History MA by distance learning

Are you interested in taking your knowledge of history to a higher level?

Do you want to add to your repertoire of skills? Or maybe you want to continue your professional development? 

This two-year distance learning programme offers you the opportunity to explore a number of historical themes, drawing on the Department of History’s broad range of expertise. You may pursue one of four pathways through the MA: Contemporary History, Global History, Medieval Studies, or Modern British Studies. This will determine your choice of core modules and the theme of your dissertation, but you also have the opportunity to study two optional modules in other areas which suit your particular interest. 

Dr Daniel Whittingham

Dr Daniel Whittingham

“The dissertation is an exciting opportunity for people to go in-depth into their chosen area of study. You write a dissertation on a topic of your choice. You get to work with the supervisor who is an expert in the field, so I would say this is the most rewarding part of the experience, and something really to look forward to.”

You will follow one of four pathways through this MA: Contemporary History, Global History, Medieval Studies, or Modern British Studies.

Course content

Each pathway has two specific core modules:

  • Contemporary History: Mass Society and Modernity 1914-1945; Globalisation since 1945
  • Global History: Global Histories: Comparisons and Connections; The Making of the World: Themes in Global History
  • Medieval Studies: Approaches to Medieval Studies; Understanding Medieval Documents
  • Modern British Studies: New Directions in Modern British History; Sites and Sources in Modern British Studies

Two additional core modules are common to all pathways:

  • Historical Methods: Research Skills
  • Research Methods and Skills: Dissertation Preparation

You will also choose two optional modules from the other pathways of this programme. Medieval Studies students can take either of the Global History core modules, or a bespoke Medieval Warfare module. Other students may choose options from any pathway.

Further module information is available below.


Modules are assessed by written assignment. You will also complete a 15,000-word dissertation on a topic of your choice, but which is related to your chosen pathway.

Why study this course

  • Research expertise – Times Higher Education ranked the Department of History first in the country for its performance in the latest Research Excellence Framework exercise.
  • Excellent reputation – the University of Birmingham has been ranked as one of the world's top 100 institutions to study History in the 2019 QS World University Rankings.
  • Flexibility – you will have an exciting opportunity to explore your chosen area of study in depth, through your choice of optional modules and dissertation topic. 
  • Career changing – a qualification from the University of Birmingham can be the springboard to promotion with your current employer, the platform from which to launch a new career or simply a way to become more effective in your current role.
  • Ongoing support – you will be assigned a personal tutor who will guide and support you throughout the programme


Core modules: pathway-specific

You will study two core modules which are specific to the pathway you are studying:

Contemporary History pathway

  • Mass Society and Modernity 1914-1945 
    The module examines various aspects of the first half of the twentieth century, focussing particularly—but not only—on Europe and America. It examines the rise of mass society and modernity as social and cultural phenomena; the rise of mass politics in Europe, America, and beyond; the phenomenon of mass statelessness; the main strands of authoritarian ideology and liberal democracy; mass mobilisation in war and politics; economic and military conflict; and the growing ascendancy of the United States.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay
  • Globalisation since 1945 
    The module examines various aspects of global history in the second half of the 20th century. It takes its cue from a growing but often problematic literature which sees 'globalisation' as a key feature of global history over the last half century. It will begin by examining the key institutions of a 'new world order' built after the Second World War; in particular, those connected to the United Nations and Bretton Woods. It will then explore the interplay of key actors: inter-governmental organisations; nation states (especially, the USA, the USSR and the non-aligned); multinational corporations and non-governmental organisations.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Global History pathway

  • Global Histories: Comparisons and Connections 
    This module is an introductory survey of global history. It will draw on considerable chronological depth and regional breadth in order to present you with a truly global perspective. Content will range from the decline and fall of ancient empires, such as Rome and China, through new medieval empires in Afro-Eurasia, early modern voyages of exploration to the age of revolutions which gave birth to new nations in the midst of global political ruptures.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay
  • The Making of the World: Themes in Global History 

    This module is conceived around some of the major processes that shaped history and the key concepts that historians use to make sense of the past. Using case studies of considerable regional breadth and chronological depth, you will familiarise yourself with the building blocks of past and present societies. These key processes and themes include: the importance of the environment in human history; issues of space, geography and the formation of border regions; time and temporality; religion and notions of value; and historically and culturally diverse constructions of subjectivity and social order including gender, sexuality, class, race, and ethnicity. The module ends with an in-depth look at a key text bringing many of these themes together, Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Medieval Studies pathway

  • Approaches to Medieval Studies
    Medieval Studies is a field to which many different disciplines contribute. The aim of this module is to expose you to approaches to the medieval past from a range of disciplines (such as archaeology, history, language and literature, art history, etc.), in order to enable you to discuss and compare various approaches, and critically assess their utility for your own research. Seminars will also deal with a selection of contemporary critical and cultural theories and associated modes of analysis.
  • Understanding Medieval Documents
    This module will introduce you to the study of medieval documents in their original, unedited forms. The first five weeks of the module will cover some of the basic formulae found in administrative documents, and the second half of the module will focus on the basics of palaeography (common abbreviations; different hands). By the end of the module you should be able to identify and translate some of the basic formulae found in charters and administrative documents.

Modern British Studies pathway

  • New Directions in Modern British History
    This module will expose you to some of the key debates and moments in Modern British Studies and its associated historiography. There are difficulties in identifying organising narratives for understanding modern Britain. How do we write history that remains intellectually inclusive, avoids privileging historic and contemporary historiographical concerns and creates conversations that cut across regional, temporal and disciplinary boundaries? This module will introduce you to historical works that have stimulated new visions the past and its role in public life. If British society and culture has changed, so has the way that historians have approached and conceptualised it. While the module focuses on a series of key interventions, we will situate these in the context of broader debates about Modern Britain.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay
  • Sites and Sources in Modern British Studies
    This module goes beyond thinking about Britain in terms of the great and the good and introduces you to rich and diverse sources through which historians have tried to understand the contours of everyday life in the past. The module will enable you to capture the pluralistic and inchoate messiness of ordinary life and historical change. A seaside postcard can be just as useful to a historian as a work of art. It is a module that will give you grounding in the interpretation of different sources and the problems and possibilities these present in studying the past.
    Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Core modules: all pathways

You will also take two core modules in research and dissertation preparation:

Historical Methods 

This module introduces you to 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, the linguistic turn, gender and critical social theory. The focus is on the application of ideas to historical practice, investigating how medievalists, early-modernists and modernists have adapted these approaches to their particular field of study.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Research Methods and Skills: Dissertation Preparation

This module covers what the dissertation project will entail. You will be expected to produce a short dissertation proposal for submission and you will be allocated a tutor who will supervise your dissertation preparation work.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Optional modules

Your remaining two modules are optional.

Medieval Studies pathway

Medieval Studies students can take either of the two Global History modules (Global Histories: Comparisons and Connections; The Making of the World: Themes in Global History) or the bespoke Medieval Warfare module:

  • Medieval Warfare
    This module will introduce you to medieval military tactics, technologies and theories of warfare in the period c.400-c.1500. You will explore case studies and primary source material (in translation) from across the medieval world, from Tang China to al-Andalus, and from theories of the Just War to the development of fortifications and siege engines. Seminar topics may include: Barbarians and Romans; Slaves on Horses (the rise of the Caliphate); Gunpowder, Treason and Plots (Tang China); Carolingian warfare from Charles Martel to Charles the Fat; Alfred the Great; the Norman Conquest; the Crusades; From Genghis Khan to the Golden Horde; the Hundred Years’ War.

All other pathways

Students may choose from any of the other core pathway modules. Other modules may be available in any given year. 


In addition to your taught modules, you will conduct a piece of independent research with the support of a supervisor, culminating in a 15,000-word dissertation.

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 2019/20 are as follows: £4,625 part-time.

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

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.

Entry requirements

You will need an Honours degree in a relevant subject, normally of an upper second-class standard.

International students

Academic requirements: We accept a range of qualifications from different countries - our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements: standard language requirements apply for this course - IELTS 6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any band, or PTE with 59 in all four skills. If you are made an offer of a place to study and you do not meet the language requirement, you have the option to enrol on our English for Academic Purposes Presessional Course - if you successfully complete the course, you will be able to fulfil the language requirement without retaking a language qualification.

Learn more about international entry requirements

How to apply

Please clearly state in your application (at the top of your ‘Personal Statement’) which pathway you are applying for: Contemporary History, Global History, Medieval Studies, or Modern British Studies.

Application deadlines

Please apply by Friday 30 August 2019. However, we would encourage you to apply at the earliest opportunity, to allow adequate time to prepare for starting your studies once receiving a decision on your application.

Late applicants are encouraged to contact the Admissions Tutor for advice.

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

Although much of the course is delivered through our ‘virtual learning environment,’ support is always available.

You will have a personal tutor and dissertation supervisor to guide you and answer any questions, and you have access to a wide range of online resources too.

You also have the opportunity to meet other students and academic staff through online chats and discussion forums.

Course delivery

As a part-time student, you will typically take three modules across each year, followed by your dissertation. Each module represents a total of 200 hours of study time, including preparatory reading, assignment preparation and independent study.

Further information on distance learning

For more information on distance learning including answers to frequently asked questions, student experiences and funding opportunities, please see our distance learning website

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 local support.

In addition to a range of campus-based events and workshops, Careers Network provides extensive online resources, and 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: History

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, 93% 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, museums or the armed forces; others use their transferable skills in a range of occupations from finance to fundraising. Employers that graduates have gone on to work for include: Royal Air Force; Ministry of Defence; University of Birmingham; Royal Air Force Museum; and University of Oxford.