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 modules from a variety of literary periods and genres, or take one of a number of pathways, each focusing on a different historical period or genre, spanning the medieval through to the contemporary.

Please note: We offer an additional opportunity to specialise in medieval literature via the MA Medieval Studies.

Virtual Open Day: Postgraduate opportunities in English Literature - 26 February 2019, 14:00-15:00


Join us online to watch a range of staff and student videos, and take part in our online chat where Dr Chris Mourant and Dr Matthew Ward will be answering your questions about postgraduate study.

Find out more and register

College of Arts and Law postgraduate scholarships available

The College of Arts and Law is offering a range of scholarships for our postgraduate taught and research programmes to ensure that the very best talent is nurtured and supported.

Learn more about our scholarships

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 core and optional modules taken across the autumn and spring semesters.

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 genre, 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
  • Early Modern Studies pathway: Approaching Early Modern Texts; New Directions in Early Modern Studies: Renaissance to Restoration
  • The Long Nineteenth Century pathway: Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Studies; Nineteenth-Century Voices
  • 20th and 21st Century Literature: Modernism; Contemporary Literature
  • Popular Fiction pathway: Cultures of Popular Literature; Evolutions of Popular Literature

All pathways also include two compulsory modules in Research Skills and Dissertation Preparation. For full descriptions, see 'modules' below.

The final core component of the programme is a written dissertation. 

Optional modules

You will choose two 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, one of your options can be taken from outside your literary pathway. If you are following a more general route through the degree you can pick optional modules from any pathway.


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, with support from a supervisor. 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 2018 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.


Core modules for all pathways

Two modules in Research Skills and Dissertation Preparation are core to all pathways, and for students taking a general route through the programme:

Research Skills

This 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

Dissertation Preparation

This module builds on the skills developed in the Research Skills module. It is designed to support you in developing your dissertation research topic, and to equip you with the skills and experience that you need to present and communicate your research to an academic audience. The module will develop your ability to structure and present research effectively in different formats, and your confidence in speaking to an audience and responding to questions. You will be supported by individual supervisory tutorials with your project advisor, lectures in poster and oral presentation techniques, and weekly group writing sessions. The mid-module poster presentation and end of module MA conference will give you the opportunity to participate in different modes of research presentation, to discuss your work with academics and fellow MA students, and to demonstrate presentational skills demanded by employers as well as by a career in academic research.
Assessment: Research poster and 15-minute conference presentation

You will also take two core pathway modules, either from the same pathway if you are specialising in a literary period/genre, or from different pathways if you are taking a general route through the degree:

Medieval pathway core modules

Meeting Medieval Manuscripts 

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 

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

Early Modern Studies pathway core modules

Approaching Early Modern Texts

This module will introduce you to core skills and critical frameworks underpinning early modern literary studies. You will learn essential skills for their own research, such as how to work with material texts in print and manuscript, as well as how these can be used for reading and analysing texts. Case studies will be determined at the tutor’s discretion, but will facilitate larger conversations about our practices and approaches as scholars of early modern literature (conversation topics could be as varied as approaches to the archive, book history, or the methodological utility of affective and sensory approaches). This module will help you to identify your own specific interests and acquire tools for independent research into early modern literature. 
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

New Directions in Early Modern Studies: Renaissance to Restoration

This module provides a theme- and topic-based survey of early modern literature (1580-1700) (excluding Shakespeare). Drawing on both traditional and contemporary theoretical scholarship, it considers material 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. This module engages with the political, religious, and literary cultures of the early modern period, and may pursue topics including (for example): performance, textual production and circulation, women’s writing, and transnational literatures.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

The Long Nineteenth Century pathway core modules

Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Studies 

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

Nineteenth-Century Voices

This module considers how writing of the long-nineteenth century (c.1775-1914) records and responds to evolving impressions and understanding of the inner life: of individuals, places, and nations. The module will be delivered in thematic clusters that present students with a range of genres, including prose, poetry, and drama. Each cluster will explore the period’s diverse identities and the ways in which they are constituted and expressed in literature and the arts. Topics covered might include Voice and Feeling, Comedy / Humour, Colonial Voices, Spiritualism, Silences, Regional and National Voices, Political Representations, Style, Voices of Alterity.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

20th and 21st Century Literature pathway core modules


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

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

Popular Fiction pathway core modules

Cultures of Popular Literature

How can Popular Literature help us to think about literature, our selves, and the world in which we live? Can popular writing be studied with the ‘standard’ tools of literary criticism, or does it provoke slightly different questions? And how has popular writing figured in wider debates about literary value in the last 100 years? This module introduces you to some of the major theorists of Popular Literature, situating your thinking alongside up-to-the-minute arguments about the best ways to approach this enormous, important, and historically neglected sector of culture. We will interrogate the legacy of distinctions between "highbrow" and "lowbrow" writing, theories of mass culture, critical appraisals of production, marketing and readership, and how approaches to popular fiction intertwine with discussions of gender, race, environment and globalisation. Writers and theorists discussed on this module may include Stuart Hall, Angela McRobbie, John Clute, Michael Saler, Ursula Le Guin, bell hooks, John Carey, Curtis White, Theodor Adorno, and Roland Barthes. This module will equip you to move beyond subjective or historical readings of the popular, encouraging attentive, detailed, and respectful engagement with a wide range of texts.
Assessment: Portfolio of written work totalling 4,000 words

Evolutions of Popular Literature

From medieval myth to contemporary page-turners, this module examines the evolutions of popular literature across six centuries of literary production. Taking a long historical view, we will venture back in time beyond the explosion of mass media in the Victorian era, tracing the emergence of central tropes and concerns that laid the foundations for tastes and pleasures popularised during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Over the course of the semester we’ll work through different chronological eras, with each week examining a significant moment in the development and transmutation of popular literature. Key topics may include Norse mythology and Arthurian legend, courtship and adventure in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the development of genres such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, popular romance, and detective fiction. With a detailed focus on narratives of work, pleasure, and leisure that continue to resonate in the contemporary moment, this module will offer a rigorous historical framework for evaluating new iterations of old stories as they continue to burst onto the page and into our lives.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Optional modules

A number of optional modules will be on offer each year, across all pathways. If you are taking a pathway through the degree, one of your options can be taken from outside your literary period. If you are taking a general route through the degree, you will be free to choose from across the whole range of optional modules.

An indicative list of optional modules, based on those offered in 2018/19: 

Medieval pathway options

  • Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy
  • From Cover to Cover: Histories of the Book
  • Magic, Monsters and Marvels in the Medieval World
  • Mapping the Middle Ages: Cultural Encounters in the Medieval East and West

Early Modern Studies pathway options

  • Flourish for the Players (Shakespeare’s Contemporaries)
  • From Cover to Cover: Histories of the Book
  • Shakespeare's Craftsmanship

Long Nineteenth Century pathway options

  • Alternative Facts: Genre, Historicism, and the Fantasy of Other Pasts
  • Law and Literature
  • Literature in the Age of Evolution
  • Nineteenth-Century Detective Fiction
  • Nineteenth-Century Senses
  • Rude Britannia: 1660-1830
  • Studies in Nineteenth-Century Single Author

20th and 21st Century pathway options

  • African American Freedom: 20th Century Literature and Visual Culture
  • After the Deluge: Writing and Recovery after the First World War
  • Alternative Facts: Genre, Historicism, and the Fantasy of Other Pasts
  • Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy
  • Guilty Pleasures: Reading the Historical Romance
  • Islamophobia and the Novel
  • Law and Literature
  • Material Worlds: Archive, Images, Interface
  • Modern American Poetry
  • Modernist Fiction and Ethics
  • The Modern Short Story

Popular Fiction pathway options

  • Alternative Facts: Genre, Historicism, and the Fantasy of Other Pasts
  • Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy
  • From Cover to Cover: Histories of the Book
  • Guilty Pleasures: Reading the Historical Romance
  • Magic, Monsters and Marvels in the Medieval World
  • Nineteenth-Century Detective Fiction

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


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:

  • UK / EU: £9,250 full-time; £4,625 part-time
  • International: £17,910 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 2019-20 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 2019-20 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.

Application deadlines

International students requiring visas

Monday 1 July 2019 is the application deadline for international students who require a visa to study in the United Kingdom. We are not able to consider applications for 2019 made after this date - a new application should be made for September 2020. Applications will reopen for 2020 entry in early October 2019.

UK/EU students

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

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.

Course delivery

We have two teaching terms per year, the autumn term and spring term. Term dates can be found on our website.

As a full-time student, you will typically take three modules in each term, followed by your dissertation. Depending on the modules you take, you can typically expect six hours of classroom time per week, two per module. If you are 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, homework and assignment preparation.

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 five years, over 97% 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, 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.


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.