About the course
The MSt in the History of Design is a master's degree offered part-time over two years, taught through synchronous virtual and face-to-face teaching. The programme focuses upon design produced worldwide since 1851. Students progress from a grounding in material and historical analysis to dissertation research.
This course explores the fascinating histories of objects and environments created amidst the advent of modernity. The syllabus examines a variety of forms of design and craft: graphic design, decorative arts, industrial design, fashion, design for performance and display, the designed space of interiors, the built environment and landscape.
Core themes of the course include the rivalries between historicism and modernity; local and transnational identities; handicraft and industrial and digital processes; consumption, politics and sustainability; critical debates about manufacturers, mediators, and audiences in advice literature, advertising and film writing.
The development of a framework of interdisciplinary interpretative skills useful to understanding the history of design is a core aim. By providing grounding in the analysis of the techniques and materials deployed in creating things or places, the programme enables you to grapple with material evidence which enriches this distinctive field of historical research. The analysis of the historiography of political and aesthetic debates articulated by makers, critics and historians about design, its forms and purposes locates how these objects and sites embody historical memory, identity and ideology.
Teaching and learning
Teaching and learning takes a variety of forms in this programme. Three face-to-face site visits to the University of Oxford's unique museums and libraries and to collections nearby are blended with synchronous virtual seminars and workshops timed to be accessible worldwide outside conventional working hours. In keeping with the Oxford ethos, individual tutorials with the Course Director and independent research.
- Materials and Techniques of Design
- Historical Methods
- Histories of Design: 1851-1951
- Modern Design and the Home
- Design for War and Peace
- Arts and Crafts Traditions: Local and Transnational Perspectives
- Design, Body, Environment
- Machine Age to Digital: Histories and Technologies
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department for Continuing Education 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 Department for Continuing Education.
Formal assessment is by means of analytical essay and dissertation writing, underpinned by informal assessment methods such as termly oral presentations by yourself to the group about your independent research.
Michaelmas term: Materials and techniques case-study essay (2,500 words)
Hilary term: Historical methods and sources essay (3,000 words)
Trinity term: Research project (5,000 words)
Michaelmas term: Advanced paper option extended essay (5,000 words)
Hilary term: Advanced paper option extended essay (5,000 words)
Trinity term and summer (to September): Dissertation (15,000 words)
Upon successful completion of this course some students have gone on to further graduate study, such as doctoral research and career progression in the museum and heritage sector, creative industries and university teaching.
Changes to this course and your supervision
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. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
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 illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses in the humanities offered by this department
Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in cognate humanities subjects such as history (history of art, visual and material culture; modern social and economic history, etc), modern languages, literature, studio practice, etc as well as design-related forms of social sciences (cultural theory and film studies) and engineering.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA normally sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
This history of design course is aimed at candidates who wish to develop a critical understanding of the history of design.
Examples of potential applicant profiles
Graduates of any age seeking to develop their previous experience of critical analysis and writing about objects and sites through the study the history of design. The weekend delivery format of this programme has been designed to facilitate the study of those candidates whose employment or caring duties require part-time forms of study, whilst maintaining their momentum and progressing to a postgraduate qualification.
Practitioners in the fields of craft and design, interior and landscape design, urban planning, etc. wishing to inform their own work within the creative industries with specialist knowledge of design history and current methodological debates.
Museum, heritage industry and art market professionals seeking to continue their professional development by enriching their specialist knowledge within the framework of postgraduate study.
Teaching professionals in art and design; history; cultural studies (from the HE, FE and secondary school sectors) seeking to deepen their grounding in the critical and contextual components of their teaching and research, continuing their professional development.
The admissions panel is looking for adult students who have particular interest in studying the history of modern design, eager to enhance their understanding of the subject through researching material and textual evidence in depth. They will also look for evidence of a high level of commitment, independence and the ability to discuss and to analyse aspects of the subject critically. Evidence of recent written work which deploys visual evidence and critical scholarship (accurately referenced) is also required.
Above all, they are looking for the capacity for intellectual growth and development. Admission will be based on information provided in the application form and at interview. The final decision on admission to the course rests with OUDCE.
Previous undergraduate study in cognate humanities subjects such as history, visual and material culture, modern languages, literature, studio practice etc may be an advantage.
Professional experience in the design, heritage and museum sectors, cultural media etc may also be an advantage.
Publications are not required.
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
English language requirement
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
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
Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.
A short list of candidates will be selected by the admissions panel. These candidates will be called for a 30 minute interview with two members of staff from the University, usually within the month after the application deadline. Around 80% of applicants are usually called to the interviews from which the offers of a place are made. In years with very high numbers of applications, this proportion will be necessarily lower. All interviews are conducted through Microsoft Teams or by telephone.
In the interview, each candidate is asked to choose a photograph of a designed object or site from a set of images provided by the admissions panel and to speak about it for around 10 minutes. The candidate’s response offers useful indicators as to their skills in visual and material analysis, basic subject-specific knowledge of the history of modern design since 1851, and general articulacy about the themes and research methods of the discipline without previous preparation.
Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. 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. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
After an offer is made
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
The department is committed to supporting you to pursue your academic goals.
The Rewley House Continuing Education Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries, is situated in Rewley House. The department aims to support the wide variety of subjects covered by departmental courses at many academic levels. The department also has a collection of around 73,000 books together with periodicals. PCs in the library give access to the internet and the full range of electronic resources subscribed to by the University of Oxford. Wifi is also available. The Jessop Reading Room adjoining the library is available for study. You will have access to the Central Bodleian and other Bodleian Libraries.
The Graduate School provides a stimulating and enriching learning and research environment for the department's graduate students, fostering intellectual and social interaction between graduates of different disciplines and professions from the UK and around the globe. The Graduate School will help you make the most of the wealth of resources and opportunities available, paying particular regard to the support and guidance needed if you are following a part-time graduate programme. The department’s graduate community comprises over 600 members following taught programmes and more than 70 undertaking doctoral research.
The department provides various IT facilities, including the Student Computing Facility which provides individual PCs for your use. Many of the department's courses are delivered through blended learning or have a website to support face-to-face study. In most cases, online support is delivered through a virtual learning environment.
Depending on the programme you are taking with the department, you may require accommodation at some point in your student career. Rewley House is ideally located in central Oxford; the city's historic sites, colleges, museums, shops and restaurants are only a few minutes’ walk away. The department has 35 en-suite study bedrooms, all with high quality amenities, including internet access.
The Rewley House dining room has seating for up to 132 people. A full meal service is available daily. The department operates a Common Room with bar for students.
The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources. Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2021-22
Annual Course fees
|Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,|
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
|Overseas (including EU)||£10,878|
Course 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 course fees). 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.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
This course has residential sessions in Oxford. You will need to meet your travel and accommodation costs in attending these sessions. Further, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. 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 course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 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. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.
If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSt in History of Design:
How to apply
It is not necessary to contact an academic member of staff before you apply. If you have queries about the course or its content, please contact the Award Programme Administrator in the first instance.
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:
A maximum of 500 words
The statement should focus on experience of and particular research interests in the history of design rather than personal achievements, general interests and aspirations. This should be written in English.
The admissions panel will evaluate your reasons for applying and your suitability for the programme as expressed in the personal statement (of approximately 500 words in English).
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for indications of:
- your ability to engage with complex new ideas and debates with an open mind and at a rapid pace
- your capacity to undertake sustained and intensive independent work, as well as a positive responsiveness to constructive advice, are also key criteria
- your commitment to the particular subject of the history of modern design and skills in historical research and visual analysis.
Your ideas and experience will naturally evolve as you investigate the evidence and develop your understanding of the history of design. Nevertheless the best effort possible should be made to demonstrate the extent of your historical interests, motivation and suitability to undertake this degree at the moment of application.
One essay of a maximum of 2,000 words
You should provide a sample of academic writing about visual culture in English. Extracts from a longer project are welcome, but should be prefaced with a brief note putting them in context.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- the reasoning of the argument
- the analysis of detailed visual and material evidence as well as primary and secondary scholarship demonstrating research skills
- the persuasiveness of written expression
- the accuracy of scholarly apparatus.
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.
Your references must be academic except in cases where no academic references can be obtained. In such cases, professional references are acceptable.
Your references will support your academic ability and suitability for this course.
Start or continue an application
Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.
Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.
Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.
Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds who meet the eligibility criteria;
- residents in a country listed as low-income by the World Bank (refer to the eligibility criteria);
- current Oxford graduate taught students applying for readmission to an eligible course; and
- additional applications to selected research courses that are closely related to your first application.
Step 5: Start your application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.