MSt in the History of Design | University of Oxford
Master's in History of Design students
Master's in History of Design students
Photo credit: John Cairns

MSt in the History of Design

About the course

The MSt in the History of Design is a master's degree offered part-time over two years, taught on one Saturday a month. The programme focuses upon design and decoration produced 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; internationalist and nationalist tendencies; handicraft and industrial processes; consumption and sustainability; critical debates about makers and audiences in advice literature and aesthetic 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 takes a variety of forms in this programme. Three Saturdays each term are devoted to lectures and seminar group discussion. In keeping with the Oxford ethos, individual tutorials with the Course Director and independent research in the intervening month are also a central element of the course as well as site visits, both to the University of Oxford's unique museum and library collections and to those nearby in London and the regions. 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.

Year 1 assessment

  • 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)

Year 2 assessment

  • 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)

Graduate destinations

Upon successful completion of this course some students have gone on to further graduate study, such as doctoral research.

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 2019-20

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 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 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 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 45-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. The interviews are held in person at Rewley House, except for candidates who cannot travel from abroad who will be interviewed either on the telephone or through Skype.

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.


Publications are not required.

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.

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 Department for Continuing Education 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 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.

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.


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. 


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.


Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£5,230

The fees shown above are the annual course fees for this course, for entry in the stated academic year.

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. You may have seen separate figures in the past for tuition fees and college fees. We have now combined these into a single figure.

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.

For more information about course 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.

Additional information

Information about additional course costs is currently unavailable. Please check back soon.

Living costs

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 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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 2019-20, 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.


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:

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.


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 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).

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.

Written work:
One essay 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.

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: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

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