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Am I ready?

Am I ready? Moving on to Postgraduate study

You should have an undergraduate honours degree, ideally, but not necessarily, in Art History. A843 part 1 of the MA assumes that a candidate for a master’s degree already has the knowledge and skills usually acquired by pursuing the subject at undergraduate level. You should be aware that a good degree (at least a 2.1 or equivalent) will greatly increase your chances of successfully completing the MA.

Studying for an MA differs from what is required for a first degree. As the distinction implies, postgraduate study represents a progression from undergraduate-level study. The MA thus presents an exciting opportunity to pursue studies beyond the postgraduate level by investigating the concerns of the discipline in a more in-depth way.

More emphasis is placed on doing your own, more independent work, carrying out your own research, and the need to study more intensely. You will need to adapt your approach to study but the good news is the techniques you learnt at undergraduate study can be built on very effectively if you keep these differences in mind.

If the theoretical background to Art History is new to you, or if it’s been a long time since you studied the subject, then you should prepare for the MA with some preliminary reading.

The first module is fairly heavy on theory and methods, so with that in mind, you might like to purchase the required text for the module (Hatt and Klonk, Art History: A Critical Introduction to its Methods, Manchester University Press, 2006) and see whether that meets your expectations.

It is also highly recommended that you take our free online OpenLearn course,  Artists and authorship: the case of Raphael, which provides an excerpt from the first part of the MA, and will give you an indication of the kind of material you will be studying.

It might be helpful to ask yourself a few questions first:

Why do you want to pursue an MA in Art History?

What do you think an MA in Art History will entail?

It’s important to understand there are essential differences between MA and BA study. If you are at all uncertain, please read How does an MA differ from a BA.

Below is a list of general characteristics of postgraduate study in art history. It is intended to encourage you to check on your own preparedness on whether you’re ready to embark on the MA. The objectives listed under each heading should provide you with a clear idea of the skills that you will need to acquire in order successfully to complete this module:

Depth

Postgraduate students are expected to probe ideas and arguments more deeply and critically than undergraduates. To this end, you should aim to develop the following skills:

  • an ability to read, understand, analyse and evaluate different types of text quickly and effectively
  • a capacity for discerning and articulating relationships and divergences across a range of scholarly literature
  • an ability to elaborate a structured argument, potentially involving several related lines of thought
  • an ability to organise and express complex ideas clearly and persuasively.

Breadth

You may have assumed that postgraduate study involves a narrow specialisation to the exclusion of wider concerns. In reality, however, it is essential that you are open to the full range of factors and arguments relevant to the practice of art history. In completing the MA you will acquire:

  • a sound working knowledge of a range of art-historical methods and approaches
  • an ability to grasp the larger theoretical issues at stake in art-historical texts and debates
  • an understanding of how art-historical topics are bound up with broader intellectual, institutional, historical and other contextual factors
  • a capacity to investigate these broader patterns in order to make intelligent interpretations of the ‘raw material’ of art-historical enquiry, whether textual or visual.

Professionalism

One of the most reliable signs of studying at postgraduate level is the ability to work professionally. To achieve this, you should aim to acquire:

  • familiarity with research methods, including the use of a wide range of appropriate sources to locate information quickly, evaluate it efficiently and use it with integrity
  • skills of visual discrimination informed by an understanding of core concepts and current issues within the discipline of art history
  • a thorough knowledge of scholarly conventions for presenting and referencing work, an understanding of why they matter and an ability to use them with consistent accuracy
  • an ability to express yourself clearly in written work, using correct grammar, punctuation and spelling, and carrying out rigorous editing and proof-reading.

Independence

An ability to study independently, with a lower level of supervision than with undergraduate study, is a crucial factor in distinguishing postgraduate-level work. To this end, you should aim to develop:

  • a capacity for setting and sustaining your own study agenda, developing particular areas of interest and pursuing them through a wide range of reading
  • the ability to formulate key questions that imply directions for research on relevant topics
  • a readiness to work out and argue for your own distinctive position in relation to scholarly debates
  • the confidence to examine your own views and ideas in a self-reflexive and self-critical way.

A systematic approach

Postgraduate study also entails working systematically. To be independent, you need to be able to design and implement projects using coherent systems. To this end, you should aim to acquire:

  • techniques for planning and executing projects effectively in the time available
  • an ability to record research data accurately and store it in a way that makes it easily retrievable
  • a capacity to use both physical and online libraries, museums and archives efficiently and confidently
  • a thorough knowledge of the main international bibliographical databases and how to use them.

In addition to these postgraduate skills, it is important to understand that the MA in Art History is all online, so you will need to be able to navigate the online study guides, conduct most of your research using the virtual library, and have a good enough internet connection to do so. You will, however, also need access to a decent library to locate texts that are not digitized.