MA History of Art

(with optional pathway in British Art)

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

We charge an annual tuition fee.
Fees for 2020/21:
UK / EU: £9,250 full-time
International: £18,450 full-time
More detail.

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 choose from a range of subject areas and historical periods in History of Art. It is ideal for those who wish to develop a solid foundation in History of Art, either as preparation for further research or for related careers. You will have the opportunity to develop both academic and professional contacts to support your personal and professional development.

Our students are taught within the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, an internationally renowned art gallery located at the University of Birmingham campus. Students are part of small seminar groups and benefit from furthering their study. Classes are taught not only at the Barber Institute, our ‘house gallery’, but also at the galleries on campus and in town.

The programme offers a range of topics all of which relate to our staff research interests and expertise. Modules, which are all on a rotating schedule, range from ‘Inside Out’, which looks at Parisian interiors in the nineteenth century, to modules covering art up to the present day, such as ‘Postcolonial Readings of Contemporary Art’. Others deal with issues such as queer studies and sexuality, globalisation and migration. We also have a strong expertise in exhibition cultures and curatorial studies. Unusual nowadays, we also offer modules on art in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.    

British Art Pathway

Students taking advantage of our British Art Pathway have the opportunity to study British art in a unique context. The focus on British art offers exciting possibilities to study a field that is already well established (such as the Pre-Raphaelites, Vorticism or yBAs, the Young British Artists) but still constantly evolving (Black and Queer British art; and with Brexit and its potential impact on art and the art market).

The pathway also covers a number of issues arising from a global context of art. With a quarter of the world population belonging to the British Empire at its height, British Art allows you to study postcolonial theories, mobility and processes of decolonisation.

Delivered in Birmingham, in the heart of England, the pathway will allow students to explore the impact of global influences locally, through an emphasis on Birmingham as an arts centre and supplier for art materials, particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Students of this pathway will benefit from the Department’s established network with a wide range of collections in the West Midlands, including close proximity to a world-famous Pre-Raphaelite collection at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

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

 

I really liked the module options that were available which allowed a lot of freedom and equipped me with essential theories that can be applied to the reading of contemporary art. Birmingham is a big city with a thriving arts scene which, while studying, you really feel like you have the ability to fully immerse yourself within it.

Charlotte

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 and sculptors, from Jan Steen to Auguest Rodin. The campus prides itself with sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Paolozzi. The University has also a non-western art collection, particularly strong in African masks and artefacts. We are located at the heart of a thriving city, considered the second city of the UK in terms of population, with excellent public transport and a vibrant portfolio of established and emerging art galleries and art organisations including Ikon, a well-known, internationally acclaimed contemporary art venue and the BMAG, a gallery specialising in the Pre-Raphaelites and a forerunner in being a community-oriented site that collects and exhibits objects from all ethnic groups. Needless to say that we have established contacts with a large number of these art galleries and organisations, explaining also the high employability rate of our students. Unique of our location is that we are situated in the middle of England, which allows easy access to the north and south, but also east and west.
  • 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.
  • Taught by experts renowned in their fields – our staff are active scholars with national and international reputations, regularly winning grants and publishing books and peer-reviewed articles on their specialist fields. They organise and contribute to conferences including the AAH and the CIA (both associations for art historians) and exhibitions at international venues, such as the Royal Academy, London, the Huntington Library in California, the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin and the Cleveland Museum of Art. 
  • Facilities and resources – The Barber Institute of Fine Arts 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. It also has a major collection of works by modern artists such as Degas, Gauguin, Käthe Kollwitz, George Grosz, Manet, Miró, Picasso and Whistler. The libraries offer a rich collection of published books (with open access and partly borrowable), online resources (accessible off and on campus) and some extraordinary unpublished archival material that provides seemingly endless scope for dissertations and further research. The two major study places are located closely together with a state-of-the-art main library (offering study spaces, bookable group study rooms, laptop loans and an onsite IT support service), and the charming two-room Barber Fine Art Library on the ground floor of the Barber Institute. 
  • Extracurricular activities - The Department is home to the online Journal of Art Historiography, and postgraduate students can apply to become editorial assistants. You also have the opportunity to volunteer at the Barber Institute. Read our official blog, The Golovinefor an insight into life within the Department. 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.


Modules

Students on the main pathway will study three core modules, three Special Subjects and one optional module before completing your dissertation.

British Art pathway students will sudy three core modules, two British Art modules and two specialist subjects/optional modules before completing your dissertation.

Core modules

All students 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 dissertation.
Assessment: Presentation

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. 
Assessment: Written assignment

British Art Pathway Modules

Students wishing to follow the British Art Pathway will study both of these modules.

Defining 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 have been increasingly redrawn in recent years, 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: What is British Art?; art and empire; British ‘isms’ and movements; ‘English’ or ‘British’? Four nations art history; collecting and exhibiting British art; writing British art; the Royal Academy and the creation of the ‘British school’; researching British Art; judging British art; and queering British art.

This module includes mandatory and optional visits to museums and galleries. The cost of these will be covered by the Department.
Assessment: 4,000-word assignment

Made in Birmingham

Birmingham provides a centre of gravity for exploring and applying key issues and debates in British art through particular case studies. 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.
Assesment: 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.

Optional modules

Students taking the general route through the programme will then choose three Special Subjects and one optional module. Those taking the British Art pathway will take two optional modules/specialist subjects.

Optional modules include:

Exhibition Cultures (formerly 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, but an exhibition history constitutes 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, culture and institutional critique (Bourdieu, Foucault, Bhabha) 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, marketing and sponsoring.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Turning the Pages. Manuscript and Print, Past and Present

Today, books are available in multiple copies, either printed or in digital format; authors’ names appear prominently on the front cover; we scoff at those who dare to doodle in the margins or highlight the text in indelible ink. ‘Old’ books are now the preserve of libraries and special collections and are handled with gloves. However, things were very different in the past: in the middle ages, no two books were exactly the same; manuscripts were frequently left unfinished, annotated, rebound, passed on, dismembered and recycled; the author, let alone the scribe or the illuminator, was often anonymous; images in manuscripts and early printed books were kissed and touched for their miraculous powers. With the rise of print in the late fifteenth century, books became ‘mass-produced’ and helped to spread new ideas, like religious reform; illuminators had to keep up with the new medium, turning their hand to woodcuts and engraving. This module explores medieval and early modern books from the perspectives of art history, political and socio-cultural history, conservation and digital humanities. The module will draw closely on the collections in the Cadbury Research Library and encourage students to engage with the numerous online archives available through institutions such as the British Library, John Rylands Library, and the Bibliothèque nationale. Students will therefore not only gain a familiarity with pre-modern sources, but will also be encouraged to engage critically with questions relating to changing notions of use, conservation, research and access.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Further modules called 'Special Subjects'

The range of Special Subjects is updated annually in line with staff research interests. The following are indicative of the range of subjects we teach:

  • Berlin 1890-1939: Symphony of a (Great?) City
  • Contemporary Art and Masculinity
  • Contemporary Global Art
  • Fashioning Flesh and Technology: Modernism and the Body in Germany 1918–1933
  • Inside Out: Interior and Interiority in French Art, Design and Visual Culture 1850–1940
  • Michelangelo
  • Paris Moderne 1850–1930: Image, Myth, Femininity
  • Prague, Budapest, Cracow 1867–1918
  • Pre-Raphaelites: Contexts, Approaches and Reputations
  • Women and Artistic Culture 1400–1600

Dissertation

In addition to your taught modules, you will conduct a piece of independent research on a topic of your choice within History of Art 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

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2020/21 are as follows:

  • UK / EU: £9,250 full-time; £4,625 part-time
  • International: £18,450 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


For EU students applying for the 2020/21 academic year

The UK Government has confirmed that EU students will continue to be eligible for 'home fee status' for entry in September 2020, and will continue to have access to financial support available via student loans for the duration of their course. For more information take a look at the gov.uk website.

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.

How To Apply

Please review our Entry Requirements before making your application.

If you wish to take the British Art pathway through the programme, please specify this at the top of your personal statement.

Application deadlines

The deadline for International students to apply is Wednesday 1 July 2020. The deadline for UK/EU students is Thursday 10 September 2020.

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

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 this 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 has 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.

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 to nine hours of classroom time per week, two or three 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 classes/seminars, preparatory reading, assignment preparation and independent study.

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 your future career, but this can also be enhanced by a range of employability support services offered by the University and the College of Arts and Law.

The University's Careers Network provides expert guidance and activities especially for postgraduates, which will help you achieve your career goals. The College of Arts and Law also has a dedicated  careers and employability team who offer tailored advice and a programme of College-specific careers events.

You will be encouraged to make the most of your postgraduate experience and will have the opportunity to:

  • Receive one-to-one careers advice, including guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique, whether you are looking for a career inside or outside of academia
  • Meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs and employer presentations
  • Attend an annual programme of careers fairs, skills workshops and conferences, including bespoke events for postgraduates in the College of Arts and Law
  • Take part in a range of activities to demonstrate your knowledge and skills to potential employers and enhance your CV

What’s more, you will be able to access our full range of careers support for up to 2 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 Portrait Gallery; Royal Birmingham Society of Artists; University of Birmingham; and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust.