About the course
This nine-month programme offers a unique combination of methodological depth and access to excellent primary sources for students who wish to develop and extend their understanding of how visual styles at different times and in different places can be understood in relation to the aesthetic, intellectual and social facets of various cultures.
This course draws on the established strengths of the discipline of art history in formal, iconographic and contextual analysis in the Faculty of History's History of Art Department and links them to a rigorous approach to questions of theory and method.
The course will expose you to the ways in which the subjects of visual history are being redefined on a broad base to include a much wider range of artefacts and visual media, including images and objects produced in contexts ranging from the scientific to the popular.
Teaching and examination comprise:
- a compulsory methodology paper, Theories and Methods in the History of Art, which is taught in class and lecture series during Michaelmas and Hilary terms. There is also an associated lecture series and object-handling sessions in Oxford collections. It is assessed through three short essays in an examination at the end of Trinity term;
- one option paper, normally taught in small classes during Michaelmas and Hilary terms. Assessment is through two extended essays of between 4,000 and 5,000 words each. Students receive one-on-one supervision when preparing their essays. Some of the option papers will not be available every year, and new ones may be added. Prospective students should check on the availability of specific courses during the application process; and
- a dissertation of up to 15,000 words completed independently, under the guidance of an expert supervisor, on an topic of your choice and approved by the supervisor and the chair of examiners for the programme. The dissertation is submitted in Trinity term.
Please note that not every optional subject listed may be on offer every year, depending in part on levels of student demand. Full details of core and optional papers are available on the course webpage.
If you wish to apply for a doctoral programme, at Oxford or elsewhere, you will be encouraged to develop your doctoral proposal during the first few months of the course so that you will be well placed to make doctoral applications during or soon after completing the course.
About a quarter of master’s students proceed directly to doctoral work at Oxford or at other institutions, with additional students applying to doctoral programmes within a year or two of completing the degree. Other career destinations include museums and galleries, the heritage sector, media/publishing (including online), fine arts and teaching, as well as fields such as banking, law and the civil service.
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 2018-19
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 a relevant discipline in the humanities or social sciences.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 out of 4.0.
Most successful applicants have a degree in a humanities subject such as history of art, history, English, modern languages, Classics, theology, philosophy, archaeology or anthropology. Graduates in fine art who have excellent research and writing skills will also be considered. Applicants with social science and sometimes even science degrees have also been admitted provided they can make a persuasive application that attests to their interest in the visual arts, broadly defined, and demonstrates excellent preparation for the course’s research and writing demands. A degree in history of art is not a requirement and approximately half of each cohort will have completed an undergraduate degree in another subject.
Your submitted written work should show your writing and research skills in their best light, as it will be important to show that you have the necessary skills required for art historical research. In your proposal, please indicate clearly your first and second choices for the option paper (remember to and check the availability of specific option papers in the academic year for which you are applying) and make clear in your statement why you wish to take the specific option(s) you have selected. You should also suggest a possible master’s dissertation topic, including an indication of relevant background preparation.
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:
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.
Assessors may get in touch with an applicant by email in case of any queries, but this is rare.
Publications are not required.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
In the case of mature students/intended career changes professional experience in cognate areas may compensate for shortcomings in the formal academic record.
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 Faculty of History's Department of History of Art 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 Faculty of History's Department of History of Art and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff.
- Under some circumstances a supervisor outside the Faculty of History's Department of History of Art may be nominated.
An Oxford academic’s pre-application indication of willingness to supervise an enquiring applicant is not a guarantee that the applicant will be offered a place, or that the supervisor in question has capacity in that particular year.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course other than in order to provide expert supervision for the dissertation if the topic is different from the one studied in the option paper. 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.
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.
Intellectual life and community
Working as an Oxford graduate student is an exhilarating experience. The History of Art Department brings together a tightly knit community of scholars working on a wide range of periods and subjects, including associated academics working on visual culture more widely.
Students are also integrated into the wider History Faculty, which includes scholars working from circa 300 AD to the present, and embraces an exceptionally broad geographical range. It comprises an active research community of up to 800 academics and graduate students. The faculty’s research is organised around historical periods, research centres, or in collaborative and individual research projects, and graduates are key participants in the wide range of seminars, workshops and conferences run by the History Faculty.
Further opportunities for exchange are provided by the interdisciplinary communities fostered within individual colleges, which also offer dedicated support for graduates by means of personal advisors. The department's Centre for Visual Studies and The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities (TORCH) offers a stimulating range of interdisciplinary activities. You are also encouraged join the Oxford History Graduate Network (OHGN), which fosters friendships, conversations and collaboration.
The Oxford environment provides a unique opportunity to develop intellectual curiosity whilst remaining focused on one’s own work without becoming blinkered - an integral part of a successful graduate career.
Libraries and archives
Graduates in Oxford are fortunate in having access to over a hundred libraries. The University's core research resource in the Humanities are the Bodleian Libraries, whose combined collections contain more than 11 million printed items, in addition to more than 50,000 e-journals and a vast quantity of manuscripts, maps, music and other materials, including the Sackler Library, a major research centre for the study of art history and the ancient world.
The Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections Department attracts scholars from all over the world. Further strengths include the countless databases and digital resources currently offered by the Bodleian and being developed through Oxford’s Digital Humanities programme.
Graduates are also able to draw on the specialist resources offered by the Bodleian History Faculty Library which provides dedicated support and training courses for all graduates. They also have access to the many college libraries and to college archives which can house significant collections of personal papers as well as institutional records dating back to the middle ages. There are also major research libraries as well as libraries attached to faculties, departments and other institutions.
Museums, collections and galleries
Few universities in the world boast the quality and range of Oxford’s collections, which provide an invaluable basis for the study of all forms of art. The Ashmolean Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum, Christ Church Picture Gallery, Museum of the History of Science, Modern Art Oxford and other museum collections – together with the wealth of architectural monuments in the city – are an integral part of studying at Oxford. The department’s own Visual Resources Centre is available for student use. Students have the opportunity to work closely with curators on individual objects from many cultures. From drawings by Raphael to totem poles, the range of possibilities is vast.
This range of resources for art historians differentiates the Oxford programme from others.
There are over 1,100 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.
The Ertegun Scholarship Programme and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each provide a number of awards every year, to support graduate students across a range of disciplines. To be considered for these studentships you must apply by the relevant January admissions deadline.
Annual fees for entry in 2018-19
Total annual fees
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 of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.
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.
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 2018-19 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between c. £1,015 and £1,555 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.
The following colleges accept students on the MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture:
- Campion Hall
- Christ Church
- Corpus Christi College
- Exeter College
- Harris Manchester College
- Hertford College
- Keble College
- Kellogg College
- Lady Margaret Hall
- Linacre College
- Lincoln College
- Magdalen College
- New College
- Oriel College
- Regent's Park College
- St Anne's College
- St Benet's Hall
- St Catherine's College
- St Cross College
- St Edmund Hall
- St Hilda's College
- St Hugh's College
- St John's College
- St Peter's College
- Somerville College
- Trinity College
- Wadham College
- Wolfson College
- Worcester College
How to apply
You are encouraged to familiarise yourself with the research expertise within the faculty when preparing your application. However, you will not be required to specify a potential supervisor in your application and the faculty will in any case decide supervision arrangements, taking due account of workload and commitments of its academics.
If you are not sure who to contact, or if you think your topic is out of the ordinary and/or requires a specialist supervisor, please contact the History of Art Department.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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.
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.
Statement of purpose/personal statement:
500 to 1,000 words, typically two to four pages double-spaced
Your statement should convince the faculty that you have the right intellectual qualities, academic knowledge and skills to undertake the course. It should focus on how you see the course as building upon your previous study, and what you hope to do with the qualifications you gain from the University, rather than on personal achievements and aspirations.
You should discuss what kinds of problems and issues you hope to engage with; what the current state of your knowledge and understanding of these is, and how you hope to advance that.
You should clearly indicate your first and second choices for the option paper and suggest a possible master’s dissertation topic, including an indication of relevant background preparation. Please check the availability of specific option papers in the academic year for which you are applying and make clear in your statement why you wish to take the specific option(s) you have selected.
In your statement of purpose, you should also sketch out a preliminary research proposal and title for your intended dissertation. This should supply a research question identifying the central issue or problem with which you intend to grapple, some account of the current state of scholarship in this area and an indication of the kinds of sources you hope to use. You only need to submit one document overall, combining this research proposal into your statement of purpose.
Your statement must be written in English. A bibliography may also be provided, if relevant; if so, it is not included in the word count, though any footnotes should be included.
It is anticipated that your ideas will change and develop once you have begun the programme and have been exposed to new approaches, sources and methods. However, students applying to this course are expected to have a clear sense of the kind of research they wish to undertake.
This will be assessed for:
- your reasons for applying
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
- the coherence of the proposal, the ability to present a reasoned case in English
- commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree programme
- reasoning ability
- ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.
Your proposal should focus on the relevance of the programme you are applying for to your education, and on the academic merits of your intended course dissertation rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations. Proposing a preliminary title for your dissertation project will be advantageous.
Two essays of 2,000 words each or one essay of 4,000 to 5,000 words
Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification are required. Extracts from a longer dissertation are welcome as long as they are prefaced by a brief paragraph to establish their context. Writing samples from applicants for masters' courses need not necessarily relate closely to the proposed area of study.
The written work must be submitted in English (if this work has been translated, you must indicate if the translations are your own, or what assistance you had in producing the English text).
Any footnotes should be included in the word count. A bibliography may also be provided and is not included in the word count.
This will be assessed for understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; powers of analysis; and powers of expression.
To submit one longer piece of work in your application, upload your work as written work in your application and for the second piece of written work, upload the following text as a PDF or Word document:
"I have included one long essay in lieu of the two short essays as permitted by the department."
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.
References should generally be academic, though if you are returning to study after extended periods of non-academic employment then you are welcome to nominate professional referees where it would be impractical to call on your previous university tutors.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in both a group environment and sustained individual and self-motivated investigation.