History of Art with Photography (MA)

Year of entry


Start date

October 2018


Central London


Fully Approved


One year full-time or two years part-time


Two to three evenings a week full-time or one to two evenings a week part-time, October to September

Photography has become the major form of image-making and visual communication since its development in the nineteenth century. Its importance has been recognised in many areas of scholarship: history of art, media and cultural studies, literature, memory and memorialisation, gender and identity, philosophy and law. Its role in all fields of the arts and sciences, including those most personal, is being expanded, renewed and questioned by the mushrooming of digital culture.

This programme enables you to learn about - and to negotiate your individual path through - historical and contemporary photographic cultures, in order to develop your interests, whether your engagement with the medium is academic, artistic, personal or vocational.

You will develop subject-specific and transferable research, critical and writing skills that will enhance your career opportunities in the field and beyond, whether in academia or teaching, photography as a practice, galleries and museums, or in the media. The programme is also ideally suited to preparing students with a practice-based background considering a PhD, academic or practice-based.

Find out more about our staff and student activities on the Birkbeck History of Art blog or join us at one of our information evenings, held throughout the year.


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  • Arts and humanities courses at Birkbeck are ranked third best in London and 13th in the UK in the Times Higher Education 2016-17 World University Subject Rankings. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), Art and Design at Birkbeck achieved 100% for a research environment supporting world-leading and internationally excellent research.
  • The School of Arts offers a number of bursaries for postgraduate students.
  • Your learning opportunities will be enhanced by attending seminars at the History and Theory of Photography Centre and by work placement opportunities in the library and archive of the Jo Spence Memorial Library. Alternatively, there are opportunities for work placements with London museums, galleries and archives.
  • You have the option to join our study trips, offered each spring. Cities visited in the last few years include: Florence, Paris, Venice, Vienna, Rome, Berlin and Moscow.
  • In addition to the core teaching and individual research support, you benefit from many activities in the Department of History of Art and beyond:
  • You can also get access to an incredible range of resources, including:
    • the Birkbeck Library and our inhouse resources centre
    • the Jo Spence Memorial Library and Terry Dennett Archive
    • specialist libraries in the University of London: University of London Library, Institute of Historical Research, Warburg Institute and School of Oriental and African Studies
    • the major national resource of the British Library
    • exclusive visits to photographic archives, and group visits to exhibitions, talks and events
    • specialist libraries and photographic archives, including the Courtauld Institute of Art, the National Art Library and the photographic collection in the Prints and Drawings Study Room at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London, the National Portrait Gallery (Heinz Archives), the Photographers’ Gallery and the Tate Gallery
    • commercial galleries, photography book specialist dealers and exhibition spaces such as the Barbican, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Hayward Gallery, INIVA and the many other places that exhibit photographs.
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Course structure

After an initial introductory core module, Current Approaches to History of Art, which introduces methodologies and debates involved in the study of the histories of art, visual culture and photography, and with tutorial guidance, you will be able to specialise through your selection of option modules and topics for your research project and dissertation, which will focus on photography. Options cover a wide range of photographic practices and cultures, past and present, and allow you to explore diverse methodologies and internationally 'local' practices.

You then choose two option modules, which vary from year to year. The option modules listed below are indicative and may change. Please contact the admissions tutor for further information.

The research project offers you the chance to undertake independent research and to reflect on the process of research, or you can choose to undertake a work placement.

You will complete the programme with a 15,000-word dissertation.

These assessed elements are supported by a series of research skills workshops.

Part-time students take the compulsory module, choose one option module and undertake a research project or work placement in Year 1. You then choose a further option module and undertake your dissertation in Year 2.

Read more about modules

Core module

Indicative option modules

Research project/work placement option modules


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