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MA History of Art

(with optional pathway in British Art)

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

Annual tuition fees for 2023 entry:
UK: £10,170 full-time
International: £21,150 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. There is an optional module on Enterprising Cultures, which explores the ways in which arts organisations can generate revenue and provides you with the opportunity to pitch your own business ideas in the arts sector. 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 investigate and query the narratives of British art. This focus offers exciting possibilities to study a field that is seemingly already well established in terms of institutions and journals which concentrate on British art, and movements (such as the Pre-Raphaelites, Vorticism or the 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). It also offers the opportunity to investigate how, when and why nation-state identities have been related to art.

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 explore 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 the West Midlands and Birmingham as an arts centre and international 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 the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with their world-famous Pre-Raphaelite collection, and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, with their BLK Art Group collection. Equally, students will benefit from the Department’s close relationship with national institutions concentrating on British Art. Colleagues from The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art , a part of Yale University based in London, have delivered guest seminars as part of the course in 2021-22 and 2022-23, and a series of Research Seminars will introduce students to cutting-edge research from across the country.  (Read more about the 'What is British Art?' module)

Birmingham Masters Scholarships

We are offering over 400 awards of £2,000 to support the brightest and best applicants wishing to undertake Masters study at the University during 2023-24. The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK Time) on Sunday 2 July 2023.

Find out more and apply now.


At Birmingham, Postgraduate Taught and Postgraduate Research students also have the opportunity to learn graduate academic languages free of charge, to support your studies.

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.


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 Auguste 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. The British Art Pathway in particular brings together the departmental expertise in British art from a variety of viewpoints. 
  • 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. 

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.


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 study 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 of their own developing ideas for your final thesis.
Assessment: 4,000-word written portfolio

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

British Art Pathway Modules

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

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 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. (Read more about this module)
Assessment: 4,000-word assignment

Made in Birmingham: Art and Urban Space

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.
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.

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 typically include:

Enterprising Cultures

This module aims to develop your commercial awareness, and provide a framework for undertaking enterprising activity in cultural organisations. The module takes the form of a series of seminars and workshops on how to create a plan for new revenue-generating activity within an arts organisation, or even a business start-up. The module will feature a series of guest speakers who currently engage in commercial activity in cultural organisations. You will work in groups to develop an idea based on a real-world challenge set by a cultural organisation. You will then pitch your idea in a Dragon’s Den for formative feedback, before preparing a business plan. Find out more about this module.

Assessment: 4,000-word business plan

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, 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

Contemporary Art and Masculinity

This module examines contemporary art through the lens of masculinities. It considers how an understanding of changing conceptions of masculinity on a global scale in the contemporary period can help us understand the processes, materials, reception, and preoccupations of contemporary art. This module explores key texts in gender theory and queer theory, while remaining attentive to socially and spatially specific expressions of masculinity. It moves through a number of themes addressed in contemporary art that intersect with masculinity, including: body, war, blackness, desire, migration, family, plague, memory, and female masculinity.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Global Art and Cultural Studies

This module brings the Euro-American horizon of contemporary art into comparison with non-Western practises from Africa, Latin American, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania. The module covers early colonial globalization, as well as case studies from the post-war period 1945 to the present, encompassing Cold War avant-gardes and also artistic tendencies post-1989.

Through the study of key artworks and texts the module analyses globalisation and its complex consequences for the contemporary art world today. It focuses on the construction of the historical narratives of imperialism, the visual culture of colonialism, nationalism and liberation struggles, and postcolonial art movements of resistance and subversion.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Fashioning Flesh and Technology: Modernism and the Body in Germany 1918-1933

This module considers the concept of German Modernism in relation to discourses on real and imagined bodies during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Examining a range of works of art, design and film, as well as textual sources, it explores the ways in which some of the defining practices and theories of Modernism revolving around technology, mass culture, and sexuality can be used to understand attitudes towards the body. The module will focus in particular on the representation of the body and;

  • warfare in relation to debates around prosthetics and war neurosis;
  • technology and capitalist modes of production and consumption;
  • free body culture: nudity, dance and sport;
  • sexual identity through the pioneering work of German Sexologists.

In order to consider such discourses, this module will analyse several art historical moments associated with German Modernism (including Neue Sachlichkeit, Dada and late German Expressionism)

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Image as Witness

Images are potent communicators. They have the power to distil and portray thoughts, feelings, experiences, actions and events: in effect, bear witness to the world and our experiences of it, good and bad. But, how accurately can images really convey these things, or does accuracy or reliability not matter? What sort of experiences, feelings, actions are portrayed, and are there any that the image cannot accommodate or represent? What moral obligation does this visual testimony place on viewers, if any?

This module will explore how images can bear witness to personal and collective experiences of conflict, trauma, justice and environmental change, with a focus on 20th and 21st century visual art. It will question the limits of the image’s ability to bear witness, and explore the moral conundrums that arise from the witnessing process, as they effect not just the production of a work, but how we view and respond to it also.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay


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.


We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2023 are as follows:

  • UK: £10,170 full-time; £5,085 part-time
  • International: £21,150 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 review our Entry Requirements before making your application.


If you wish to take the British Art pathway through the programme, please apply for the MA History of Art and specify the British Art pathway at the top of your personal statement.

How to Apply for a Postgraduate Degree - Taught programmes

Application deadlines

The deadline for International students (requiring a VISA) to apply is 3 July 2023. The deadline for UK students is 31 August 2023.

Making your application

How to apply

To apply for a postgraduate taught programme, you will need to submit your application and supporting documents online. We have put together some helpful information on the taught programme application process and supporting documents on our how to apply page. Please read this information carefully before completing your application.

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, 20 Listening, 22 Speaking and 21 in Writing
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE): Academic 67 with no less than 64 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 Trust; National Portrait Gallery; Royal Birmingham Society of Artists; University of Birmingham; and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust.


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