MA English Literature

The University of Birmingham is one of the leading centres for the postgraduate study of English in the United Kingdom and its MA in English Literature provides the perfect opportunity for you to extend your study of English literature and prepare for further postgraduate study.

Two core modules introduce the skills required for advanced research and dissertation writing. These modules also contain a unique and innovative component in which you will work directly with local research libraries and archives. A wealth of optional modules, taught by leading international scholars, in turn allow you to specialise in a range of literary periods from the medieval to contemporary.

Course fact file

Type of Course: Taught

Study Options: Full time, part time

Duration: 1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

Start date: September


You will study two core modules:

  • Research Skills A
  • Research Skills B

You will also choose four optional modules from a range covering a variety of authors and themes from the medieval period to the 21st century. [See module information below]

The core modules are assessed by a 4000 word bibliographical essay and 4,000 word dissertation proposal; the four literary modules are each assessed by a 4,000-word essay.

You will also complete a supervised 15,000-word dissertation, to be submitted in September. This will require independent research, which may be based on but will extend work undertaken for previous modules in the programme. There should be some element of originality in the research and the research may make some contribution to the field of study.

Why study this course

The wide range of modules on offer allows you to pursue your specific interests:

"I chose Birmingham as the university to study my MA because I did my undergraduate degree at the university, and was impressed by the academic staff, the topics on offer to study, the wealth of research materials in the libraries, as well as the beauty of the campus itself. I chose to undertake the MA English Literature over the University's other Literature MAs because of the wide range of modules on offer, which cover many different periods and topics, so I wasn't limited to one area of study. The modules are engaging and well taught and have introduced me to new texts and ways of thinking which I did not come across during undergraduate study."

"The aspect that I enjoyed most about the MA at Birmingham was the variety of literature you get to study. The course, and the lecturers that taught on it, introduced me to authors that I would never have found on my own, and opened my eyes to research areas that I would never have noticed before. The course encourages you to pursue your own areas of research interest and the lecturers support you in that pursuit. It strikes a good balance between the taught elements, whilst still feeling like a research-led programme. And the fact that it is such beautiful, red brick surroundings, doesn't hurt either!"

In addition, the University of Birmingham's Department of English offers a supportive environment and gives you access to a wealth of knowledge and expertise.

"I am an English Literature Taught Masters student, currently halfway through my course. So far I have absolutely loved it. Not only is the teaching excellent, but I have been happily surprised with just how helpful every one of the tutors has been. They are always willing to help and offer advice, and it has made a huge difference to me. I highly recommend the course."


You must study one of following:

Research Skills A (semester 1) and B (semester 2) (for most English Literature MA students)

These modules enable you to pursue effective independent research and to acquire the skills essential to the preparation and writing of a Masters dissertation. You will learn to develop a research topic, to plan and present your work, and to mount an effective argument; you’ll be trained in archival and bibliographical techniques, be introduced to practising scholars and to current theoretical debates. These skills will aid your professional and personal development whether you intend to stay on for the PhD or go into the non-academic world.


Resources and Methods for Medieval Literary Studies (semester 1) (for English Literature MA students intending to specialise in medieval topics)

This module introduces the key resources and methods used in working with original medieval literary sources. You will be introduced to the examination of medieval manuscript books and to the principles and practices of editing texts from manuscript. Classes in language study and transcription will support work on the original texts; you may focus on Old English or Middle English - undergraduate study or equivalent of the variety chosen will be required for registration on the module.

You will also choose a total of four optional modules (two in each semester) from a range which includes:

Contemporary Literary Cultures: Politics

This module explores ways of conceptualising the political as it is evinced across a range of literary texts produced since 1990. The module begins with looking at recent re-evaluations of the nation Students are then encouraged to examine how the category of the local might also provide a way of structure our reading, before moving on to thinking about the notion of globalisation, which is often seen as a dominant way of understanding 21st century world politics.

Contemporary Literary Cultures: Performance

This module explores ways of conceptualising the idea of performance as it is evinced across a range of literary texts produced since 1990. Starting by examining recent explorations of how identities are built, the module then interrogates the idea of authentic identity before ending with reflections on the nature of resistance and how literature might perform, or reflect on the performance of, political struggle. 

Film, Theory, Politics

This module examines the interaction between film, film theory, and politics. It will provide you with a solid grounding in some of the critical debates of the discipline, and in related cultural issues central to its development and our focus on American Film. As such, it will enable you to assess the impact of politics on various levels of film analysis and production: from the ideology of the classical apparatus and text to the race or sexual politics of Hollywood cinema, from the censoring of the Production Code era to the attempted radicalism of post-modern film practices.

Language and Literature

This module aims to equip you with an understanding of how language works, so that this understanding can be used in the analysis of literary and non-literary texts. You will gain an understanding of the principles of stylistic analysis and theory and will review core topics of stylistic analysis (such as textual cohesion and coherence, modality, transitivity, speech act analysis, the discoursal representation of speech and thought, face and politeness, presupposition, etc.), applying them to authors and texts from historical and contemporary periods of English literature. You will also critique the evolution of stylistic theory and practice, and its position within linguistic and literary domains.

Modernism: 1910-1940

This module will enhance your knowledge of a range of key issues within the study of literature in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, introducing some of the more challenging texts written during these years, as well as recent scholarly thinking on the literature of the period more generally. You will be encouraged to rethink mainstream definitions of the literary history of the early twentieth-century, and examine the complexity of the literary and cultural moment of modernism. Major topics to be covered include: literary innovation and philosophies of language, narrative and memory, the concept of Modernism, High Modernism and its aftermath, Surrealism and the social and aesthetic politics of the 1930s. These will be studied across a variety of genres and authors, with reference to formative theorists/philosophers of the period.

Narrative Analysis in Fiction and Film

This module provides an introduction to some of the fundamental components of narratives, approached from a linguistic and narratological point of view. We will explore: temporal manipulation; point of view (or focalisation); setting; structure; characterisation; narrativity and the non-narrative; the semiotics of visual images; narrative expectation; suspense, surprise, secrets and gaps; print and TV narratives (in news, documentary, adverts, etc.). A particular focus will be those similarities and differences between prose narrative fiction and film narrative fiction which stem from (or in the case of similarities, transcend) their different media and technologies. N.B. You will need some basic knowledge of linguistics for this module.

Plays and Poems of Shakespeare A: Comedies, Histories, Poems

This module engages in the detailed examination of most of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and poems. NB: this module is the prerequisite for Plays and Poems B.

Plays and Poems of Shakespeare B: Problem Plays, Tragedies, Late Plays

This module engages in the detailed examination of most of Shakespeare’s problem plays, tragedies and late plays. NB: you must have taken Plays and Poems A to be eligible for this module.

Topics in Medieval Texts, Cultures, and Societies

This module tackles problems and issues that are at the forefront of current research on medieval texts, cultures and societies. Working independently, but with the regular guidance and feedback of a supervisor, the student researches and writes an essay on a current problem or issue related to the chosen topic, selected in consultation with the supervisor.

Victorian Modernity: 1880-1910

This module will enable you to explore the diversity of literary impulses in a turn-of-the-century period characterised by literary non-conformity. Major topics to be covered include: the late nineteenth-century city, decadence, imperialism, aestheticism, and early modernism. These will be studied across a variety of genres and authors, with reference to formative theorists/philosophers of the period. In spite of its interest in diversity the module will be unified by two themes that are characteristic of the period: an intense interest in the past as well as fascination with the future.

Writing Revolutions 1: Politics, Publics and Professionalism in Literary Culture, 1580-1700.

This modules provides a theme and topic-based survey of English literature of the period 1580-1700 (excluding Shakespeare). It encompasses literature from all the principal genres of the period, addressing literary texts, from the time of Sidney and Spenser through the Civil War to Dryden and Rochester in the late seventeenth-century.

Writing Revolutions 2: Politics, Publics and Professionalism in Literary Culture, 1700-1832.

This module provides a theme and topic-based survey of English literature of the period 1700-1832, again encompassing literature from the principal genres of the period. The module will examine literary writing within the dynamic and radically changing cultural context of Britain in this period. It will engage with such issues as politics, literary patronage and professionalism, the form and function of the novel, drama and the theatre, landscape, and the representation of gender.

You can also choose from the following optional modules available on the MA Medieval Studies:

Fees and funding

Scholarships and studentships

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate Funding Database.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Entry requirements

You should already have completed an honours degree in English Literature or in a cognate subject with a heavy literary element, with at least a high upper-second-class (65 or above) result, or a 3.5/4.0 GPA; candidates with joint honours in English Literature and another cognate subject, or single honours in a cognate subject that includes substantial work in English Literature, are also encouraged to apply. All successful candidates must have a very high competence in written English, and are assumed to have extensive undergraduate exposure to literary studies in English across a broad historical range.

All prospective students must also submit a sample of written work as part of the online application process. You can do this before you submit your form, or return to the application to upload your sample at a later date; however, we will need to see your piece of writing before an offer is made. This should be a piece of academic writing from your first degree, on English (or Anglophone) literature, that demonstrates your ability as a critic and scholar of literature. (Please note that journalism and creative writing - including poems, stories, or memoirs - are not acceptable.) We cannot read more than about 1500 words of submitted written work, so please either send something of that length, or indicate within a longer work what you would like us to read. You must submit a personal statement. This should be an account of your current, developed literary interests arising from your undergraduate or other literary studies and should indicate your plans to extend these as a postgraduate student of English literature.

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 by holding an English language qualification to the right level; for this course, we ask for IELTS 7.0 with no less than 6.5 in any band.

How to apply

Before you make your application

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.

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

Learning and teaching

You will be supported by literature staff in the department who research, publish and teach across the full chronological range of English Literature from Old English to the present day, helping you to explore your specific interests.

You will also become part of, and contribute to, the vibrant international community of the College of Arts and Law Graduate School, which offers dedicated research resources and a supportive working environment. Our team of academic and operational staff are on hand to offer support and advice to all postgraduate students within the College.

Support with academic writing

As a postgraduate student in the College of Arts and Law, you have access to the Academic Writing Advisory Service (AWAS) which aims to help your transition from undergraduate to taught Masters level, or back into academia after time away. The service offers guidance on writing assignments and dissertations for your MA/MSc programme with individual support from an academic writing advisor via tutorials, email and the provision of online materials.

International students can access support through the English for International Students Unit (EISU).


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.