MA Renaissance, Reformation and Early Modern Studies

Are you interested in exploring the history of sixteenth and seventeenth century British, European and the Wider World?

The MA in Renaissance, Reformation and Early Modern Studies, taught out of the Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS), is taught by leading scholars whose expertise covers the cultural and religious landscape of the late-medieval world, the Catholic and Protestant Reformations, new world discoveries and the political and cultural worlds of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England and Europe. It combines political, religious, social, cultural and material approaches to introduce the early modern period in all its richness and complexity, and to equip students with the knowledge and skills to take a fresh look at early modern history.

This gives you a rich variety of options, and a wide range of possibilities for your dissertation topic. The programme also offers comprehensive research training opportunities, providing the ideal grounding to undertake a PhD in this area.

The subject has becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, with researchers drawing on the insights of anthropology, sociology, cultural and literary studies, art history, and musicology, as well as history.

Topics such as violence, clothing, gender, exploration, art, drama, music, buildings and material culture have come to be seen as crucial to understanding the transformations that were taking place across the period c.1500-c.1700. These new approaches are integral to the teaching and research training provided on this course. There is also an annual field trip, designed to explore key themes and issues outside of the classroom, in the context of key buildings, documents and historical artefacts. 

You will study two core modules in early modern history (full descriptions available below):

  • Introduction to Early Modern History 
  • Writing Early Modern History: Sources and Approaches 

You will also study the department's core module in 'Historical Methods', take a module in research preparation, and choose from a range of optional modules, including special subjects, advanced options, and further research training. Finally, you will complete a 15,000-word dissertation on an agreed topic which relates to the history of any of the areas covered by the course.

Why study this course

  1. Research centre - Birmingham’s Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) makes it the ideal place to study early modern history. There is a thriving and active community of postgraduates, a lively research seminar programme, and excellent connections to early modern expertise in other schools and departments including English, the Shakespeare Institute and History of Art. The West Midlands and Birmingham are rich in associations with the history of the early modern period. The regional cathedrals (Lichfield, Gloucester and Worcester) and parish churches still reflect many of the religious changes of the period; the country houses and castles (such as Kenilworth and Warwick) offer fascinating insights into its material culture; and nearby Warwick and Stratford Upon Avon contain wonderful examples of early modern domestic and religious architecture.
  2. Location -The West Midlands and Birmingham are rich in associations with the history of the early modern period. The regional cathedrals (Lichfield, Gloucester and Worcester) and parish churches still reflect many of the religious changes of the period; the country houses and castles (such as Kenilworth and Warwick) offer fascinating insights into its material culture; and nearby Warwick and Stratford Upon Avon contain wonderful examples of early modern domestic and religious architecture.
  3. Structure of programme - This MA is designed to give you a firm grounding in current themes and debates in early modern history, with a focus on the key ideas and concepts which defined sixteenth- and seventeenth-century religion, politics, culture and society, as well as the sources which are essential to understanding and writing the history of the period.
  4. Flexibility - A wide range of options allow you to specialise in an area of your choice, and comprehensive training opportunities will help to prepare you to embark upon a significant research project. In recent years, scholars have moved beyond a traditional, narrow concern with elite religion and high politics to explore the cultural, material and social histories of the early modern period, including the Renaissance and the Reformation. 
  5. Fantastic resources available - Birmingham has excellent resources for this programme. The library is particularly strong in early modern history, religious history and local history materials, and the university’s Special Collections contain a wide range of early printed books, especially sixteenth and seventeenth century sermon material. CREMS also provides students with access to cutting edge electronic resources, including Early English Books Online, all four parts of State Papers Online, and the Cecil Papers. The microfilm resources include a large collection of early Reformation ‘flugschriften’. Students also have use of the Shakespeare Institute’s excellent research library in Stratford–upon-Avon, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library and Record Office, and the on-campus resources of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Birmingham is also centrally located in the UK, within easy reach of archives in London, Oxford, and elsewhere.


You will study two core modules in early modern history:

Introduction to Early Modern History 

In the first semester, this module offers a broad introduction to early modern history, and in particular to some of the main historical and historiographical debates which are key to understanding sixteenth- and seventeenth-century society, culture, politics and religion.  This will include important concepts surrounding religious and popular belief, the early-modern state, gender and sexuality, material culture, and the non-European world. As such, it will provide you with a broad knowledge base to draw upon as you begin thinking about the area of early modern history you would like to focus on.

Writing Early Modern History: Sources and Approaches 

In the second semester, this module introduces in more detail the hands-on study of early modern history by interrogating a range of important sources, from ecclesiastical documents and court records, through state papers, printed books, diaries and letters to maps, music, and visual and material approaches.  These sessions will familiarise you with important practical and methodological issues, as well as giving a sense of how these kinds of material have been used by historians to enhance our understanding of the past.

You will also study two other core modules: 

Historical Methods 

This module, which runs throughout the autumn semester, is your chance to meet students from across the range of masters programmes offered within the department, from ancient and medieval through to modern and contemporary history.  Together, you will consider the key approaches, theories and concepts that have shaped historical practice since the Second World War. These include developments such as the Annales School, historians’ response to Marxism and to anthropological theory, cultural history, the linguistic turn, gender and critical social theory.  The focus is on the application of ideas to historical practice. You will investigate how early-modernists have adapted these theories and methods to their particular field of study. 

Research Preparation 

This module, which consists of a number of different elements, runs throughout the academic year, and provides important training and support as you develop your research skills, and devise your own unique dissertation topic. In the autumn you will receive intensive training in palaeography (reading old handwriting), and in the spring you will be allocated to a supervisor, who will help prepare you to give an oral presentation on your dissertation topic, alongside an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and an outline dissertation plan. 

You will also choose 40 credits of optional modules: either a special subject, a pair of advanced options, or an advanced option and further training, such as a foreign language, or a relevant module from another department (such as classics, art history, English etc):

Please note: In previous years, students have studied optional modules in the following areas. The availability of modules changes annually. Please contact the programme convenor for the most up-to-date information. 

Special Subjects: 

  • Protestants, Papists and Puritans: Religious Change under Elizabeth I and James I
  • Histories of Hate: Fear and Loathing in Early Modern Europe
  • A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects
  • The English Civil War and Local Society

Advanced Options: 

  • Toleration and Persecution in Early Modern Europe
  • Piracy, Plunder, Peoples and Exploitation: English Exploration in the Tudor Period
  • Religion and Religious Change in England during the reign of Elizabeth I
  • Witchcraft, Magic and Power in Early Modern Europe

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

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

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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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The Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) provides a focus for research in this area at Birmingham.

Its leading members have a high international research profile, making this one of Britain’s largest clusters of expertise in this area. The Centre also has a regular seminar series, which will support and inform your learning. This includes an annual lecture (past speakers have included Diarmaid MacCulloch, Peter Lake, Mark Greengrass, Andrew Pettegree, Ulinka Rublack and Susan Brigden) and an ongoing programme of conferences.

CREMS also has particularly close links with the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon which provides a focus for a full range of seminars, conferences and research activities related to the study of the literary history of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

During your course, you will receive thorough training in research methods relating to the history of this period, including instruction in palaeography to enable you to read original manuscripts, training in various languages as required, and a regular seminar that explores interdisciplinary approaches to the theory and practice of research.

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 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.

Birmingham’s History graduates develop a broad range of transferable skills that are highly valued by a range of employers. These skills include: 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 statistical research.

Over the past five years, over 92% of History postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Some of our History postgraduates go on to use their studies directly, for example in heritage, museum or archivist work. Others use their transferable skills in a range of occupations from finance to civil service to fundraising. Employers that graduates have gone on to work for include: Alcester Heritage Network; HSBC; KPMG; Ministry of Defence; and the National Trust.

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.