History of Art (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

History of art is a rich and dynamic discipline, combining the rigorous investigation of the visual arts with the creative exploration of their connections to culture, politics and society. Postgraduate study in this area trains you at a high level in looking at, thinking about and researching art and its histories.

Our MA History of Art exposes you to key art historical approaches and allows you to focus in depth on areas and periods of particular interest to you, in early and modern (including contemporary) periods, through taught options (see an indicative list of modules on the 'course structure' tab) and independent research. It develops your visual acuity and your understanding of art's histories, while stimulating critical debate and stretching your research skills.

This degree offers you the opportunity to study with internationally recognised experts. Our teaching staff are defining the field, conducting ground-breaking research in periods from medieval to contemporary, focusing on painting, sculpture, print culture, architecture, photography, digital art and museology. You will work closely with our staff while also benefiting from our diverse and vibrant student body of all ages and backgrounds. The teaching programme is enriched by museum and site visits, visiting speakers, screenings and opportunities to get involved as volunteers in research and community outreach activities.

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. Funds are also available to support research expenses for your coursework on this MA.
  • On this course, you will have the opportunity to take up a work placement with London museums, galleries and archives. You also 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.
  • As a student at Birkbeck, you will be able to attend a wide range of events, including:
    • the postgraduate Research Seminar, which brings art historians from all over the UK and beyond to speak at Birkbeck
    • the biennial Murray Lecture
    • the Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art
    • the programme of exhibitions and displays at the Peltz Gallery, the School of Arts' purpose-built exhibition space.
    • other seminars and events across the School of Arts and at the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities.
  • You can also get access to an incredible range of resources, including:
    • the Birkbeck Library and our inhouse resources centre
    • 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
    • specialist art libraries not far from Birkbeck, including the library of the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Royal Institute of British Architects 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 Britain, Tate Modern and V&A
    • temporary exhibition galleries like the Barbican Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Hayward Gallery and Royal Academy
    • commercial galleries and salesrooms.
  • We encourage you to become involved in the lively research culture of the Department through the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, the Architecture, Space and Society Centre and the Vasari Research Centre, which has pioneered the field of digital art history.
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Course structure

The programme consists of a compulsory module, a choice of option modules, a research project or work placement, and a dissertation. These assessed elements are supported by a series of research skills workshops.

  • The compulsory module, Current Approaches to History of Art, is designed to explore methodologies and issues involved in the current study of the discipline (around such topics as exhibition, reception and interdisciplinarity).
  • Option modules allow you to pursue specific interests and areas of research in selected topics from the medieval period to the present.
  • The research project offers you the chance to undertake independent research and to reflect on the process of research, or you choose to undertake a work placement.
  • You will complete the programme with a 15,000-word dissertation.

As a part-time student, you 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.

The option modules listed below are a selection of those offered in past years. Please get in touch with the admissions tutor, Patrizia Di Bello, for any queries about option modules for the current academic year, which term and evening each option is offered, and the process for choosing your option modules.

Read more about modules

Core module

Indicative option modules

Research project/work placement option modules


Visit the Department of History of Art