teaches digital video production skills and approaches; and encourages cross-cultural comparison of media forms, histories, audiences, and institutions. Learn more about the Film & Media Studies program.


A student composer leads the student orchestra​Swarthmore's music program is a vibrant community of performers, creators and critical thinkers who share a passion for music both past and present, pop and classical, near and far. Our academic courses invite students to think deeply about music; our ensembles bring talented students together to perform challenging and varied repertoire; our master class and residency programs bring some of our country’s most distinguished musicians to campus for ongoing collaborations with our students; and our program of private instruction enables students to study with some of the finest teachers from Philadelphia to New York City. Students in our program are often active in many other fields, such as art history, biology, engineering, English, linguistics, and mathematics. The wealth of interests and curiosity they bring to music making fosters a fresh and exciting atmosphere in Lang Music Building. We welcome all students, whether or not they pursue a major or minor in our discipline, to become part of our music family. Given the buzz of activity happening in Lang, and facilities to rival many larger universities, you'll never want to leave. And with the library open until one a.m., and practice rooms open all the time, you really don't have to. Learn more about the Music program.


Actors perform​Swarthmore's Theater Department is an educational and artistic laboratory—a place for testing the talents and intellect of students and faculty alike.

At Swarthmore, we combine a rigorous liberal arts education with the practical exploration of performance. We continually seek new working relationships between the academy and the professional theater and build bridges between the American theater and our international colleagues.

Our department encourages students to fully engage each other, our faculty, master artists, other disciplines and cultures, and ultimately the world beyond Swarthmore—while simultaneously nourishing each student's individual talents and aspirations. Learn more about the Theater program.