MA History of Art

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, or to specialise in British Art.

The programme is underpinned by two core modules in critical theory and research methodologies, and a 15,000-word dissertation on a research area of your choice, supported by a supervisor. You will also select optional modules from a range of topics and ‘Special Subjects’ which vary from year to year. Those specialising in British Art will take an additional two core modules focused on this particular pathway.

 
Katie Hall

Katie Hall

“I found the History of Art course very interesting and intellectually stimulating, and it was taught by excellent lecturers. It was also fantastic to be based in the Barber Institute and to have the opportunity to put on an exhibition there as part of the course. The University had opportunities for internships and volunteering in different cultural organisations, which really helped me to develop my skills after graduating.”
Ask Katie a question

This MA 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.

You will study two core modules:

  • Criticism and Methods in the History of Art and Visual Culture
  • Postgraduate Research Training and Methods

Those specialising in British Art will take two additional core modules:

  • Defining British Art
  • Made in Birmingham

Those taking a general route through the programme will choose three Special Subjects and one optional module; those specialising in British Art will take two Special Subjects and/or optional modules. Further module information is available below.

Assessment

Your modules will be assessed by a range of written and oral assessments. You will also complete a 15,000-word dissertation, with support from a supervisor.

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 Rodin. We are also located at the heart of a thriving city with a vibrant portfolio of established and emerging art galleries and arts organisations.
  • 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 – our staff are active scholars with national and international reputations, publishing books and articles on their specialist fields. They organise and contribute to conferences and exhibitions at international venues, such as the Royal Academy, 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, 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.
  • Extracurricular activities - The Department is home to the online Journal of Art Historiography and postgraduate students are invited 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. 

Modules

Core modules - all students

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

Core modules - British Art pathway

Those specialising in British Art will take a further two core 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: A 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

Those taking a general route through the programme will choose three Special Subjects and one optional module; those specialising in British Art will take two Special Subjects and/or optional modules.

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

This module consists of a critical examination of topics in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. It considers subjects such as: art and the nature of aesthetic experience; beauty, ugliness and the sublime; symbolism and allegory; the aesthetics of modernism.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Artists' Film and Video from the 1920s to the Present

This module will offer an in-depth introduction of the field of twentieth century artists’ film. Starting with films by exponents of Dada and Surrealism such as Fernand Léger, Man Ray and Germaine Dulac, it will take in work by American avant-garde artists such as Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Jonas Mekas, and more contemporary artist filmmakers such as Peter Greenaway, Valie Export, David Lynch, Derek Jarman, and Steve McQueen. Appropriate theoretical material on the artistic movements represented and on the field of artists’ film and video will be supplied alongside the films themselves throughout the module.
Assessment: Two 2,000-word essays

Enterprising Culture

This module aims to develop your commercial awareness and provide a framework for undertaking enterprising activity in cultural organisations, which is ever more important in a time of funding pressure. The module takes the form of a series of lectures and seminars on how to create a plan for new revenue generating activity within a large organisation, or a business startup. This will be supported by 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, before pitching your idea in a Dragon’s Den for feedback and preparing a business plan.
Assessment: 4,000-word business plan

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 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

Special Subjects

Special Subjects available 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
  • Turning the Pages: Manuscript and Print, Past and Present
  • Women and Artistic Culture 1400–1600

Dissertation

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. This will either have a focus on British Art, for those following this pathway, or a topic of your choice within History of Art.


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: £16,995 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 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: Please clearly state the pathway to which you are applying ('General' or 'British Art') within the first paragraph of your personal statement. You should also 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.

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 in two ways:

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

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 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: 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.

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.

Accommodation

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.