MA Art History and Curating

Are you fascinated by visual culture and history relating to a specific artist, period of movement?

Do you want to pursue a career in the gallery and commerical arts sector? 

The MA in Art History and Curating is one of the few postgraduate programmes in the country that offers you the opportunity to work in a team with academic and museum professionals to curate an art exhibition in a public gallery at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

This unique programme enables you to develop the knowledge and skills to conduct original research into art objects, to understand at first hand the history, theory and contemporary practice of their curation and to disseminate your findings through a public art exhibition and a 15,000-word dissertation.

Please note: Places on this programme are limited due to the placement and curatorial experience, so early applications are encouraged. See 'How to apply' in course details for more information.


The core components of the programme include the 40-credit module ‘Curatorial Practices’ – taught on a weekly basis in the Barber Institute – that provides you with a full range of skills to curate an exhibition, and two single modules, 'Postgraduate Research Training and Methods' module which will help you to develop essential research skills, and 'Criticism and Methods in the History of Art and Visual Culture' which provides a theoretical foundation for your studies. 

The programme also offers you the flexibility to select a further two options from a range of complimentary practical, theoretical and historical modules. These include: a 12-week placement with a local gallery, auction house or other commercial arts organisation set up on your behalf; the application of digital technologies in art history; the theory of exhibitions; aesthetics and the philosophy of art. As a result, this unique programme will provide you with the knowledge, experience and employability skills invaluable to museum and academic sectors whilst enabling you to establish professional networks in both.

You will complete the programme with a 15,000-word dissertation, supported through one-to-one tutorials with your academic supervisor.

Why study this course

  1. Location – with teaching taking place in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts – one of the finest art galleries in the country – surrounded by works from world-renowned artists and sculptors, and located at the heart of a thriving city, we believe there is nowhere better for you to study History of Art.
  2. Join an active and vibrant student community – you will benefit from a lively, supportive and intellectually stimulating postgraduate community, providing an ideal environment in which to study. You will have the opportunity to become active members of both departmental and university-wide research communities and help plan, organise and participate in public lectures, research seminars and the History of Art annual symposia.
  3. Boost your employability skills  – you will have the opportunity to complet an optional module where you will be able to take up a part-time 12 week placement in a local art institution such as: Birmingham Museums Trust; Wolverhampton Art Gallery; RBSA; or Walsall Art Gallery.
  4. Enhance your knowledge on a range of topics - you will develop a sophisticated knowledge and understanding of a range of methods used in museum practices such as interpretation; modes of display; marketing; access and learning; administration and finance; art handling; digital technology.
  5. Extra curricular activities - The Department is home to the online Journal of Art Historiography and postgraduate students are invited to become editorial assistants. You also have the opportunity to volunteer in the Barber Institute. Read our offical blog, The Golovinefor an insight into life within the Department. 


You will study three core modules:

Curatorial Practices

The ‘Curatorial Practices’ module is team taught by both academics and gallery professionals with leading expertise in the field. You will have weekly seminars and lectures that discuss museum and gallery practice. You will learn a range of skills related to the organisation of an exhibition including marketing, interpretation and curation. The exhibition is open to the public over the summer months June- August and your team will be involved in hosting related exhibition events.

Over the past three years, the MA exhibition at the Barber Institute has been held in conjunction with loaned works from the National Portrait Gallery; a partnership that continues. As part of the ‘Curatorial Practices’ module you will make two research trips to the National Portrait Gallery to view the loans and meet curators. The costs of these trips are covered by the department.

Past MA exhibitions have included:

  • 2014 - Lasting Impressions (in collaboration and with loans from the National Portrait Gallery including Francis Bacon; Oskar Kokoschka; Eric Gill and Richard Hamilton)
  • 2013 - Defining Faces (in collaboration and with loans from the National Portrait Gallery, London)
  • 2012 - Facing the Music. Twentieth-Century Portraits of British Composers (in collaboration and with loans from the National Portrait Gallery, London)
  • 2011 - A Gem of a Game: The Roots of Lawn Tennis in the West Midlands (with loans from a private collection)

Postgraduate Research Training and Methods

This module will prepare you for the researching and writing of your dissertation, and your dissertation proposal. (Please note: You do not need to write a formal research proposal as part of the MA application process.) It is seminar-based and covers topics such as: referencing systems; writing a research proposal; literature reviews; approaching archives; oral histories.

Your dissertation topic is chosen by you, with close guidance from academic staff. Recent subjects have included topics relating to art history and/or gallery practices, such as: art forgery; art interpretation; art dealers; films and aesthetic theory; art historiography; artist and exhibition case studies; fashion plates and art journals. 

Criticism and Methods in the History of Art and Visual Culture

This module looks at the historiography, methods and theoretical underpinning of contemporary practices of artistic and visual analysis. Based on close reading of key scholarly texts, you will engage with traditional art historical methods as well as more recent approaches to the study of art and visual culture. You will be asked to consider the relevance of these methods to a range of examples, including the potential topics for your final Masters thesis.

Optional Modules 

You will also choose two optional modules from a range including:

Art History in the Field: Placements

The placement module is held in conjunction with institutions including Birmingham Museums Trust, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, RBSA and Walsall Art Gallery. This placement is organised by the department for you and you are mentored by an academic member of staff throughout its duration. The placement lasts for 12 weeks in total. The placement allows you to work on a part-time and flexible basis in a museum, gallery or auction house context and to work independently or as part of a team. You will work towards collection research, curatorial projects and/or commercial enterprises and produce a small portfolio upon which you are assessed.

Art, Heritage and Digital Cultures

Art, Heritage and Digital Cultures offers you the opportunity to engage with History of Art through the application of digital technologies. This module will introduce you to the range of technologies that are becoming available and provide practical experience with a range of them. Significantly, this module will teach you the different cultures of engagement between your own disciplines and digital cultures to understand, for example, the difference in languages used. In this way, the module will focus on the breaking down of barriers to learning and engagement with cultural information in both practical and theoretical ways, offering you the chance to develop your own digital content and to demonstrate its value within your own disciplines and beyond.

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

This module considers subjects such as: art and the nature of aesthetic experience; beauty, ugliness and the sublime; symbolism and allegory; the aesthetics of modernism. At its core is an introduction to the German aesthetic tradition, involving a close reading of foundational texts by Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel and their contemporaries in the early 19th century. It will also consider the work of subsequent authors, such as Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Mikhail Bakhtin, as well as recent and contemporary theorists and philosophers such as Paul Virilio, Jean-François Lyotard, Boris Groys, Niklas Luhmann, Brian Tschumi, Gilles Deleuze, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray. Attention will be paid not only to the conceptual arguments put forward by the thinkers in question, but also to the ways in which their theoretical tenets have underpinned the interpretation and criticism of works of art, music and literature.

Theorising and Historicising Exhibitions 

In many ways, exhibitions have been fundamental to art history, perhaps because artists have been influenced by exhibitions or have been ‘periodised’ by exhibitions (for example, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism). Arguably, art history has also been made through exhibitions. Therefore this module explores art history from the perspective of exhibitions. Such a perspective not only offers an intriguing approach that can be applied to any artist or art period (e.g. studying Michelangelo through exhibitions), but an exhibition history constitutes an obligatory part of any exhibition proposal. Therefore, this module supports both curatorial and art-historical studies.
It provides an introduction to a variety of theoretical approaches to the role of exhibitions regarding society and institutional critique (Bourdieu, Foucault, Bhabha) and to aspects that are pertinent to exhibitions, including the relevance of place and (hyper-)space for an exhibition, display, the role of curator, artist and audiences, marketing and sponsoring. Different from ‘Curatorial Practices’, which probes such aspects in order to facilitate a proposal for or the actual mounting of an exhibition, this module explores them in order to analyse past and current shows (and thus will include gallery visits). It thus complements ‘Curatorial Practices’ but can also stand alone, not requiring that students follow them as pre-requisites or co-requisites

Artists' Film and Video from the 1920s to the Present 

This module will offer an in-depth introduction of the field of twentieth century artists’ film. Starting with films by exponents of Dada and Surrealism such as Fernand Léger, Man Ray and Germaine Dulac, it will take in work by American avant-garde artists such as Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Jonas Mekas, and more contemporary artist filmmakers such as Peter Greenaway, Valie Export, David Lynch, Derek Jarman, and Steve McQueen. Appropriate theoretical material on the artistic movements represented and on the field of artists’ film and video will be supplied alongside the films themselves throughout the module.

Please note that module options vary from year to year.

Related staff

Fees and funding

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

  • Home / EU: £6,570 full-time; £3,285 part-time
  • Overseas: £14,850 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.

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.

Entry requirements

Candidates are expected to have an undergraduate degree in a related discipline with a qualification of 2:1 (or its academic equivalent). In your application, you should use your personal statement to explain why you wish to study this programme, with reference to any past and present experience you have in this subject. 

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

Please note that places on this programme are limited due to the option of taking up a professional work placement and curating a public exhibition. Due to the competitive nature of the programme, applications are being considered in rounds:

Deadlines for 2016 entry

  • Round 1 application deadline: Friday 29 January 2016
  • Round 2 application deadline: Friday 22 April 2016

Applications will be considered as a gathered field, so round 1 applicants can expect a decision as to whether they have been offered a place to study by the end of February and round 2 applicants can expect a decision by the end of May.

As we can only make offers to a limited number of applicants, those who receive an offer of a place to study will have approximately one month to accept their offer, after which time the offer will be withdrawn so that the place can be offered to another applicant.

We will continue to accept applications after Friday 22 April and these will be considered if there are any spaces left on the programme following the completion of round 2 (end of June). We will close applications as soon as the programme is full.

Advice on your application

Please ensure that your application has been completed fully by the deadline as we cannot consider your application without all of the necessary documentation (references, personal statement and results, if available). If you have outstanding documentation relating to pending language test results and degree results, please make this clear on your application, and your application will be considered.

Early applications are encouraged as the number of places available will reduce in each round. It is not necessary to wait until you have finished your current programme of study to make an application as we are able to make offers which are conditional on you achieving a particular qualification.

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

In your application, you should use your personal statement to explain why you wish to study this programme, with reference to any past and present experience you have in this subject. Candidates are expected to have an undergraduate degree in a related discipline with a qualification of 2:1 (or its academic equivalent). 

Candidates may be interviewed, either in person or via Skype, as appropriate.

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 teaching on the MA programme takes place in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which houses the Barber Institute Gallery, a valuable teaching collection, used by members of staff on a regular basis.

It is an excellent and representative collection of post-medieval European art, including paintings, engravings and drawings by artists such as Rembrandt, Turner, Van Dyck, Veronese and Vigée-LeBrun, as well as a major collection of 19th- and 20th-century works by artists such as Degas, Gauguin, Käthe Kollwitz, George Grosz, Manet, Miró, Picasso and Whistler.

The Barber Institute is home to an on-site research library which, in conjunction with the holdings of the University Main Library and the Special Collections of the Cadbury Research Library, makes Birmingham one of the best resourced Departments of History of Art in Britain.

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

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

In addition, the global edition of The New York Times has ranked the University 60th in the world and 9th in UK for post-qualification employability. The rankings illustrate the top 150 universities most frequently selected by global employers and are the result of a survey by French consulting firm Emerging and German consulting firm Trendence.

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. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; 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.

University of the Year for employability

Birmingham's History of Art graduates develop a broad range of transferable skills, including: familiarity with research methods; the ability to manage large quantities of information from diverse sources; the ability to organise information in a logical and coherent manner; the expertise to write clearly and concisely and to tight deadlines; critical and analytical ability; the capacity for argument, debate and speculation; and the ability to base conclusions on detailed research.

Our History of Art postgraduates also have the advantage of gaining hands-on experience at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts: the university's on-campus art gallery which is home to the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies.

Over the past five years, 100% of History of Art postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Many graduates enter occupations relating to gallery and museum curatorship, management and research; others pursue careers in academia. Employers that our graduates have gone on to work for include: Barber Institute of Fine Arts; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; Bodleian Library; National Portrait Gallery; Royal Birmingham Society of Artists; University of Birmingham; and Victoria and Albert Museum.

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.