Renaissance Studies (MA)

Year of entry


Start date

October 2017


Central London


Fully Approved


1 year full-time or 2 years part-time


2 evenings a week full-time or 1 evening a week part-time, October to June

MA Renaissance Studies explores the question of what the Renaissance was and what approaches are best suited to understanding it. The programme considers different aspects of Renaissance culture, particularly the social and intellectual histories of England, France, Italy and Spain. You will study with Birkbeck's internationally recognised experts in Renaissance English literature and culture, history of art, French, history and Spanish, tailoring your module choices towards chosen specialisms. By the end of the course you will be able to demonstrate a conceptual understanding of the questions associated with the study of the Renaissance and will have had the opportunity to either specialise or work in an interdisciplinary way. From the start, you will undertake training in postgraduate research skills.

You begin with a core course which examines the way the Renaissance has been understood and then you go on to take 3 options in areas of specialist interest. You can see detailed descriptions of our core course and all the option modules below. Finally, you will be individually counselled in your choice of dissertation topic.

In addition to the core teaching and individual research support, students benefit from many Birkbeck Renaissance events. This includes the London Renaissance Seminar, which brings many internationally renowned academics to Birkbeck, and events specific to the Birkbeck Renaissance group, including our day on 'Researching the Text'.

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Why study this course at Birkbeck?

  • Arts and humanities courses at Birkbeck are ranked third best in London and 11th in the UK in the Times Higher Education 2015-16 World University Subject Rankings.
  • In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), English Language and Literature at Birkbeck achieved 100% for a research environment conducive to producing research of the highest quality, while 91% of eligible staff submitted research, of which 75% was recognised as world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • As an MA student, you will have the opportunity to attend the London Renaissance Seminar, a forum held at Birkbeck that discusses all aspects of early modern history, literature and culture. You will be able to hear some of the best scholars in the field presenting and discussing their newest research.
  • MA Renaissance students are invited to apply for 2 research internship placements at the Globe Theatre. Read a blog post written by a previous Globe Theatre intern.
  • The programme offers both research skills and opportunities to put them to work. For example, in the second term of your degree you are offered practical study of palaeography. The summer core course is based around the materials of Renaissance evidence: objects, painting, manuscript and print. We explore a range of methodologies.
  • The School of Arts offers a number of bursaries for postgraduate students.
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Course structure

You will take a core course which examines the various ways the Renaissance has been understood and then go on to choose 3 option modules in areas of special interest to you. Finally, you will develop a dissertation topic under the expert guidance of one of our academics.

To find out more, read our programme handbook.

Read more about modules

Core module

Indicative option modules

One reason for the course’s enduring success is that students decide whether to make their route diverse or disciplinary. Here are 4 sample paths to show what that means.

Route 1: English Literature

Route 2: Renaissance Studies

Route 3: Renaissance Italy

  • Summer Core Course (Renaissance Witnesses)
  • Dissertation on power and control in Florentine domestic space.

Route 4: Shakespeare

  • Summer Core Course (Renaissance Witnesses)
  • Dissertation on Shakespeare and Renaissance and/or contemporary performance.

Throughout the MA you work with tutors individually as well as in seminars. One-to-one tutorial time is structured into the programme. Tutorial support covers a wide range of topics from the use of the Renaissance in a career to the more obvious support with essays.

Whether you undertake disciplinary study (e.g. in English literature) or take modules in several disciplines will depend on how you decide to use the MA and staff will work with you on establishing a route that suits you. Students use it in both ways and develop strong contacts throughout the School of Arts.

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