Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History

Course details

The Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History is a one-year part-time course. It covers English architectural history from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day. It will interest those seeking to develop their:

  • knowledge of the broad sweep of English architecture
  • understanding of the evolution of the historic environment more widely
  • practical skills of recording and analysing buildings.

The course consists of three taught units and a dissertation. The taught units are delivered in association with the MSc in Historic Conservation course at Oxford Brookes University. Sessions include lectures, field trips and practical workshops. The dissertation of 8,000 words offers the chance for extended exploration of a suitable chosen topic. Individual supervision is provided for the dissertation work.

The Certificate course offers a qualification in its own right, but is designed to enable successful students to progress to the Oxford Brookes MSc in Historic Conservation with exemption from the three taught units, subject to the admission requirements of Oxford Brookes University.

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Who is this course for?

As this is a postgraduate course, you are normally expected to have a good first degree, although in exceptional cases candidates may be admitted on the basis of relevant professional experience. In addition, you are expected to have a sound background knowledge of English social, economic and political history.

Students come from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, including those who:

  • wish to learn more about architectural history for its own sake
  • are seeking to start a career in a conservation-related profession
  • are already engaged in a conservation career and wish to expand or update their knowledge
  • may ultimately wish to pursue further academic study in architectural history, conservation studies or a related field.

How you will study

This is a part-time course taken over 11 months. There are three taught units and a dissertation:

  • The first two units, Historical Studies 1 and 2, are taught at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education (OUDCE), Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford.
  • The third unit, Site Evaluation and Survey, is taught at Oxford Brookes University, Gipsy Lane, Headington, Oxford.
  • The dissertation is supervised within OUDCE.

Teaching takes place on Monday mornings, from 9.30am to 1pm, over three terms commencing in the autumn each year. Some sessions in Unit 3 will be held on Monday afternoons between 2pm and 5.30pm, and one continues on to a Tuesday.

It is anticipated that you will need to spend roughly 12-15 hours per week in private study in addition to time spent in classes or tutorials, as students are expected to read widely, and research and prepare their assignments and dissertation.

The number of Certificate students is normally limited to 10 in each year. There may be up to a further 25 students in each class from Oxford Brookes University.

The course in detail

Course content

Units 1 and 2 are linked and taught in consecutive terms. Their aim is to enable students to acquire an understanding of the evolution of England’s architecture, and of different approaches to the history of buildings.

Unit 1: Historical Studies 1
Settlement, Landscape and Medieval Buildings

Unit 1 concentrates on the medieval period. It provides an introduction to the evolution of the landscape and the major elements of architectural history in England up to the sixteenth century. The aim is to develop a sound understanding of the basic development of medieval buildings and their context.

Teaching is by means of lectures and field trips. Students also need to ensure they have sufficient time for directed reading and private study. Tutorials are available by request.

Assessment: three essays, each of approximately 1,500 words.

Unit 2: Historical Studies 2
Post-Medieval Buildings

This unit will continue the themes introduced in Historical Studies 1 and will analyse the major architectural developments from the sixteenth century to the present century. The aim is to develop a sound understanding of the development of English architectural history and its broader context down to the present century in a manner which is relevant to historic conservation.

Teaching is by means of lectures. Students also need to ensure they have sufficient time for directed reading and private study. Tutorials are available by request.

Assessment: two essays, each of 2,000 words.

Unit 3: Site evaluation and survey
Local Historic Building Survey

This unit is held at Oxford Brookes University, Headington. It is a skill-based unit designed to develop:

  • expertise in understanding the special architectural and historical characteristics of a particular site, building or group of buildings
  • techniques for its representation through research, measurement, and drawn/photographic recording.

This unit will develop the skills necessary to plan, prepare and execute a programme for the recording of structures and sites, and will introduce the main sources of archive material for investigations into historic buildings, sites and monuments. It provides an introduction to the making of a competent analytical record of a site through text, photographic and measured surveys, and drawn representation.

Teaching is by means of lectures, field trips and practical workshops, which need to be supplemented by private study and individual fieldwork.

Assessment: workbook record of a selected building to be submitted by mid-May.

Unit 4:
Individual dissertation

Students write an 8,000-word dissertation on a subject relevant to architectural history, chosen in consultation with the Course Director and supervised within OUDCE. The dissertation provides an opportunity for an extended exploration of a single topic based on primary and secondary research, to demonstrate the skills and knowledge gained in the other elements of the course.

Dissertation topics are chosen during Hilary term, and all students make a short initial presentation of their subject in the last session of that term. Individual supervisions are given at mutually convenient times from May to the end of July. Dissertations are due for submission by the end of August.

Course structure

Course structure

Historical Studies 1: Settlement, Landscape and Medieval Buildings
Michaelmas term (classes start late September and run for 10 weeks)
Mondays from 9.30am-1pm at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford. 

Historical Studies 2: Post-Medieval Buildings
Hilary term (classes start January and run for 10 weeks)
Mondays from 9.30am-1pm at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford. 

Site Evaluation and Survey: Local Historic Building Study
This unit is taught on either side of Christmas, in December and January, and around Easter, in March, April, and early May. The detailed timetable will be circulated during the first term (Michaelmas). The syllabus will cover drawing and survey techniques, documentary research, photographic recording and practical building analysis. Class-based lectures are held at Oxford Brookes University, Gipsy Lane, Headington, Oxford. 


Assessment will be by coursework and dissertation, as follows:

  • Unit 1: three essays of 1,500 words each
  • Unit 2: two essays of 2,000 words each
  • Unit 3: workbook record of a selected building
  • Unit 4: dissertation of 8,000 words

The three taught units and the dissertation will each count for 25% of the final mark. To be successfully awarded the Certificate, you will need to attend the taught classes and achieve an overall mark of 50%.

Full regulations and examination conventions can be obtained from the Registry, OUDCE, Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JA.

The course is credited with 90 CATS points at FHEQ level 7.

Course outcome

By the end of the course students should have achieved:

  • a broad understanding of English architectural history
  • an awareness of the critical literature relating to the subject
  • the ability to make a record of a building
  • the ability to conduct independent research.

Teaching staff

Course Director

Dr David Lewis, Associate Professor of Architectural History and the Historic Environment

David Frazer Lewis is an architectural historian whose interests include the architecture of modern Britain and the United States, the design of sacred architecture, and the Gothic Revival. Prior to joining the academic staff of the Oxford Department for Continuing Education, he was an Assistant Professor at the Notre Dame School of Architecture. He has experience in museums and heritage, as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Yale Center for British Art, and has worked for architecture firms in San Francisco and London that specialise in historic conservation.

Other teaching staff

Staff from Oxford Brookes University School of the Built Environment and from English Heritage will also provide lectures.

Resources and facilities

The course aims to enable students to make the most of the University’s resources (e.g. its libraries, computer facilities, museums and historic monuments), to provide a high quality of academic and pastoral support, and to maximise the potential for learning within a peer group.

Library facilities

Students will have access to the resources of Oxford University's Library Services, including the Bodleian Library, and all other University libraries. Student will also have access to Oxford Brookes University library resources.

IT requirements and facilities

This course uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. In order to prepare and submit your course assignments you will need access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Students of this course may use the student computing facilities provided in Departmental buildings.

Application details

For information about course fees and costs, entry requirements and how to apply, please visit the Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History page on the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website.

Please be aware we shall consider applications received in January with the applications received in March. Late applications will be accepted, if places remain.

If you have any questions about the progress of your application, please contact the Graduate Admissions Office (tel: 01865 270059; email:; or the Course Administrator (tel: +44 (0)1865 280783; email:

Sources of funding and bursaries

Details of funding opportunities is available on our Sources of Funding page.

Please also see information on Departmental bursaries.

English language ability

Prospective students whose first language is not English should note that English language certification at the higher level is required, and any offer of a place will be conditional on the receipt of an original certificate (see the ‘Notes of Guidance’). Please see the entry requirements on the Graduate Admissions course page for more details. 

Non-EU students

This course is not suitable for non-EU students who do not already live in the UK before the course begins. For information, refer to

Contact information

If you have any questions about this course, please email:

Student spotlights

Discover how former students have used the Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History for career progression, further study, or personal enrichment. 

Diane Mackay

Diane Mackay

Diane's experience renovating English properties rekindled her interest in studying architecture so she applied for our part-time Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History.

Judith Scott

Judith Scott

An architecture module during her undergraduate History course persuaded Judith to study the subject again years later. Our Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History was just what she was looking for.