MA History of Art

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

Do you want to learn about the methods of art history and how to apply them to particular historical problems?

This programme provides you with the opportunity to pursue an in-depth study of specific areas in the History of Art. The programme comprises of a series of taught 20-credit 'Special Subject' modules and a dissertation in the research area of your choice. Your dissertation is supported by a supervisor and is 15,000 words in length.

Your studies will be supported by two core modules in critical theory and research methodologies. The taught module options offered each year on the MA will allow you to either choose from a range of subject areas and historical periods in the History of Art, or to specialise in early modern or modern and contemporary artistic periods.

Katie Hall

Katie Hall

“I found the History of Art course very interesting and intellectually stimulating, and it was taught by excellent lecturers. It was also fantastic to be based in the Barber Institute and to have the opportunity to put on an exhibition there as part of the course. The University had opportunities for internships and volunteering in different cultural organisations, which really helped me to develop my skills after graduating.”
Ask Katie a question

You will study two core modules:

  • Criticism and Methods in the History of Art and Visual Culture
  • Postgraduate Research Training and Methods 

The specialised research skills module prepares you for writing your dissertation.

You will also study three Special Subject modules and one further 20-credit module. Further module information is available below.

The programme culminates in a 15,000-word dissertation in a research area that you choose with the guidance of academic staff.

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. Taught by experts – our staff are active scholars with national and international reputations, publishing books and articles on their specialist fields. They organise and contribute to conferences and exhibitions at international venues, such as the Royal Academy, the Huntington Library in California, the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin and the Cleveland Museum of Art. 
  4. Facilities and resources - Most of 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. 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.
  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. 

MA History of Art alumna Katie Hall describes her experiences of studying the programme:


You will study two core modules:

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.

Postgraduate Research Training and Methods

This specialised module prepares you for both writing and researching your dissertation. It covers topics such as: referencing systems; writing a research proposal; literature reviews; approaching archives; and oral histories. 

You will also choose three Special Subject modules. These could include:

  • Art and Revolution in France, 1789-1848
  • Fashioning Flesh and Technology: Modernism and the Body in Germany 1918-1933
  • Inside Out. Interiors and Interiority in French Art, Design and Visual Culture 1840-1940
  • Michelangelo
  • Paris Moderne 1980-1930: Image, Myth, Femininity 
  • Postcolonial Readings in Contemporary Art
  • Prague, Budapest, Cracow 1867 - 1918
  • The Destruction of Images: Iconoclasm from the World until Today 
  • Women and Artistic Culture in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period

You will also choose one further 20-credit modules from a range including:

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

This module consists of a critical examination of topics in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. It considers subjects such as: art and the nature of aesthetic experience; beauty, ugliness and the sublime; symbolism and allegory; the aesthetics of modernism.

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.

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. You will have the opportunity to work on material relevant to History of Art and Visual Studies. 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.

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.

The Special Subjects and 20-credit module options may 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

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.

Entry requirements

Learn more about 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

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

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Most of 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.