MA Literature and Culture

MA Literature and Culture

This programme draws on the wide research expertise of the School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham in order to develop your critical and analytical skills in the field of literary and cultural studies.

You can either take a general route through the programme, choosing core and optional modules from a variety of literary periods, or take one of a number of pathways, each focusing on a different period or literary genre. Possible pathways may include: Reformation to Reform; The Long Nineteenth Century; Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature. A wealth of optional modules relating to your pathway, taught by leading international scholars, allow you to specialise in areas which suit your particular interests and you will also complete a supervised 15,000-word dissertation on a topic of your choice.

In addition to these optional and core modules, this programme is unique in offering you the chance to gain hands-on independent archival research and direct experience of relevant non-academic careers

Please note: We also offer opportunities to specialise in medieval literature via the MA Medieval Studies and MRes Medieval Studies.

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


This programme will provide a solid grounding in the key intellectual debates within scholarship on a range of period and context specialisms and develop the skills required for writing a research thesis.

It includes a mixture of compulsory and optional modules taken across the autumn and spring semesters:

  • Semester 1: Core Period module 1; Period Option 1; Research Skills
  • Semester 2: Core Period module 2; Period Option 2; Period Option 3

Over the course of the year you will also complete a supervised 15,000-word dissertation, to be submitted in September. You will undertake 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.

Core modules 

Your core modules will be from the same pathway, if you are specialising in a literary period, or can be from different pathways if you are taking a general route through the degree.

  • Reformation to Reform pathway: Writing Revolutions 1: Politics, Publics and Professionalism in Literary Culture, 1580-1700 and Writing Revolutions 2: Politics, Publics and Professionalism in Literary Culture, 1700-1832
  • The Long Nineteenth Century pathway: Literature and Aesthetics in the Long Nineteenth Century; Cultures and Literatures of the Long Nineteenth Century
  • Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature: Modernism; Contemporary Literature.

All pathways also include a compulsory ‘Research Skills’ module. For full descriptions, see 'modules' below.

Optional modules

You will choose three optional modules from a range covering a variety of authors and themes from the medieval period to the 21st century. If you are following a pathway through the MA, at least two of these optional modules will be taken from a set group relevant to your chosen literary period. If you are following a more general route through the degree you can pick optional modules from any literary period.

Optional modules are each assessed by a 4,000-word essay.

Alongside the programme you will also have the chance to participate in a bespoke MA conference and form part of the department’s thriving academic research community.

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."


Core modules

A research skills module is core to all pathways, and for students taking a general route through the programme:

Research Skills

This core Research Skills module will prepare all students for their MA dissertation and assist those students planning to continue to doctoral work in their application for external and/or internal funding. The module will run in Semester 1 and consist of a combination of generic research skills classes and individual supervisions. It aims to equip students with the research skills and familiarity with their field that will assist them in producing good assessed work and eventually good dissertations. Topics may include: use of the library and e-resources; planning a research project; referencing methods; book history and textual criticism; and working in archives. The latter will include sessions in the Cadbury Research Library, a trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Institute, and an independent student archival visit to take place at the end of Semester 1/ across the Christmas vacation.

You will also take two core Period modules, either from the same pathway if you are specialising in a literary period, or from different pathways if you are taking a general route through the degree:

Reformation to Reform pathway

  • Writing Revolutions 1: Politics, Publics and Professionalism in Literary Culture, 1580-1700. (semester 1)
    This module 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. (semester 2)
    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.

The Long Nineteenth Century pathway

  • Literature and Aesthetics in the Long Nineteenth Century (Semester 1)
    In this module you will have the opportunity to enhance your knowledge of the literatures and aesthetics of the ‘long’ nineteenth century (c. 1789-1914). Combining texts from the Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian eras, including the works of major American and Transatlantic writers, the module will give you the chance to engage with the key literary genres of the period (including a mixture of poetry, drama, and prose) whilst exploring a range of methodologies and a variety of critical perspectives on its intellectual and artistic contexts
  • Cultures and Literatures of the Long Nineteenth Century (Semester 2)
    This module situates the literatures of the ‘long’ nineteenth century in some of their wider cultural contexts, giving you the chance to increase your awareness of the role played by writing in Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian life. You will not only be encouraged to learn more about the political, social, artistic, and scientific cultures which surrounded nineteenth-century literature, but also to engage in critical discussions about the complex ways in which literature and culture inform each other.

Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature pathway

  • Modernism (semester 1)
    This module will enhance your knowledge of a range of key issues within the study of literature in the first half of the twentieth century, 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 nostalgia and innovation, narrative and traumatic-memory, the concept of Modernism, High Modernism and its aftermath, 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.
  • Contemporary Literature (semester 2)
    This module offers you the opportunity to engage with a range of literatures in English, written post-1945 to the present. Texts from the UK, North America and elsewhere in the Anglophone world will be explored from a variety of perspectives and you will be encouraged to employ a range of methodological, theoretical and critical approaches that allow for the siting of the literary work within diverse social and artistic contexts.

    The module will consist of three units, each of which will take the form of an investigation into either contemporary national/regional literatures or be determined by thematic/theoretical contexts. Possible units may, for example, address multiculturalism in contemporary British writing, contemporary Canadian writing, South African writing today and Postmodernism.

Optional modules

A wealth of optional modules will be on offer each year, and you will choose three of these (one in Semester 1 and two in Semester 2). If you are taking a pathway through the degree, you will choose at least two optional modules from the list available to your pathway but may, if you wish, choose your third option either from the same pathway or from an adjacent pathway. If you are taking a general route through the degree, you will be free to choose from across the whole range of optional modules.

Modules on offer may include the following:

Options relevant to Reformation to Reform pathway

Options relevant to Long Nineteenth Century pathway

Options relevant to Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature pathway

Language options (open to students on all pathways)

Please note that not all modules may be available every year.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2015/16 are as follows:

  • Home / EU: £6,210 full-time; £3,105 part-time
  • Overseas: £14,140 full-time

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

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 tuition 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.

Birmingham Masters Scholarship Scheme

For 2015 entry the University has 224 new £10,000 scholarships available for Masters students from under-represented groups. These scholarships have been jointly funded by the British Government; the allocation of the awards, which is the fourth highest in the UK, further cements Birmingham?s place amongst the very best higher education institutions for postgraduate study. The application deadline is 31 July 2015.

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).

Related research


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.