MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology | University of Oxford
Pitt Rivers
The Pitt Rivers Museum, housing the University's anthropological collections
(Image Credit: Pitt Rivers Museum)

MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology

About the course

The MSc consists of a structured programme of lectures, classes, and tutorials from October to June, followed by individual study and the writing of a dissertation over the summer. In addition to the teaching provided specifically for the VMMA programme, you will also be able to attend lectures in social anthropology to link your work to broader trends in the discipline.

The MSc is structured around teaching for four papers. Papers one and two are assessed by a 5,000-word essay. Paper three is assessed by a portfolio of methods exercises and a research proposal. Paper four is examined by conventional three-hour unseen examination papers in June.

You will then use the next three months to research and write a 10,000-word dissertation for submission in September; you will be able to choose and refine the dissertation topic in consultation with your supervisor and other tutors as appropriate, but you will be required to write the dissertation unaided as a piece of independent research.

The four papers are as follows:

1. Contemporary themes in visual, material and museum anthropology

This paper focuses on topics such as visual culture (including photography, the internet, art and aesthetics); music and performance; museum ethics and relationships with 'source communities'; landscape and the built environment; dress and body modification; religion and ritual; material culture, mass production and trade; debates concerning tradition, modernity and authenticity; transnational cultural flows and the wider issues of cross-cultural investigation.

2. Option paper

You must select one option paper from those taught each year for MSc candidates at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Titles of options will be made known at the beginning of each academic year and candidates may select their option from any of Lists A, B or C.

3. Research methods in visual, material anthropology and museum ethnography

This paper consists of two parts. Paper 3a is an outline proposal for the MSc dissertation research of no more than 2,500 words. Paper 3b is a methods portfolio consisting of reports (including notes) on trials of three visual and material anthropological methods and/or ethnographic museological methods relevant to the research proposed in Paper 3a. The word limit is 2,500 words.

4. Fundamental concepts in visual, material, and museum anthropology

This paper focuses on anthropology’s distinctive contribution to understanding social and cultural form and process, and the role of human creativity within them, with particular reference to artefacts of material and visual culture, and to the collection, display, production, circulation and consumption of such artefacts.

Graduate destinations

Many graduates enter teaching and research, though this often requires a doctorate. There is some recruitment to public bodies, the larger private companies, museums and galleries, development agencies, NGOs etc.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in any discipline. Under the UK system, applicants should have a minimum of 65% in at least one prior degree.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Publications

Publications are not expected of applicants.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Conditions for applicants to proceed from an Oxford master's degree to a doctorate: 

  1. a viable project
  2. agreed supervision
  3. an overall mark of at least 67% in an Oxford anthropology master's degree
  4. the agreement of the School of Anthropology as a whole.

Resources

You will receive all or most of your academic supervision in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. You will have a named supervisor, possibly two, who will have overall responsibility for the direction of your work from inception to submission.

Students will have access to library and workspace facilities via their college and desks are also available in the Bodleian and other University libraries. A VMMA student room in the Pitt Rivers Museum and other workspaces with equipment for methods teaching are provided where required.

The school houses the Tylor Library, the main subject library for anthropology, and the Pitt Rivers Museum and centre has its own library, the Balfour Library. Most books in the Tylor Library will be available to you on loan, though journals and certain other materials are reference-only. You may also use other departmental libraries, your college library and the University’s Bodleian Library and its dependent libraries. The University has a wealth of electronic resources, some specific to particular libraries. The Pitt Rivers Museum also has an online catalogue of its entire collections and a number of dedicated collections-based and research-related websites.

A programme of research seminars is available, some specifically for research students and others featuring talks by invited speakers, often from outside the university. The principal event in this programme is the departmental seminar, run weekly during term time.

A student-run society, the Oxford University Anthropology Society, runs coffee mornings, talks and other social and academic events throughout the year. Seminars, especially those involving outside speakers, often proceed to local pubs or restaurants after the talk.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

A number of Research Council awards are available each year from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£12,300£3,021£15,321
Overseas£19,335£3,021£22,356

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You may, but are not obliged to, contact a member of academic staff to discuss possible supervision or other collaboration before you apply.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Personal statement:
Around two to three pages

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.

It should give an indication of why studying visual, material and museum anthropology at Oxford is of particular interest to you and may refer to the resources of the Pitt Rivers Museum and the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, and to the expertise of the staff teaching the degree. 

This will be assessed for your reasons for applying, expectations of the degree, prior academic background and interests.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each

Applicants should submit written work in English. The items may be separate extracts from a longer work like a taught-course thesis.

Submitted written work need not be in anthropology but may be in any discipline. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for comprehensive understanding of the subject area; understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; powers of analysis; and powers of expression.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Ideally, academic letters of reference should be provided. Only if one or more such letters cannot be provided should professional reference(s) be supplied instead.