MA Art History and Curating

Start date
1 year full-time; 2 years part-time
Course Type
Postgraduate, Taught

Annual tuition fees for 2022 entry:
UK: £9,810 full-time
International: £20,430 full-time
More detail.

Are you fascinated by visual culture and exhibition practice? Do you want to pursue a career in the gallery and arts sectors? 

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 develop a curatorial project such as a public exhibition. Our recent partners have included the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, in a unique partnership with the Royal Collection Trust, and Grand Union, an Arts Council England Portfolio organisation, working with contemporary artists (See previous student projects here)*. 

This unique programme enables you to develop the theoretical knowledge and practical skills required to conduct original research into art objects and the history, theory and practice of curating historic and contemporary artworks.

As a result of the range of modules and practical experience offered, this unique programme will provide you with the knowledge, experience and employability skills invaluable to the museum, commercial and academic sectors whilst enabling you to establish professional networks in both.

Please note: There are specific application deadlines for this programme.  Please see 'How to apply' in course details for more information. It is advisable to apply early, as this programme is very popular and has a limited number of places.

*The scope of the curatorial project forming part of the Curatorial Practices B module may be restricted due to implications of Covid-19, as may the identities of our exhibition partners.


Resilience, leadership and confidence. I earned and developed those skills in my programme which will help me start my career and be confident about my knowledge and work as a curator. All modules offered me the possibility to be critical of what I see and read which was one of the most valuable skills we were taught.

Rafailia Thiraiou, MA Art History and Curating

Why study this course?

  • Location – teaching takes place primarily in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts – one of the finest art galleries in the country – surrounded by works from world-renowned artists, from Jan Steen to Rodin. The University’s unique campus, where you find its rich collections, study and learning spaces, cafés, restaurants and shops, outdoor and indoor sports facilities in proximity to each other (so you can study and play hard), is located at the heart of a thriving city. Birmingham has  a vibrant portfolio of established and emerging art galleries and arts organisations, and the city itself is in the middle of England, allowing easy access to London and beyond  (it has an international airport as well as an outstanding public transport with the University having its own train station).
  • 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. 
  • Enhance your knowledge on a range of topics – you will develop sophisticated knowledge and understanding of a range of themes and theoretical discourses related to museum and art gallery  practice, such as art interpretation; modes of display; marketing; access and learning; administration and finance; and art handling.
  • Extracurricular activities – Read our official blog, The Golovinefor an insight into life within the Department. You will have the opportunity to volunteer at the Barber Institute and regional art galleries and museums. After a long day of study, you can stretch and relax at the university’s Munrow Sports Centre on campus (with smaller venues nearby), which has been praised for its outstanding facilities and high quality equipment that includes a large gym and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

The postgraduate experience

The College of Arts and Law offers excellent support to its postgraduates, from libraries and research spaces, to careers support and funding opportunities. Learn more about your postgraduate experience.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest updates and FAQs for future students and offer-holders

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You will study four core modules and two optional modules before completing your 15,000 word dissertation.

Core modules

You will study four core modules:

Curatorial Practices A

This module introduces students to key concepts and theoretical approaches in curatorial practice. Set readings and seminar discussions explore topics which might include museums and galleries as sites of power, the role of the curator, the role of exhibitions, the relationship between curating and art history, and how objects acquire meaning through display.

Students are also introduced to their curatorial project and work as a group on this in conjunction with staff members from the partner institutions. By the end of term each group will have researched and established their project theme and, in the case of an exhibition, their list of loans or artists, and considered further aspects of their exhibition, including layout and public programming. These ideas will be presented and critiqued in group presentations attended by gallery and academic staff.

Students are taught by both academic staff and gallery professionals. Participation in the curatorial project will require willingness to take part in regular meetings (of which 10 hours count towards the module’s contact time).
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Curatorial Practices B

Whereas Curatorial Practices A introduces students to key concepts in curatorial practice, Curatorial Practices B focuses on related practical skills and critical approaches. Topics might include exhibition administration, interpretation, communication and marketing, public programming and public learning.

Students develop their knowledge of these topics in seminars taught by both academic staff and gallery professionals. They also work in conjunction with staff members from the partner institutions to implement aspects of their related project. This might include gallery text and press releases, object layout and exhibition design. This will require willingness to take part in regular meetings (of which 10 hours count towards the module’s contact). As the project is produced in a professional museum or gallery environment, deadlines can be subject to change.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Please note: Once you have accepted your offer and met your offer conditions, you will be sent a form to choose your preferred exhibition partner for the Curatorial Practices modules. Where possible, we will give you your first choice, but there is a limit to the number of students each gallery can accommodate. The identities of our exhibition partners may be further impacted by the situation caused by Covid-19.

Postgraduate Research Training and Methods A & B

This module introduces students at Masters level to a range of research skills needed to write a dissertation on their specific programme, as well as core, generic employability skills. It contains a number of staff-taught sessions on how to write a literature review, use the Internet for research and how to craft a research proposal. The first part of the module (A) will be taught in Semester 1, followed by the second part (B) in Semester 2.
Assessment: Written assignment and presentation

Criticism and Methods in the History of Art and Visual Culture

This module looks at the historiography, methods and theoretical underpinning of practices of art-historical 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 of their own developing ideas for your final thesis.
Assessment: Presentation

Optional modules

The programme also offers you the flexibility to select a further two options from a range of complementary practical, theoretical and historical modules, including a placement with a local gallery or other arts organisation. Module choices include:

Placements: Art History in the Field*

The placement module is held in conjunction with institutions including Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Royal Birmingham Society of Art and the New Art Gallery Walsall. More information on our placement providers.

This placement is organised by the department for you and you are mentored by an academic member of staff throughout its duration. The placement allows you to work on a part-time and flexible basis in a museum, gallery or arts organisation and to work independently or as part of a team. You will work towards a specific area such as collection research, exhibition development, learning and engagement, or social media. The placements take place in either the autumn or spring semester, and are for a day a week over 11 weeks. Unlike placements that you may have organised before, this placement is accompanied by an academic tutor, who will help you reflect on the placement.
Assessment: 4,000-word-essay

*Due to the situation caused by Covid-19, it is not yet confirmed if the Placements module will be running for 2021 entry. Applicants to this programme will be informed of the modules status as and when more information is available. Nevertheless, we will endeavour to offer you any placements that our partners in the museums and galleries in the West Midlands will provide, share the many contacts we have to find you a placement and help you with regular Careers events and advice to increase your employability. 

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, notably Arthur Schopenhauer. It will also consider the work of subsequent authors, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno. 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.
Assessment: Two 2,000-word essays

What is British Art?

What exactly is British art, and how does it relate to national identity? This module provides a broad overview of developments in British art from c.1760 to the present. It questions and unpacks this art historical category, by examining the key debates and writings that have shaped our understanding and definition of British art. It engages with the ways in which the boundaries of British art are increasingly being redrawn, as art historians integrate Britain’s imperial past and postcolonial present into the study of British art.

The module will consider the ways in which British art has been made, exhibited, experienced, conceptualised and contested. It will examine the breadth of British art, notably painting and sculpture, but also photography, the decorative arts, and more recent conceptual approaches. Students will engage directly with artworks through visits to relevant collections.

The module’s broad chronological sweep encompasses a diverse set of ideas related to British art. Topics might include: art and empire; ‘English’ or ‘British’?; collecting and exhibiting British art; writing British art; the Royal Academy and the creation of the ‘British school’; researching British Art; queering British art; and new narratives in British art history. (Read more about this module)
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Exhibition Cultures

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 and to aspects that are pertinent to exhibitions, including the relevance of place and space for an exhibition, display, the role of curator, artist and audiences. It therefore complements ‘Curatorial Practices’, which probes such aspects in order to facilitate the actual mounting of an exhibition, this module explores them in order to analyse past and current shows (and thus will include gallery visits).
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Made in Birmingham: Art and Urban Space

Birmingham provides a centre of gravity for exploring and applying key issues and debates in urban space and in British art. Birmingham played a pivotal role in the industrial revolution and the British Empire, and the module will consider those industrial and imperial histories, and their continuing legacy in Britain’s second city.
Birmingham, and the Midlands more broadly, hold internationally significant collections of British art, notably the Pre-Raphaelite collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; 20th century collections at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery and The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery, Coventry; photographic collections at Birmingham Library and the University of Birmingham. Using these collections, the module will consider the ways in which the arts were made, exhibited, experienced, conceptualised and contested in Birmingham. Topics might include: art and industry; artist’s societies (RBSA); Pre-Raphaelites; Arts and Crafts; Pop Art; Black British art; photography; centre/periphery; local/global; art and empire; art and religion; architecture; and art and urban regeneration.

Assessment: one research portfolio focused on an object produced in the Midlands, comprising a 2,000 word essay, annotated bibliography, and a selection of annotated visual and contextual sources.


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.


We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2022 are as follows:

  • UK: £9,810 full-time; £4,905 part-time
  • International: £20,430 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 or international fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students

Paying your fees

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Are you an international applicant?

All international applicants to this course will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit of £2,000 on receipt of an offer, to secure their place.

Find out more about the deposit >>.

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.

How To Apply

Please note: 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, with application deadlines for 2022 entry as follows:

  • Round 1 application deadline: Friday 19 November 2021
  • Round 2 application deadline: Friday 24 January 2022
  • Round 3 application deadline: Friday 15 April 2022
  • Round 4 application deadline: Thursday 1 July 2022 (Overseas and EU Students only)
  • Final application deadline: Friday 15 July 2022 (UK and Ireland students only)

Please note: Most funding deadlines fall in spring, and funding applications usually need to be considered alongside an application to study. Applicants seeking funding are therefore encouraged to apply in rounds 1 or 2.

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 December, round 2 applicants can expect a decision by the end of March, round 3 applicants can expect a decision by the end of June and round 4 applicants can expect a decision by the end of July.

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.

All applicants will receive a decision on their application by mid-August 2022, unless notified otherwise.

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.

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

Our Standard Requirements

You will need an Honours degree in History of Art or a cognate Humanities subject, of an upper second-class standard or higher (or its academic equivalent). Candidates holding degrees in other disciplines (e.g. broader Arts subjects) will only be considered if they can demonstrate interest and experience in History of Art, e.g. through studying relevant modules and/or undertaking related work experience.

Personal statement: You should use your personal statement to explain why you wish to study this programme, and your suitability for the programme, with reference to any past and present experience you have in this subject.

References: We ask that you provide at least one academic reference unless you have been out of education for a number of years, in which case professional references will be considered. Your references should be submitted promptly, and they should address your track record in detail, citing specific examples of past work and reasons why you are suited to the demands of an MA course.

International/EU students

Academic requirements: We accept a range of qualifications from different countries - use our handy guide below to see 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.. 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.

IELTS 6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any band is equivalent to:

  • TOEFL: 88 overall with no less than 21 in Reading, 21 Listening, 22 Speaking and 21 in Writing
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE): Academic 59 in all four skills
  • Cambridge English (exams taken from 2015): Advanced - minimum overall score of 176, with no less than 169 in any component

Learn more about international entry requirements

International Requirements

The teaching on the MA programme mainly takes place in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which houses the Barber Institute Gallery, and is used by members of staff on a regular basis as part of your learning.

The Gallery features 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.

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 MA Art History and Curating provides students with practical skills and experience to allow them to pursue careers in galleries and museums. Read more about our student journeys

The experiences you gain throughout your degree 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: History of Art

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, over 98% 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 management and curatorship; others pursue careers in academia. Employers that our graduates have gone on to work for include: Barber Institute of Fine Arts; Birmingham Museums Trust; National Trust; National Portrait Gallery; Royal Birmingham Society of Artists; University of Birmingham; and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust.

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