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History of Design

Taught programmes

MSt in the History of Design

This course is not open for 2014/15 admissions

This programme explores the fascinating histories and diversity of designed objects and environments created amidst the advent of modernity. The syllabus focuses particularly on the period 1851 to 1951, from the Crystal Palace Exhibition to the Festival of Britain.

The compactness of the century-long temporal frame allows for an exploration of a breadth of contexts and forms of design and craft for detailed study: decorative arts, industrial design, design for performance, the built environment and landscape design.

The case studies of the programme are pan-European (including Britain) with some comparisons with America. Core themes of the course include the rivalries between historicism and modernity; internationalist and nationalist tendencies; handicraft and industrial processes as well as the analysis of critical debates about the makers and audiences of decoration in advice literature and aesthetic writing.

The MSt involves a variety of forms of study and experience. The teaching sessions are held on monthly Saturdays over the two years (nine Saturdays per annum; three in each term except for the final term of the programme which focuses upon a Dissertation Forum weekend and individual supervisions).

Handling sessions and visits provide important first-hand experience of objects and sites; monthly individual tutorials with the Course Director between the Saturdays foster each candidate’s research skills.

  • Length of programme: Part-time (taught on monthly Saturdays over two years)
  • Core courses
    • Materials of techniques of Design
    • Historical methods
    • Research project
    • Dissertation
  • Optional courses
    • Decoration in Modern France
    • The arts and crafts tradition in modern Britain
    • Design in the Machine Age
    • Design, body, environment
    • Visual cultures of the World Wars
    • Academic writing and contemporary practice
    • Medieval Period or Early Modern Period option
  • Papers available to be shared with the existing MSc English Local History: The social history of English architecture, 1870–1940; The English suburb, 1800–1939; English architecture 1500–1640
  • Programme specification External link

How to Apply

The MSt in the History of Design admits students in every other year and the programme is not open for admission for 2014/15 study.

Research programmes

While the department does not offer a DPhil programme in this subject, from time to time it may be possible to take exceptional research students where appropriate supervision can be offered and either the department, or, where relevant, the applicant's employer, can provide appropriate facilities. Applicants would need to demonstrate that they have skills and competencies in the History of Design.

The DPhil would be available on a part-time basis, to be completed in a minimum of four years, and would normally start in October. Informal enquires about research projects devoted to the history of art and design between 1848 and 1968 should be made to the MSt course director.

Academic resources

Oxford and its environs offer an ideal environment in which to study the history of design and craft. The University’s museums, as well as collections nearby in London and the Cotswolds, hold important related exhibitions and archives. The Faculties of the wider University offer a rich programme of lectures and research seminars pertinent to the field. 

Academic staff profiles

Dr Claire I R O'Mahony (Course Director) External link

University Lecturer in the History of Art, Department for Continuing Education and Fellow of Kellogg College

Dr Emma Ferry External link

Senior Lecturer in Design and Visual Culture at the School of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University

Dr Geoffrey Tyack External link

Fellow of Kellogg College and Director, Stanford University Programme in Oxford

Graduate destinations

Doctoral programmes in humanities disciplines; museum and heritage administration and curatorship; teaching (including PGCE); freelance research and criticism; historically-informed creative practice.


+44 (0) 1865 270369 / 280154






Selection criteria

Selection criteria on the History of Design website External link

English language requirements

Higher level


Oxford Funding Search External link


Number of applicants


Number of places available



Statement of Provision

History of Design - Taught