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Art History and Theory

Course overview

(MA) Master of Arts
Art History and Theory
University of Essex
University of Essex
Art History and Theory
Colchester Campus
Full-time, part-time or by credit accumulation
History of Art, Architecture and Design
MA V35012

A 2.2 Degree or equivalent in any discipline. Your Degree must contain at least three modules relating to visual culture.

Visual Culture modules include, but are not limited to: Aesthetics, Archaeology, Architecture, Art History, Curatorial/Museum Studies, Design Studies, Digital Imaging, Fashion, Fine Art, Film Studies, Film and Literature, Graphic Design, Advertising, Landscape Design, History, Media Studies, Photography

IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 5.5 except for 6.0 in writing

If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.

Additional Notes

The University uses academic selection criteria to determine an applicant’s ability to successfully complete a course at the University of Essex. Where appropriate, we may ask for specific information relating to previous modules studied or work experience.

External Examiners provide an independent overview of our courses, offering their expertise and help towards our continual improvement of course content, teaching, learning, and assessment. External Examiners are normally academics from other higher education institutions, but may be from the industry, business or the profession as appropriate for the course. They comment on how well courses align with national standards, and on how well the teaching, learning and assessment methods allow students to develop and demonstrate the relevant knowledge and skills needed to achieve their awards. External Examiners who are responsible for awards are key members of Boards of Examiners. These boards make decisions about student progression within their course and about whether students can receive their final award.

eNROL, the module enrolment system, is now open until Monday 21 October 2019 8:59AM, for students wishing to make changes to their module options.


Core You must take this module You must pass this module. No failure can be permitted.
Core with Options You can choose which module to study
Compulsory You must take this module There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the degree if you fail.
Compulsory with Options You can choose which module to study
Optional You can choose which module to study

Year 1 - 2019/20

Exit Award Status
Component Number Module Code Module Title Status Credits PG Diploma PG Certificate
01 (AR952, AR953 & AR912) or (AR981 & AR932) Core with Options 80 Core with Options
02 Art History option Optional 20 Optional Optional
03 Art History option(s) Optional 40 Optional Optional
04 Art History option(s) Optional 40 Optional Optional

Exit awards

A module is given one of the following statuses: 'core' – meaning it must be taken and passed; 'compulsory' – meaning it must be taken; or 'optional' – meaning that students can choose the module from a designated list. The rules of assessment may allow for limited condonement of fails in 'compulsory' or 'optional' modules, but 'core' modules cannot be failed. The status of the module may be different in any exit awards which are available for the course. Exam Boards will consider students' eligibility for an exit award if they fail the main award or do not complete their studies.

Programme aims

To offer a varied, flexible and distinctive postgraduate curriculum across the field of Art History and Theory.

To provide the opportunity for an in-depth understanding of aspects of art history from Early Renaissance art and architecture to the present day, including systematic knowledge informed by advanced work in the field, and for some original work either by developing new material or in the application of ideas to existing material.

To develop in students the research skills appropriate to the study of visual artefacts, and to art history as a field of study, and to provide the basis for them to develop the necessary levels of skill and knowledge required to progress to research degree level.

To develop sound understanding of interpretative methods and forms of questioning appropriate to visual artefacts; including historical inquiry, theory of representation, aesthetic approaches to the value and function of visual art, and critical approaches to the conditions of the production, consumption, interpretation or reinterpretation of visual artefacts.

To encourage both critical engagement with and enjoyment of the visual arts, particularly through first-hand observation.

To provide the knowledge and skills (critical inquiry and argument, imaginative understanding, written, spoken and visual interpretation, communication and presentation) that will not only stand students in good stead for more specialised academic careers, but will also enhance their opportunities for employment in a wide range of other careers.

Note: The outcomes listed below represent the minimum that might be expected of an MA graduate from the Department of Art History and Theory of the University of Essex.

It is the intention of the Department that the vast majority of graduates will achieve significantly more.

Learning outcomes and learning, teaching and assessment methods

On successful completion of the programme a graduate should demonstrate knowledge and skills as follows:

A: Knowledge and understanding

A1 A range of visual art from the Early Renaissance to the present day, including theoretical issues that have been central to the Western European tradition in visual art.
A2 The relationships of works of visual art to the broader cultural context.
A3 (In greater depth) one or more artists, exhibitions, places, theoretical texts.
A4 Some substantive areas of current research in Art History and Theory
A5 The methods of critical analysis and argument appropriate to visual artefacts
A6 The concepts, values and debates that inform study and practice in this field.
Learning Methods: A1-A6 are acquired through lectures, classes and module seminars and related coursework (with regular feedback, both oral and written, from tutors).
Students are expected to extend and enhance the knowledge and understanding they acquire from seminars by regularly consulting library or archival materials related to the course, or in order to provide wider context. This independent research is consolidated in essay work.

Assessment Methods: Assessment of students' knowledge and understanding takes place through written essays, take-home research papers, in-class slide tests, summaries of weekly readings, and unseen written examinations, including questions on visual material in photographic form.

B: Intellectual and cognitive skills

B1 Analyse a complex body of material, which may be incomplete, breaking it down into component points or parts and highlighting the most significant among them
B2 Reason critically and offer judgements based on argument that can be communicated effectively to a specialist or non-specialist audience
B3 Think independently and with an open-mind, sometimes making connections between familiar and new ideas or material
B4 Solve problems using knowledge and experience.
Learning Methods: Intellectual and cognitive skills are practised in module seminars, either in responding to or giving presentations on agreed topics.
The seminar work encourages critical discussion arising from the analysis and interpretation of texts or visual artefacts with an emphasis on being able to reason cogently, argue coherently, present one’‘s own viewpoint persuasively, and learn from others.
The seminars are intended as practice sessions for cognitive skills.
Supervision of dissertations cultivates these skills through written commentary and discussion concerning the development of the research and on drafts of chapters.
Assessment Methods: Students translate the skills acquired collectively into individually assessed essays, take-home research papers, in-class slide tests, summaries of weekly readings, and unseen written examinations, including questions on visual material in photographic form.

C: Practical skills

C1 Visual Skills; including observation (including recognition of materials and techniques but also other aspects of works of visual art such as formal organisation or narrative structure), description (using ordinary as well as specialised language) and interpretation (recognising necesary differences between different forms of art, between language and visual art, making appropriate use of personal responses, relating works of visual art to historical and contemporary cultural context)
C2 Research Skills: including use of appropriate methods to locate primary and secondary sources, and works of visual art, but also forming research questions and pursuing them autonomously
C3 Critical Skills: including selection of relevant material, and appraisal of other people's arguments on the basis of familiarity with source materials and current literature
C4 Writing Skills: including use of proper academic conventions, creating logical and structured narratives, and effective use of language to convey particular and general responses of readers or viewers to works of visual art, and to articulate complex conceptual issues and create frameworks for understanding them
Learning Methods: All MA teaching takes the form of seminars directed by a member of staff, but often developed in consultation with the students according to specific research interests in the group.
The core module ‘‘Researching Art History’‘ provides training in research methods.
Personal supervision is available to students in order to allow them to develop the topic for the essay in the relevant module.
Considerable autonomy is encouraged in researching essays, the staff member aiming to assist in the formulation of research questions and in developing a strategy for answering them.
All students are encouraged to attend the weekly Staff-Student Research Seminar, and to participate in debate on the topic presented.
There are detailed guidelines on the writing of MA dissertations in the Departmental handbook to supplement guidance given by the supervisor.
Assessment Methods: All four skills will be assessed via the essays and dissertation.

D: Key skills

D1 The ability to communicate information, arguments and ideas cogently and effectively in a range of different contexts using a range of different aids or resources; special ability to deploy visual material in a variety of media in the context of presentations or written work
D2 Students should be able to make use of IT for research purposes (including searchable databases such as library catalogues and internet sources), to present assessed work, and be able to use email.
D4 Management of projects and timetables. Students should be able to apply knowledge and understanding in order to make judgements and offer solutions in a range of contexts.
D6 Students should have the ability to: work to briefs and deadlines; take responsibility for their own work; reflect on their own learning and performance and make constructive use of feedback
Learning Methods: Communication is developed through seminar discussion.
Visual media skills are developed through personal instruction to students using slide projectors or DVDs/VCRs in class, and through drawing attention to the media whereby visual images are presented to us, both in terms of informing students but also developing a critical appreciation of the relationship between image and context in any medium.
Students are expected to acquire IT skills based on some initial guidance.
Students will be given the opportunity to work constructively and productively in groups, and be able to participate effectively in seminars.
All students present their plans for MA dissertations to their peers and to staff, using slides etc.
As appropriate.
Most seminars require students to present theories or historical material to the group, and to answer questions on the topic.
Assessment Methods: These skills are assessed through the essays and dissertation.
The core module 'Researching Art History' provides training in IT and in developing and managing research projects.


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Should you have any questions about programme specifications, please contact Course Records, Quality and Academic Development; email: