History of Art (MPhil / PhD)

The Department of History of Art has an international reputation for its research in medieval, Renaissance and modern art. Our range of interests include: nineteenth- and twentieth-century design history; photography; museology; gender and representation; and interdisciplinary topics, particularly relationships between: art and film; art and anthropology; and art and medicine.

Current research is concentrated in the following areas:

Early Modern Art and Architecture in Southern and Central Europe

  • Urbanism, architecture and visual culture in Medieval Europe
  • Visual cultures of fifteenth-century Europe
  • Art in Early Modern Italy

Architecture

  • Medieval architecture in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Institutional and domestic space in early-twentieth-century Vienna
  • Brutalism and twentieth-century British architecture

Photography

  • Daguerrotypes and nineteenth-century commercial photography
  • Photography and gender
  • Photography and sculpture
  • Twentieth-century British photojournalism
  • 1970s radical photographic practice

 Museums and Memory Studies

  • Museums, monuments and memorialisation
  • Monuments and trauma
  • Micro-museums

 British Art

  • Eighteenth-century portraiture and conversation pieces
  • Nineteenth-century optical technologies
  • Twentieth-century art, photography and architecture

Within History of Art, research seminars and events are organised through the following Research Centres:

An MPhil/PhD is an advanced postgraduate research degree that requires original research and the submission of a substantial dissertation. The MPhil thesis is not more than 60,000 words; the PhD thesis is not more than 100,000 words. The thesis requirements for a practice-based project vary according to the nature of the research and can be discussed with the admissions tutors. Both the MPhil and the PhD are assessed by a viva voce examination.

At Birkbeck, you are initially registered on an MPhil and you upgrade to a PhD after satisfactory progress in the first year (full-time) or second year (part-time). Research skills training is offered both within the Department and the School of Arts, along with seminars and events specifically designed to meet the needs of research students.

You need to find a suitable academic supervisor at Birkbeck, who can offer the requisite expertise to guide and support you through your research. Find out more about undertaking a research degree at Birkbeck.

Read about our current MPhil/PhD students and their areas of research.

We hold open days and evenings for prospective students interested in our programmes throughout the year.

Highlights

  • Arts and humanities at Birkbeck are ranked fifth best in London, 18th in the UK and 87th globally in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject.
  • Birkbeck’s research excellence was confirmed in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, which placed Birkbeck 30th in the UK for research, with 73% of our research rated world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • In the 2014 REF, Art and Design at Birkbeck achieved 100% for a research environment supporting world-leading or internationally excellent research.
  • The School of Arts is an official partner of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Opportunities for students have included a year’s free membership of the ICA, private views, discounts on all talks and events, free members' screenings and £3 cinema tickets on Tuesdays, up to 25% off ICA Artists' Editions and a monthly e-newsletter.
  • Entry Requirements

    Entry requirements

    Good degree, usually including history of art.

    A 2000-word research proposal must be submitted with your application.

    International entry requirements

    If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, the requirement for this programme is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 7.0, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests.

    If you don't meet the minimum IELTS requirement, we offer pre-sessional English courses, foundation programmes and language support services to help you improve your English language skills and get your place at Birkbeck.

    Visit the International section of our website to find out more about our English language entry requirements and relevant requirements by country.

    Visa requirements

    If you are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) and/or Switzerland and you are coming to study in the UK, you may need to apply for a visa.

    The visa you apply for varies according to the length of your course:

    • Courses of more than six months' duration.
    • Courses of less than six months' duration.
    • Pre-sessional English language courses.

    International students who require a Tier 4 visa should apply for our full-time courses (with the exception of modular enrolment certificates of higher education and graduate certificates), as these qualify for Tier 4 sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Tier 4 visa, you will not be eligible to enrol as a student on Birkbeck's part-time courses (with the exception of some modules).

    For full information, read our visa information for international students page.

  • Fees

    Fees

    Part-time home/EU students: £2260 pa
    Full-time home/EU students: £4260 pa
    Part-time international students: £6225 pa
    Full-time international students: £12325 pa

    Students are charged a tuition fee in each year of their programme. Tuition fees for students continuing on their programme in following years may be subject to annual inflationary increases. For more information, please see the College Fees Policy.

    Fees and finance

    From 2018-19, PhD students resident in England can apply for government loans of up to £25,000 to cover the cost of tuition fees, maintenance and other study-related costs.

    Outstanding MPhil/PhD researchers are encouraged to apply for our competitive scholarships and studentships, which cover fees and maintenance. Read more and apply now

    Outstanding candidates for part-time postgraduate research in the field of European art or architecture from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century are invited to apply for the Murray Research Studentship.

    The London Art History Society, which is affiliated to the Birkbeck History of Art Society, provides a fund to assist MPhil/PhD students with expenses relating to their research, such as travel, accommodation, photography and photocopying, up to a maximum of £300.

    Find out more about other research funding opportunities at Birkbeck. 

    Flexible finance: pay your fees in monthly instalments at no extra cost. Enrol early to spread your costs and reduce your monthly payments.

    Fees discounts: If you are a member of a union that is recognised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), you may apply for a 10% discount off your tuition fees.

  • Our Research Culture

    Our Research Culture

    The Department has a lively postgraduate culture, and students meet regularly to participate in reading groups, writing groups and special research skills seminars. There is an annual research forum, where professionals in related fields share their expertise. We also run a postgraduate seminar series, where internationally renowned scholars present current research.

    Additionally, the Department advertises a number of teaching assistant part-time posts on an annual basis. Areas of teaching are related to the requirements of the Department's undergraduate programme. You are expected to participate in the Department's research events, including attending lectures, research skills sessions and other classes/workshops as appropriate.

    You will have access to outstanding technical research support and facilities. The Peltz Gallery is a flexible exhibition space for digital and material displays, small-scale performances, lectures and meetings. A range of advanced technical resources is also available in the Vasari Research Centre. The Architecture, Space and Society Centre aims to provide a focus for the research activities taking place within Birkbeck and beyond in the area of architectural, design and landscape history.  The History and Theory of Photography Research Centre facilitates, exchanges and showcases research on the history and theory of photography at Birkbeck and in the wider community.

    Birkbeck's location in Bloomsbury offers excellent access to specialist libraries in the University of London, including the University of London Library, Institute for Historical Research, Warburg Institute, School of Oriental and African Studies, and the major national resource of the British Library. You will also have easy access to specialist art libraries not far from Birkbeck, including the library of the Courtauld Institute of Art, the British Architectural Library and the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

    The great visual resources of the British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Gallery, V&A, commercial galleries like the Barbican Gallery, ICA, Hayward Gallery and Royal Academy, and temporary exhibition galleries also make London a particularly good place in which to undertake research. We also have links with Cambridge Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Charles Dickens Museum, English Heritage, the Imperial War Museum, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Sir John Soane's Museum, the Wallace Collection and the Wellcome Collection.

    Read more about our vibrant research culture.

  • How to apply

    How to apply

    Follow these steps to apply to an MPhil/PhD research degree at Birkbeck:

    1. Check that you meet the entry requirements, including English language requirements, as described on this page.

    2. Find a potential supervisor for your MPhil/PhD research. You can look at the Find a Supervisor area on this page for an overview, or search our Experts’ Database or browse our staff pages for more in-depth information. You may also find it helpful to view the research projects of our current students.

    3. Contact the academic member of staff - or the department they teach in - for an informal discussion about your research interests and to establish if they are willing and able to supervise your research. (Please note: finding a potential supervisor does not guarantee admission to the research degree, as this decision is made using your whole application.) Find out more about the supervisory relationship and how your supervisor will support your research.

    4. Draft a research proposal. This needs to demonstrate your knowledge of the field, the specific research questions you wish to pursue, and how your ideas will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding. Find out more about writing a research proposal.

    5. Apply directly to Birkbeck, using the online application link on this page. All research students are initially registered on an MPhil and then upgrade to a PhD after making sufficient progress.

    Find out more about the application process, writing a research proposal and the timeframe

    For in-depth information about applying to the School of Arts for MPhil/PhD research, read our guide for applicants

    Recent research topics 

    • Canadian surrealism 
    • Imperial exhibitions 1922-1936 
    • Sixteenth-century Venetian art 
    • The space of imagination: reading in French painting 1850-1900 
    • Selling England by the pound: the Hepworth Manufacturing Company 
    • Aesthetics and film 
    • Gender and race in late nineteenth-century British art 
    • Landscape 1918-1928 
    • Modernism à la mode: women, movies and modern style 
    • The historical documentary in post-war British television 
    • Photographic collections compiled by women 
    • Experiments in black and white: OP Art, Bridget Riley and Britain in the 1960s 
    • Richard Dadd: the art of the insane 
    • History of art in an electronic environment 
    • Bereavement, identity and monuments 
    • The role of media for immigration in post-war Britain (1945-1980) 
    • Popularising high culture 
    • Art and law. 

    Application deadlines and interviews

    You can apply throughout the year for registration at the beginning of term (October, January or April).

    If you wish to apply for funding, you will need to apply by certain deadlines. Consult the websites of relevant bodies for details.

  • Finding a supervisor

    Finding a supervisor

    A critical factor when applying for postgraduate study in history of art is the correlation between the applicant’s intellectual and research interests and those of one or more potential supervisors within the Department.

    Find out more about the research interests of our academic staff:

    • Suzannah Biernoff, MA, PhD: history of the body, vision and emotion; relationships between war, modernity and visual culture.
    • Dorigen Caldwell, MA, PhD: sixteenth-century Italian art and culture; symbolism; art and patronage.
    • Professor Fiona Candlin, BA, MA, PhD: small, independent 'micro museums'; museology.
    • Professor Annie Coombes, BA, PhD, FRAI: ethnography, anthropology and cultural history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; museum culture; nationalism and visual culture in the modern period.
    • Professor Mark Crinson, MA, PhD: modern architecture; post-WW2 British art and architecture; architecture in the British Empire; Victorian architecture; race and modern architecture.
    • Patrizia di Bello, MA, PhD: history of photography; nineteenth-century art and visual culture; aspects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century women's art; feminist and psychoanalytical art criticism.
    • Professor Steve Edwards, MA, PhD: history and theory of photography; capitalist culture in nineteenth-century Britain; contemporary art and contemporary capitalism; marxist theory; documentary; historiography; radical aesthetics.
    • Tag Gronberg, BA, MA, PhD: nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, architecture and design in Europe; world exhibitions; aspects of gender and visual culture in the modern period.
    • Laura Jacobus, BA, BA, PhD: aspects of Italian art c.1250-1450; spectator experience and authorial intention.
    • Gabriel Koureas, MA, PhD: modern and contemporary visual culture; issues of modernity, memory, gender, sexuality and national identity in visual and material culture; representations of war.
    • Robert Maniura, BA, PhD: European Renaissance art and pilgrimage.
    • Professor Lynda Nead, BA, PhD: nineteenth- and twentieth-century British art; aspects of gender and visual representation in the modern period; art and the city; art and film.
    • Zoë Opačić, MA, PhD: medieval art and architecture; relationship between architecture, public ritual and urban planning.
    • Kate Retford, MA, PhD: eighteenth-century British art and culture; use of visual evidence in history; portraiture, gender and the country house.
    • Leslie Topp, BA, MA, PhD: central European architectural and design history and urbanism, 1890-1914; Vienna c. 1900; architecture and science.