MA Literature and Culture

Studying English Literature at postgraduate level opens up a whole host of vibrant and intellectually stimulating avenues to explore.

At this level, English literary texts from the medieval period to present day are studied in and alongside their many different contexts – historical, social, political and/or material – and approached from a multitude of theoretical and methodological perspectives, enabling you to develop new and highly skilled ways of reading and interpreting a wide variety of cultural documents.

Our innovative programme draws on the wide-ranging research expertise of our staff in order to develop your critical and analytical skills in the field of literary and cultural studies. The programme allows you to take a general route, choosing core and optional from a variety of literary periods, or take one of a number of pathways, each focusing on a different historical period from the medieval through to the contemporary.

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

Shantel Edwards

Shantel Edwards

“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.”

This programme will provide a solid grounding in the key intellectual debates within the scholarship surrounding a range of period and context specialisms, introduce you to the latest research in the field, and support your development of the skills required for writing a dissertation.

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

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

Core modules 

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

  • Medieval pathway: Meeting Medieval Manuscripts; Understanding Medieval Literature
  • 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: Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Studies; Literature 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.

Assessment

Most modules are assessed by written assignment although some also require a presentation.

Over the course of the year you will also complete a supervised 15,000-word dissertation, to be submitted in September. In order to complete your dissertation you will undertake independent research which may be based on (but will certainly extend) work undertaken for previous modules in the programme. There should be some element of originality to the research and staff will support your research in this regard; work should also aim towards making some contribution toward the field of study.

Why study this course

  • Flexibility – the variety of modules on offer will allow you to study areas of the discipline which interest you the most.
  • Experience – you will have a unique opportunity to undertake hands-on independent archival research and direct experience of relevant non-academic careers. You will also be fully supported in your discovery of your own academic voice and research practices.
  • Excellent reputation – as one of the leading Departments for the postgraduate study of English Literature and Culture in the UK, you will receive expert teaching and research supervision across a wide range of time periods, genres, media and methods. The University has also been ranked as one of the world's top 50 institutions to study English Language and Literature in the 2017 QS World Rankings.
  • Foundation for future careers or further study – the programme is ideal for those students looking to develop specific research interests and/or prepare for study at PhD level, but it is also an excellent way of gaining a broader overview of the subject and allowing you to explore a career in sectors such as charity, teaching, local government, law, publishing, and media.
  • Active postgraduate community – with conferences, reading groups and events run by the postgraduate students as well as academic staff there is always something happening in the Department.

Modules

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 you for your MA dissertation and assist those of you planning to continue to doctoral work in your application for internal and/or external funding. The module will run in Semester 1 and consists of a combination of generic research skills classes and individual supervisions. It aims to equip you with the research skills and familiarity with your chosen field that will assist you in producing strong assessed work and final 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 archival visit.
Assessment: 1,000-word research proposal and 3,000-word bibliographical essay

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:

Medieval pathway

  • Meeting Medieval Manuscripts (semester 1 or 2)
    From the sole-surviving manuscript of Beowulf to William Caxton’s introduction of the printing press to England, this module is designed to open up the fascinating world of medieval manuscript studies and book history. Throughout the semester we’ll use new online and digital resources to explore a series of key manuscripts and printed books from the eleventh century through to the early sixteenth century. Each week we’ll teach you how to read and transcribe different types of medieval handwriting (a skill known as palaeography) and introduce you to some of the central features of manuscript production (codicology) and early printing. We’ll focus week-by-week on a specific manuscript or type of manuscript (e.g. chronicles, book of hours, copies of The Canterbury Tales) and also discuss themes related to the study of the material text, including illumination and decoration, dialect, the production of miscellanies/anthologies, and digitisation. Above all else, you’ll have the chance to turn the pages of some very special old books for yourself, beginning with an introductory session in the Cadbury Research Library here at Birmingham and ending with a trip to one of the UK’s major research libraries (e.g. Bodleian Library, Oxford).
    Assessment: Transcription assessment and 3,000-word essay
  • Understanding Medieval Literature (semester 1 or 2)
    This module offers the opportunity to explore a diverse range of medieval literary texts from the pre-conquest period through to the early Tudor period. Its aim is to facilitate confident engagement with the texts in their original language, awareness of the range and variety of English literature in the period, and understanding of the cultural contexts in which that literature was originally produced, ‘published’ and read. Guided by a team of specialist staff you will read a number of texts that rank among the greatest achievements across all English literature and will acquire a solid appreciation of some of the major trends and debates in current scholarship. Texts studied may vary from year to year but will include some of the following: the Old English epic Beowulf (taught by means of en face edition); early Middle English romance and devotional literature; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the finest Arthurian romance of the period; Troilus and Criseyde, arguably Chaucer’s greatest work; late medieval and Tudor drama. There will also be plenty of room for you to explore and to develop your own reading programme in relation to the key texts.
    Assessment: Textual analysis exercise and 3,000-word essay

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). Iit 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.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay
  • 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.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay

The Long Nineteenth Century pathway

  • Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Studies (Semester 1)
    In this module, you will be introduced to a range of modern critical, theoretical, and scholarly approaches to the study of literature and culture in the long nineteenth century (c. 1789-1914), and will explore these methodologies and perspectives in relation to key works from the Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian eras. You will have the chance to broaden and deepen your acquaintance with the literature of these periods at the same time as gaining familiarity with the disciplinary landscape of nineteenth-century studies, and will be prompted to refine your understanding and application of advanced academic practices. The module will draw on the methodological breadth of staff specialising in nineteenth century studies.
    Assessment: Portfolio of written assignments
  • Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century (Semester 2)

    This module explores a range of advanced topics central to the literature of the long nineteenth century, giving you the chance to increase your awareness of the political, social, artistic, and scientific contexts that surrounded and shaped key works of the Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian eras. Critical discussions of fiction and non-fiction—including a mixture of poetry, drama, and prose—will foreground the complex ways in which literature and culture inform one another; you will gain a deeper and richer comprehension of the literature of the period. You will present your independent research at a mini-conference towards the end of the semester before submitting a substantial essay.
    Assessment: Presentation and 3,000-word essay

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.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay
  • 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 situating 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.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay

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.

Options relevant to all pathways

  • From Plato to the Postmodern: Theories of Literature and Art
  • Language and Literature: Key Topics in Stylistics

Options relevant to Medieval pathway

  • Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy
  • Imagining the Past: Tolkien and Medievalism
  • Magic, Monsters and Marvels in the Medieval World
  • Mapping the Middle Ages: Cultural Encounters in the Medieval East and West
  • Writing Medieval Communities: Places and Spaces
  • Writing Medieval Communities: Regions and Nations

Options relevant to Reformation to Reform pathway

  • Byron and Keats
  • Early Modern Drama: Middleton and Jonson
  • Paradise Lost: Text and context
  • Rude Britannia: 1660-1830
  • Shakespeare's Afterlives
  • Shakespeare's Craftsmanship
  • Shakespeare's Legacy
  • Viragos, Coquettes and Prudes

Options relevant to Long Nineteenth Century pathway

  • Byron and Keats
  • Literature in the Age of Evolution
  • Politics and Terror in the Age of Revolutions
  • Reading Henry James
  • The Pre-Raphaelite Circle
  • TMI: Confessional Writing, from Rousseau to present
  • Victorian Drama

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

  • African American Freedom: 20th Century Literature and Visual Culture
  • Bringing Out the Bodies: Technology, Transhumans and Skin
  • Cold War Film
  • Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy
  • Feminist Killjoys: New Directions in Feminist & Queer Theory
  • Film and Television Authorship
  • Gender and Irish Fiction
  • Guilty Pleasures: Reading the Historical Romance
  • Last Year's Novels
  • Modern American Poetry
  • Modernism in the Magazines
  • Remembering World War One
  • Textualities and Materialities
  • The Modern Short Story
  • The Modernist Novel
  • Theories of the Modern
  • TMI: Confessional Writing, from Rousseau to present
  • Writers Among the Ruins: Genre, Self, and Memory after the First World War

For full module descriptions, see our Literature and Culture MA modules page.


Please note that the optional module information listed on the website for this programme is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2018/19 are as follows:

  • Home / EU: £9,000 full-time
  • Overseas: £17,010 full-time

The above fees quoted are for one year only; for those studying over two or more years, tuition fees will also be payable in subsequent years of your programme.

Fee status

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

We can also confirm that EU students who are already studying at the University of Birmingham or who have an offer to start their studies in the 2018-19 academic year will continue to be charged the UK fee rate applicable at the time, provided this continues to be permitted by UK law. The UK Government has also confirmed that students from the EU applying to courses starting in the 2018-19 academic year will not see any changes to their loan eligibility or fee status. This guarantee will apply for the full duration of the course, even if the course finishes after the UK has left the EU.

Paying your fees

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.

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 an example of your work 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 1,500 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 also 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

Please review our Entry Requirements before making your application.

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

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.

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 for English Language development and skills through the Birmingham International Academy (BIA).

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by a range of employability support services offered by the University.

The University's Careers Network provides advice and information specifically for postgraduates that will help you to develop an effective career and skills development strategy, and to make the most of your time with us at the University. The College of Arts and Law also has a dedicated careers and employability team to deliver tailored programmes of careers events and local support.

You will have opportunities to: meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs; attend employer presentations and skills workshops; receive individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

You will also be able to access our full range of careers support for up to two years after graduation.

Postgraduate employability: English Literature

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 three years, over 94% 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 copywriting, PR, marketing, publishing and teaching.

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

The Guild of Students hosts over 250 student groups and societies to suit a wide range of interests. These include the Postgraduate and Mature Students Association which runs a regular and varied programme of events specifically tailored to postgraduate students.

In addition, you will find that each Department runs its own social activities, research fora and student groups.

Accommodation

We offer accommodation for postgraduates on or near to campus, although many of our students also choose to live privately in student accommodation, shared houses or flats. If you do choose to live in private accommodation, the University has dedicated support services to help you to find properties from accredited landlords.

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.