English Literature PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)

We offer the opportunity to undertake research in English Literature, delivered on campus or through distance learning.

You will have access to a range of world-class resources in the University’s Main Library and the Cadbury Research Library where a host of rare manuscripts and archives are available. The department also fosters a range of connections with local partners such as the Library of Birmingham, the largest municipal library in Europe, and the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, itself part of the wider School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies.

Our principal areas of research expertise include Medieval English (for example, Old English, Chaucer, Langland, Lollard writing, Reformation writing and medievalist writers such as Tolkien ); Early Modern English (for example, Daniel, Donne, Johnson, Marlowe, Middleton, Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton); Restoration, 18th century and the Romantics (for example, Swift, Goldsmith, Johnson, Wordsworth, Pope); and 19th and 20th century research (for example, Hardy, Wilde, James, Conrad, Woolf, T. S. Eliot,, Ballard, DeLillo, Coetzee).

Dr Helen Williams

Dr Helen Williams

“ I chose Birmingham for a variety of reasons, mostly because of the opportunities and support I felt it would provide me during PhD study. I knew that my research could be well supported by staff here, and also that as a high-ranking red-brick university there would be greater opportunities to secure funding, either through the Arts and Humanities Research Council or the University’s own scholarships and awards.”

The MA by Research programme requires you to prepare a dissertation of up to 40,000 words on a topic of your choice, for which an academic staff member will provide expert supervision.

The MLitt involves undertaking research on a chosen topic leading to the preparation of a thesis of 60,000 words.

The PhD – the most advanced research degree – leads to a dissertation of up to 80,000 words on a subject of your choice and under the expert supervision of an academic member of staff.

You can study an MA by Research or PhD programme on campus or by distance learning. Please note that if you are studying with us by distance learning, there is a compulsory annual visit to campus (every two years for part-time PhD students) - please see our frequently asked questions about distance learning to find out more.

Profiles of our current English Literature doctoral researchers

At Birmingham you also have the option of studying languages, free of charge. Almost no other UK University offers you the opportunity to learn the intense graduate academic language skills which you may need to pursue your research.

Why study this course

  • The department celebrated excellent Research Assessment Exercise 2014 results. 34% of research at the University of Birmingham for English Language and Literature was top 4* rated ‘world-leading’. A further 53% was rated 3* ‘internationally excellent’.
  • You will be part of a vibrant postgraduate community in the department of English Literature and the School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies.
  • We have many well-established resources to draw on, including those housed in the Cadbury Research Library, which holds approximately 120,000 pre-1850 books dating from 1471 and some 3 million manuscripts
  • The University’s Main Library also houses extensive research resources, with a large collection covering literature in general and English literature from Anglo-Saxon times to the present. This is supplemented by a growing drama and modern literature collection at the Orchard Learning Resource Centre in Selly Oak
  • Our students may benefit from the University’s new collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) which will see the reinstatement of the iconic studio theatre, The Other Place.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2016/17:

  • Home / EU £4,110 full-time; £2,055 part-time*
  • Overseas: £13,680 full-time

For part-time students, the above fee quoted is for year one only and tuition fees will also be payable in subsequent years of your programme.

* For UK/EU postgraduate research students the University fee level is set at Research Council rates and as such is subject to change. The final fee will be announced by Research Councils UK in spring 2016.

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students.

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuituion fees and funding.

Entry requirements

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Before you make your application

Please refer to our six step process on applying for PhD, MA by Research and MRes opportunities for Arts subject areas.

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Additional Guidance for applicants to the PhD Distance Learning study mode.

Making your application

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

The following summary indicates our principal areas of research expertise. Please view our staff profiles for further possible research topics.

Our work in Medieval English ( for example, Old English, Chaucer, Langland, Lollard writing, Older Scots literature, Reformation writing and medievalist writers such as Tolkien) extends through medieval literature into concerns with editing, print production, bibliography, manuscript studies, and non-manuscript verbal cultures of the Middle Ages; and also with relations between medieval verbal and visual cultures.

In the Early Modern area (for example, Daniel, Donne, Johnson, Marlowe, Middleton, Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton) our specialisms in dramatic and non-dramatic writing extend into the reception of early modern writers in later periods and today, and run alongside our work on cultures of manuscript, print and 17th century women’s writing.

In Restoration, 18th century and Romantics (for example, Rochester, Behn, Swift, Pope, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Johnson, Wordsworth, Goldsmith) we focus on reading literary works in their historical and cultural contexts, with special interests in the editing of texts, in prose fiction, in language and lexicography, in the reception of Shakespeare, early modern and medieval literature, and in gender.

In 19th century, 20th century, and contemporary  (for example, Hardy, Wilde, James, Conrad, Ford, Wyndham Lewis, Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, T. S. Eliot, Ballard, Coetzee, Delillo, Zadie Smith) we are particularly interested in the late Victorian period, Modernism and the contemporary and we utilise a number of thematic and theoretical approaches (including historiography, cultural theory, postcolonialism, cultures of reading, digital theory).

The research themes of materiality of the text (for example, textual editing, history of the book, media history) and gender (for example, women writers, relevant theoretical approaches) can be pursued across all these periods.

The University of Birmingham has been ranked 8th in the UK and 60th in the world for post-qualification employability in the latest global survey of universities commissioned by the International Herald Tribune.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School.

Birmingham's English Literature postgraduates develop a range of skills including presentation, communication and analytical skills, as well as the ability to work independently, think critically and develop opinions.

Over the past five years, over 90% of English Literature postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Many of our graduates go on to further study or academia, while others use their transferable skills in a wide variety of occupations including accounting, the charity sector, teaching, local government, law, publishing and media. Employers that graduates have gone on to work for include: Birmingham Museums Trust; Bloomsbury Publishing; Civil Service; Coventry Arts and Heritage Trust; House of Commons; and University of Kent.

Birmingham has been transformed into one of Europe's most exciting cities. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Get involved

In addition to the student groups hosted by the Guild of Students, each school runs its own social activities, research fora, seminars and groups for postgraduates.


Coming to Birmingham to study might be your first time living away from home. Our student accommodation will allow you to enjoy your new-found independence in safe, welcoming and sociable surroundings.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and cultures, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work. Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.