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History of Art (MPhil / PhD)

Applications for this course will open in October

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


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


  • 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.


  • Birkbeck’s research excellence was confirmed in the most recent Research Excellence Framework, which placed Birkbeck 30th in the UK for research, with 73% of our research rated world-leading or internationally excellent; 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.

    english language 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 UK and you do not already have residency here, 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: Student visa
    • Courses of less than six months' duration: Standard Visitor visa

    International students who require a Student visa should apply for our full-time courses as these qualify for Student visa sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Student 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.

    Please also visit the international section of our website to find out more about relevant requirements by country.

  • Fees


    To be confirmed

    Fees and finance

    PhD students resident in England can apply for government loans of over £26,000 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.

  • 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.


    • 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: