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History (MA)

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Course overview

This flexible course brings together a team of distinguished tutors and a rich field of optional course units. The MA has been specially devised to study the theories, concepts and practical skills that underpin the powerful discipline of history when studied at an advanced level.

You will select your own optional units to make a bespoke course – whether with a broader/thematic or more concentrated focus, depending on your individual interests. You will also take a methodology unit and a skills unit which includes visiting speakers from the fields of archives, museums, publishing and the media. Finally, the dissertation gives you the opportunity to undertake original research on a topic of your own choice, under individual supervision.

This is an attractive advanced qualification, especially suitable if you are seeking employment in fields involving the professional creation, evaluation and dissemination of knowledge. It is also ideal if you are intending to proceed to the MPhil leading to a PhD in History.

Key facts

Key facts about the course
Qualification Master of Arts
Duration 1 year full-time or 2 years part-time
Department and Faculty History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Partner institution(s) --
Course director Helen Graham
+44(0)1784 443318
Contact for more information Marie-Christine Ockenden
Postgraduate Administrator
+44 (0)1784 443311

Fees / funding

Please visit the Fees and funding pages for the latest information about tuition fees and the different sources of funding which may be available to you.

How to apply

Applications for entry to all our full-time postgraduate degrees can be made online.

Further information on making an application, including the documentation that you will need to submit with the application is available in the How to apply section of this site.

If you are interested in applying to Royal Holloway, why not arrange a visit to our campus to see for yourself what academic and student life is like here. More information on arranging visits is available on our Open days pages.


Entry requirements

Entry criteria:

UK Upper Second Class Honours degree (2:1), or equivalent, in history or other relevant discipline.

Non-standard applications are also viewed sympathetically.

English language requirements:

IELTS 6.5 overall with 7.0 in writing and a minimum of 5.5 in all other subscores. For equivalencies please see here

Applicants come from a diverse range of backgrounds and we accept a broad range of qualifications (including first degrees in subjects other than History).

Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.

Additional requirements:

  • An interview and sample essay may be required if we would like more information upon which to base a decision. Applicants unable to attend an interview, such as overseas students, will be interviewed by telephone.

Why choose this course?

  • You will have the opportunity to study units from across all MA History options, giving you the chance to tailor your course to suit your interests (options include some courses taught at other London colleges).
  • You will have access to some of the richest facilities for historical research anywhere in the world; in addition to the College’s substantial library collections, there are the National Archives, British Library and libraries of the University of London.
  • Our academic staff are at the leading edge of their research and as such offer you an exceptional variety of expertise.
  • We host an exciting range of research seminars that are open for you to participate in.

Department research and industry highlights

Noted for depth, breadth and innovation, the research output of Royal Holloway historians ranges from ancient to contemporary times, from Britain and Europe to America, the Middle and Far East and Australia, and from political history to economic, social, cultural, intellectual, medical, environmental, and gender history. In particular, the History Department has special strengths in social, cultural, and gender history, and in the history of ideas - with research that covers a notable range of countries, periods, and approaches.

We have a number of research centres:

Course content and structure

You will study two core course units, four elective units and complete a dissertation.

Core course units:

Studying and Communicating the Past
You will be introduced to the range of skills and resources that you need to understand and deploy as historians. Some classes are entirely skills-based and some combine a reflection on conceptual issues with practical workshops and skills practice.

History Past and Present: Definitions, Concepts and Approaches
You will explore the development of history as an important discipline within the humanities and social sciences. It looks at how ‘history’ (discursive writing about the past) has been conceived and composed differently at different times, but how it always relates in some way to questions of power and politics, broadly construed. The unit will introduce you to the range of definitions, concepts and approaches current within the discipline.

This is an important part of the course and gives you the opportunity to undertake a research project, either as an end in itself or as preparation for work on a PhD. The dissertation is a piece of original work of 12,500 - 15,000 words and is supervised.


Elective course units:

You will choose from a range of options according to interest. Note that not all the elective courses listed will be offered every year.

The Material Culture of Homelife: European Households 1400-1850
This course will introduce students to the key historiographical debates on the changing nature of homelife in this period, including: the growing specialization of furnishings and domestic space and the rise of privacy, the rise in consumption and the decline of the home as a productive space, and the social meanings of things. Though adopting a Europe-wide perspective the course will focus in particular on a comparison between Italy and England which reflects the state of the field.

The Body in Renaissance and Early Modern European Culture
You will explore the ideas and practices concerning the body between the fifteenth and the late seventeenth century. You will consider differences and overlaps in the medical, theological and political discourses, and compares learned and “popular” views of the body as found in the accounts of patients and lay people and in the vernacular literature.

Conflict, Faith and Terror in the Middle East since 1945
This course focuses on three main areas of conflict in the Middle East: Palestine-Israel; Lebanon, Israel and Syria; and the Persian Gulf. It seeks to analyse the origins of these conflicts particularly in the light of the prevailing discourse in contemporary politics and the press, which tend to see these conflicts in religious and cultural terms.

Islam in Britain: Past, Present, Future
You will be provided with an extensive and comprehensive understanding of the history of Muslims in Britain. You will study the development of the various Muslim communities in Britain, from the 1800s through to the 21st century.

Introduction to Victorian Studies: Part One: Politics and Ideas
This course offers an overview of the principal currents in Victorian politics. It covers a variety of topics - from traditions of political and social thought (looking at conservatism, the church, liberalism, plebeian radicalism, the socialist tradition, and feminism) to economic developments, the law and legislative change. 

Introduction to Victorian Studies: Part Two: Cultural and Social History
The unit provides you with a basic introduction to some of the leading debates in Victorian social and intellectual history over the past half century.

Recording the Crusades: the Memory and Legacy of Crusading Down the Centuries
This course will examine the writing and the memory of crusading, paying particular attention to the evolution and mutation of the crusading idea over the last 200 years. We will see how crusading imagery was adopted by the European colonial/imperial powers during the nineteenth century, we will look at how it was used during World War I and then follow the story down to the disastrous use of the word 'crusade' by President George W. Bush in 2001. As well as this 'Western' perspective we will analyse how the crusade and the jihad have evolved in the Muslim world; once more looking at the age of colonialism and imperialism, but this time through Muslim eyes.

Public Decency and Private Morals: Twentieth Century British History
Britain in the twentieth century: an era of unprecedented individual freedom or a period of relentless state expansion? This course considers ideas of public decency and private morals, and explores the relationships between the state (both national and local), communities, families and individuals, particularly in social political and cultural terms. Core themes include: cultures of consumption; social policy; welfare; representations and experiences of deviance; sexualities; and popular culture.

History of the Holocaust
The course provides a thorough grounding in the history of the Holocaust, taught mainly through secondary sources. It covers the history of the Jews from the emancipation period onwards, especially the Jews of Germany; the emergence of political antisemitism in Germany and Austria; the rise to power of Nazism; the Euthanasia Programme and its relationship with the persecution of the Jews; and Nazi policy vis-a-vis the Jews and other victims (Afro-Germans, homosexuals, Soviet POWs etc.) in its various stages.

Interpreting the Holocaust 
This course provides  a thorough grounding in the historiography of and theoretical approaches to the Holocaust. The course is taught using secondary historical sources, sociological and anthropological texts, testimony and memoir, film, art, photography, comics, museums and monuments. The course examines first different 'grand narrative' explanations for the Holocaust (such as 'modernity' and 'genocide'), then looks at different sources, such as testimony and photography, and finally looks at the politics of Holocaust memory.

Faith, Politics, and the Jews of Europe, 1848-1918
The course will begin with an examination and analysis of the nature of Jewish society and culture in Western Europe in the period of acculturation and assimilation in the mid- to late-19C. It will explore the emergence of conservative Jewish movements opposed to assimilation and the response to anti-Jewish movements and ideologies from the late 1870s onwards. It will assess the impact of internal migration in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires and the mass migration in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires and the mass migration of East European Jews to Germany, France and Britain from the 1880s to the 1910s. The course will conclude by examining the transformative effect of the First World War.

Leading Thinkers of the Islamic Revival
For most of the two centuries since 1800 the West has dominated the Muslim world. This has set Muslims a host of searching questions, for instance: How could a faith, which had always walked hand in hand with power, manage without it? How could Muslims chart a successful way forward in the modern world in harmony with their heritage? How particularly could Muslims address the all-embracing demands of the modern state? And how should they fashion themselves inwardly to cope with the demands of 'modernity'? This course will set out to answer these and other questions, drawing on the work of key thinkers and activists.

African American Islam, the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X
This course examines the historical development of several African American Muslim groups in the US throughout the twentieth century with a particular emphasis on the Nation of Islam (NOI). It focuses on historiographical debates that relate to the Nation of Islam's influence on the struggle for racial equality in the US, Elijah Muhammad's Islamic particularism, gender and the NOI and Malcolm X's life and legacy.

The Infidel Within? Muslims in the West
This course provides an extensive and comprehensive understanding of the history of Muslims in the West. Students study the development of Muslim communities in different western states, from the 1800s through to the 21st century. Contemporary issues relating to these Muslim communities are also explored, including issues such as identity, divided loyalties, gender relations, perceptions held by the majority non-Muslim community and conflict, continuity and adjustment including the 'war on terror'.

Gendering the Modern Islamic World
This unit explores the issue of gender in the formative years of Islam. Students will analyse the emerging and developing relationship between gender, the state and society across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Violence in the American South, 1865-1955
The central thematic focus of the course is the social, political, and economic origins and functions of violence in the American South between the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Topics covered include the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction, lynching, race riots, feuds, and labour-related violence.

China and the Wider World since 1949 
This course examines Communist China's relations with the wider world from 1949 to 1979, with a brief look at the 1980s and beyond. Organised chronologically and thematically, it focuses on China's interactions with the two superpowers, Asian neighbours, and European and Third World countries, and its policy towards such issues as national unification, territorial defence and foreign trade. It asses the role of personality, ideology, domestic politics and culture in the making of China's foreign policy. Approaching the current rise of China as a global power from a long-term historical perspective, this course links the past with the present and will enhance understanding of China's place in the twenty-first century world.

Unforgettable Encounters with the West: Knowledge Transformation in Modern China
This course will explore several important encounters between the West and China from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. It aims to explore the significance of these encounters, and investigate how Chinese society, from rulers to ordinary people, experienced the impact of these contacts, and later internalized the knowledge acquired, assimilating it as a part of their own culture. The course will demonstrate the importance of knowledge transfer and transformation from the West to China in the form both of material culture and intellectual history.

Tigers & Dragons: The Economic Development of China & Japan 1890-1990
You will study topics including: Economic Change in East Asia during the Twentieth Century; Japan: The Rise of a Major Industrial Power; War and Occupation, 1937-1952; China: Economic Development in an Age of Upheaval; War and Civil War, 1937-49; The People's Republic under Mao, 1949-1976; and From the Gang of Four to 'Special Economic Zones': Communist China in the Modern Era.

Culture Wars: a Genealogy of the European Civil Wars
In the mid-twentieth century European states, societies and 'nations' were reconstructed through the execution, imprisonment and castigation of compatriots. The Nazi Volksgemeinschaft and Soviet gulags remain extreme cases, but the brutal recasting of state and society via the creation of categories of the 'anti-nation' (non-persons without civil rights) was itself far from exceptional in Europe - east or west. This course explores how this came to be. Classes include: revolution & counter-revolution; the psychological & cultural legacy of the Great War; generations in conflict; mass politics; the modern city; seeking order through ‘purification’ - eugenics, gender and sexuality; cultures of reaction (religion & conservatism); race, eugenics and the state.

The European Civil Wars 1917- 1947
This companion course to 'Culture Wars' looks in greater detail at the major national and regional experiences that produced such acute forms of internecine conflict. It explores how these complex intra-national conflicts were played out during the 1940s, strongly infecting the Second World War in Europe, but not necessarily concluding along with the military hostilities in 1945. Students study violence and state building (the 'great breakthrough' in Soviet Russia; the fascist revolution; building brutal 'national communities' in Italy, Germany and Spain) and civil war to world war and beyond (Hitler's Europe; occupation, collaboration and resistance; the politics of retribution; the ethnic recasting of Europe 1944-48 and World War 2 in popular memory).

Fascism Then and Now: The European far right in a transnational frame
This course offers an innovative way to study fascism and the postwar far right. Students look at the transnational circulation of far-right doctrines, strategies and activists across state borders, the cultural and political activism of some intellectuals and other right-wing figures, as well as a commonality of behaviours between some permutations of European fascism up to the recent era. The course covers the long post-WW2 years which are often neglected by the existing literature and by the media too.

New Imperial Histories: Britain's Empire reassessed
The course addresses the development of recent approaches (since c.1900) to British imperial and colonial history, and the impact of these approaches on particular aspects of imperialism and colonialism.


On completion of the course graduates will have:

  • a high level of skill in the research, analysis and presentation of complex/fragmentary data
  • an advanced knowledge and critical understanding of the major concepts and theories that inform the subject
  • an understanding of the various explanations and theories for change and continuity in history
  • an understanding of the underlying social, cultural, economic, religious, ideological and political changes occurring during the periods studied.


View the full course specification for History (MA) in the Programme Specification Repository


Assessment is carried out by a variety of methods including coursework and a dissertation.

Employability & career opportunities

Our graduates are highly employable and, in recent years have entered roles such as university lecturer, archivist, curator, journalist, librarian, PR consultant, teacher, freelance researcher, radio producer and a wide variety of other jobs within the ‘knowledge industries’. This course also equips you with a solid foundation for continued PhD studies. 


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