MSt in the History of Design

Course details

This two-year part-time master's degree explores how ordinary things and places created since 1851 reveal fascinating traces of historical experience.

To be accessible to the greatest diversity of applicants worldwide, the interactive programme of study is taught synchronously through Microsoft Teams in term-time. The degree also has 3 required residencies of two days in Oxford: handling sessions and site visits in early October of each year and a Dissertation Forum in mid-June of the second year.

Open event

An open evening will be held on Saturday 28 November 2020 and 20 February 2021, between 4.00-5.00pm (UK time) Please email pgt@conted.ox.ac.uk if you wish to attend.  This year the events will be held online.

Description

A teacup, be it hand-painted porcelain, studio pottery or mass-produced ceramic, offers a glimpse of the rituals of everyday life, past and present. The creation of a designed object or place reflects not only the creativity of its maker, but also the identity of the people who choose to inhabit or use it. Its materials, form and styling express identity through aesthetic associations; the shifting historical and political conditions through which it survives leave traces upon it. This programme of study investigates the contested inter-relationships between the tools, skills and professions of craft, industry, technology, landscape, building, communications, display, and commerce.

The first-year grounds everyone in the skills of close material analysis and histories of how design is represented in and can be interpreted through advertising, writing and film. The second-year focusses on how you can develop as a researcher through themed small-group seminars and individual dissertation supervision. We will assess how everyday objects participate in rivalries between handicraft, industrial and digital processes, local and transnational identities and politics, private, public, and non-places, historicism and modernity, fashionable taste, and sustainability. We immerse ourselves in the rediscovery and analysis of critical debates amongst makers, manufacturers, mediators, and consumers articulated through the printed and spoken word, graphic design and moving images which are vital to understanding designed objects and environments historically. 

Learning takes a variety of forms in this programme, facilitated through blending synchronous virtual and face-to-face teaching with your independent reading and looking. First-hand material analysis is an essential component of the discipline of the history of design. As such each year begins with visits to encounter objects and environments in Oxford University's unique museums and Bodleian libraries and nearby. In the first year, the whole cohort meets for weekly interactive seminars with preparatory collective tasks alongside your independent development of research skills through assessed written projects. In the second year, students choose one from two Advanced Papers offered each term which are taught in smaller groups. There is also a group tutorial where the whole cohort convenes. In keeping with the Oxford ethos, individual tutorials and supervisions with the Course Director are central throughout the course, supporting your development as a researcher from your first case-study assignment to the final dissertation. Each candidate gives an oral presentation about their independent research every term, receiving feedback from peers and the Course Director. Formal assessment is by means of analytical writing grounded in material analysis and historical context.

The history of design is well represented worldwide in public collections and informs contemporary practice; it flourishes in the exchange of ideas in academic symposia, journals, and scholarship. Numerous professional bodies and learned societies host seminars, conferences and professional development events useful to this programme of study including the Design History Society; the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain; the Twentieth Century Society; the Costume Society; the Garden History Society; the Textile History Society; the Wallpaper Society, the British Industrial Design Association and the Association for Art History amongst many others.

See preliminary reading suggestions

Graduate destinations

Alumni of this degree programme founded in 2011 have progressed to an impressive variety of further study and career paths including doctoral study here at Oxford and elsewhere as well as career development in the creative industries, curatorship, publishing, and academe.

Programme details

Course structure

The MSt is a part-time course taught over two years blending three residential weekends in Oxford over the two years (a site weekend in October of both years and a Dissertation Forum in June of Year Two) with synchronous interactive teaching through Microsoft Teams timed to be accessible worldwide outside the conventional working week.

In Year One, the whole cohort meets for mandatory courses taught through synchronous virtual sessions on weekly Saturdays for three terms between October and June.

In Year Two, the cohort splits into smaller groups focussing on a choice of one of two Advanced Papers which are taught through synchronous virtual sessions on Saturdays. The Course Director also leads a weekly group tutorial bringing the whole cohort back together on Thursdays.

Throughout the first five terms of the programme, two individual tutorials will be booked with the Course Director on Thursdays during term time. Four individual dissertation supervisions will be booked on set monthly Saturdays between May and August of Year Two.

The course is flexibly designed for the needs of students wishing to balance their studies with other commitments, but it should be understood that it is an intensive programme, requiring 15 to 20 hours of independent study per week as well as active participation in the teaching sessions.

Course content and timetable

The three teaching weekends across the two years will be based at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA with site visits at other venues in Oxford and beyond. Class details, reading lists and information about any field trips will be supplied when you have taken up your place.

Year One: Whole cohort seminars

  • Materials and Techniques of Design
  • Historical Methods
  • Histories of Design 1851 to 1951

 

Year Two: Small-group seminar options and whole-cohort discussions

  1. Modern Design and the Home
  2. Design for War and Peace
  3. Arts and Crafts Traditions: Local and Transnational Perspectives
  4. Design, Body, Environment
  5. Machine Age to Digital: Histories and Technologies
  • Dissertation

Timetable

YEAR 1 (2021-22)

 

TERM 1 (Michaelmas Term 2021)
Materials and Techniques of Design (Mandatory)

Induction, handling sessions and site visits in Oxford and environs

  • Thursday and Friday 15-16 October 2021
  • Matriculation Saturday 17 October 2021

Six seminars taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Weekly Saturdays from 23 October 2021 to 27 November 2021 (14.00 to 17.30 hrs GMT)

Two group tutorials taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Two Thursdays 2 and 9 December (18.00-19.00 hrs GMT)

Individual tutorials conducted synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Pre-book two meetings with the Course Director (Thursdays 11.00 to 19.00 hrs GMT)

 

TERM 2 (Hilary Term 2022)
Historical Methods (Mandatory)

Six seminars taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Weekly Saturdays from 22 January 2022 to 26 February (14.00 to 17.30 hrs GMT)

 Two group tutorials taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Two Thursdays 5 and 12 March (18.00-19.00 hrs GMT)

Individual Tutorials conducted synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Pre-book 2 meetings with Course Director (Thursdays 11.00 to 19.00 hrs GMT)

 

TERM 3 (Trinity Term 2022)
Histories of Modern Design 1851-1951 (Mandatory)

Six weekly sessions taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Saturdays 23 April 2022 to 9 June (14.00 to 17.30 hrs GMT note May Bank Holidays)

Two group tutorials taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Two Thursdays 16 and 23 June group tutorials (18.00-19.00 hrs GMT)

Individual Tutorials conducted synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Pre-book 2 meetings with Course Director (Thursdays 11.00 to 19.00 hrs GMT)

 

YEAR 2 (2022-23) Provisional timetable and options

Michaelmas term 2022

  1. Modern Design and the Home
  2. Design for War and Peace

Hilary term 2023

  1. Arts and Crafts Traditions: Local and Transnational Perspectives
  2. Design, Body, Environment

 

TERM 1 (Michaelmas Term 2022)
 

Year Two Induction, face-to-face handling sessions and site visits in Oxford and environs

  • Thursday 29 and Friday 30 September 2022

 

Advanced Papers (each option runs on different weekends in small groups)

Small-group seminars taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Option 1: Saturday 8 October, Saturday 5 November, Saturday 3 December 2022 (12 noon-18.30 hrs)
  • Option 2: Saturday 15 October, Saturday 12 November 2022, Sunday 4 December 2022 (12 noon-18.30 hrs)

Five whole-cohort group tutorials taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Weekly Thursdays from 17 November to 15 December (18.00-19.00 hrs GMT)

Individual tutorials conducted synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Pre-book 2 meetings with Course Director (Thursdays 11.00 to 17.30 hrs GMT)

 

TERM 2 (Hilary Term 2023)
 

Advanced Papers 3 & 4 (each option runs on a different weekend in smaller groups)

Small-group seminars taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Option 3: Saturday 14 January, Saturday 4 February, Saturday 4 March 2023 (12 noon-18.30 hrs GMT)
  • Option 4: Saturday 21 January, Saturday 11 February, Sunday 5 March 2023 (12 noon-18.30 hrs GMT)

Five whole-cohort group tutorials taught synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Weekly Thursdays from 16 February to 16 March (18.00-19.00 hrs GMT)

Individual Tutorials conducted synchronously in Microsoft Teams

  • Pre-book 2 meetings with Course Director (11.00 to 17.30 hrs GMT)

 

TERM 3 (Trinity Term and Summer 2023)
 

Dissertation Forum

Department for Continuing Education, Rewley House, Oxford:

  • Saturday and Sunday 17 and 18 June 2023. 
  • Four Individual Dissertation supervisions with the Course Director conducted synchronously in Microsoft Teams (pre-booked set monthly Saturdays between 13 May to 31 August 2023)

Attendance and Resources

Students must attend at least 80% of all residencies, seminars and group tutorials. Two individual tutorials each term and four dissertation supervisions must be pre-booked with the Course Director on the set days.

Committing to sustained weekly reading, looking and reflection, participation in group discussion and timely delivery of preparatory tasks before for each individual tutorial or supervision will be vital for you to get the most out of this degree. The independent research required for analytical design history writing is enhanced by direct observation of case studies, archival searching where possible so candidates should plan for the time and logistics required to undertake fieldwork alongside assigned weekly tasks and reflection.  

Students will need confident basic computer skills, secure access to good broadband internet provision and equipment of a standard suitable to utilise the University’s virtual learning environments and libraries (such as SOLO, ORLO, Canvas and Microsoft Teams).

Teaching will be provided principally by the Course Director with contributions from guest speakers.

Course aims

The MSt was devised with the aim of providing effective postgraduate-level education in history of design on an intensive, but flexible, basis, in which case it should be possible to participate fully in the programme alongside demanding responsibilities such as full-time employment and caring.

The programme aims to provide students with skills:

  • To develop further their critical understanding of the principles and practice of the history of design
  • To enhance their subject knowledge, analytical and communication skills needed for professional involvement in the history of design
  • To demonstrate a grasp of primary evidence to build on their critical understanding of the types of evidence used in the historical study of designed objects and sites and how they are selected and interpreted
  • To build on the appropriate skills and concepts for analysing material objects and textual sources
  • To enable the student to undertake their own research to be presented in essays, oral presentations and as a dissertation
  • To demonstrate an understanding of primary evidence and secondary sources through the application of appropriate analytical skills and concepts within a research context resulting in a dissertation.

Assessment methods

YEAR 1

Three assignments for the Mandatory Core Modules:

  • Materials and Techniques (Object Case Study: 2,500 words)
  • Historical Methods (Methodology and Critical Sources Review: 3,000 words)
  • Independent Research Project (Extended Essay: 5,000 words)

Completion of skills development tasks in concert with Mandatory Core Modules as outlined in the Virtual Learning Environment alongside preparation required for individual tutorials and oral presentations.

YEAR 2

  • Two Advanced Paper Independent Research Projects (Extended Essay: 5,000 words)
  • Dissertation (maximum of 15,000 words).

Completion of skills development tasks in concert with Advanced Paper Options selected as outlined in the Virtual Learning Environment alongside preparation required for individual tutorials, oral presentations and dissertation proposal and supervisions.

Course Director

Claire O’Mahony, PhD
Associate Professor in History of Art and Design
Department for Continuing Education

Chair of the Design History Society, Editor Journal of Design History

Fees

Please visit the MSt in the History of Design page on the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website for details of course fees and costs.

Scholarships

Kellogg Clarendon Award

Kellogg College is delighted to offer a partnership award for a Clarendon Scholarship. You must apply to the University by the January deadline relevant to your proposed course in order to be considered for a scholarship. This scholarship is available only to part-time students. You do not need to apply to Kellogg College.

Apply for this course

Please see the Graduate Admissions website for application details.

Late applications may be considered if places remain - please contact the course administrator on pgt@conted.ox.ac.ukEarly application is advised.

This history of design course is aimed at candidates who wish to develop a critical understanding of the history of design. Here are some 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 delivery format of this programme has been designed to facilitate the study of those candidates whose employment, caring duties or other factors require flexible forms of study, whilst maintaining their momentum and progressing to a postgraduate qualification.
  • Studio practitioners in the fields of interior design, architecture, 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; modern languages (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.

We are looking for adult students who wish to undertake sustained study the history of design to gain a deeper understanding of the subject through both participation in interactive teaching and learning as well as independent, rigorous research about particular objects and sites. Candidates will need a high level of commitment, be eager to learn new skills, to be challenged and to develop as researchers through positive engagement with constructive criticism of their own work. A sample of recent written work examines an object or site which demonstrates your skills in material and historical analysis and uses correct academic apparatus is required for your application to be considered. 

Above all, we 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.

How to apply

For entry requirements, selection criteria and how to apply please visit Graduate Admissions website.

If you have any questions about the progress of your application, please contact the OUDCE Award Programme Administrator, tel: 01865 286945 / 280154; email: pgt@conted.ox.ac.uk
or the Graduate Admissions Office, tel: 01865 270059; email: graduate.admissions@admin.ox.ac.uk