Students will learn how to acquire knowledge from a range of sources, including history, horticulture, architecture, garden archaeology and other subjects, in order to develop an appreciation of the study of garden history as a cultural discipline.

Students will be able to appreciate the differences in garden-making over time and in different countries, from the sixteenth century to the present day in Britain, Europe and America. Emphasis will be on design and management, ownership and the culture from which these examples have evolved.

This degree will provide an academically rigorous environment in which students will learn a range of academic research and writing skills. Teaching will be undertaken at the Institute of Historical Research, with a strong emphasis on tutor/student interaction in class. There will be practical sessions at museums and libraries, as well as visits to gardens in London. There will also be an optional field trip to Italy in the spring.

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Course Structure

The course will be run on a full-time basis over one year. Teaching will take place on Thursdays from 10:00 to 17:00 and will be divided between two terms. The third term will be dedicated to dissertation preparation and writing.

Students must complete core module 1, core module 2 (selecting three options from the seven provided) and core module 3 (a 15,000-word dissertation) in order to be awarded the full MA. However, there are a range of options available for flexible study: 

  • Those wishing to pursue this course on a part-time basis can complete modules 1 and 2 (the taught elements of the course) in their first year and module 3, the dissertation, in their second year;
  • Module 1 can be undertaken as a standalone unit leading to a PGCert, and modules 1 and 2 can be taken as standalone units leading to a PGDip. In either option, the credits can be banked should the student wish to complete the MA at a later date (within a prescribed time frame). Please enquire for further details.



    Module 1: Researching Garden History | autumn term (60 credits)

    The first term will showcase the huge variety of resources available to study garden and landscape history from archaeology, architecture, cartography, horticulture, manuscripts, paintings and other works of art, from the sixteenth century to the present day.

    Sessions include:

    • Early maps of gardens (British Library)

    • Garden archaeology (Hampton Court)

    • Gardens and architecture referencing drawings collections at the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Victoria and Albert Museum

    • The Italian Renaissance and English gardens

    • The eighteenth-century garden, with visit to Chiswick House

    • Gardening and photographic images

    This module is assessed by a 5,000 word report on the history of a garden chosen by the student and an accompanying presentation.

    Module 2: Culture and Politics of Gardens | spring term (60 credits)

    This module consists of six optional units of which students must choose three. 
    These sessions aim to:

    • Develop students’ knowledge and understanding of gardens and landscapes in different countries
    • Develop students’ critical analysis and judgement
    • Demonstrate the importance of context and the relationship of garden and landscape history to other disciplines such as literature, social history, film and visual media, and the history of ideas

    The module will look at historiography, theory, the connection between culture and politics in landscape-making and the expansion of the skills of term one across 
    regional boundaries.

    For instance, the influence in Britain of the Italian Renaissance’s new ideas on garden making, including architecture, sculpture and hydraulic engineering; iconography in gardens and landscapes; formality in garden-making as an indicator of the power of the owner, from the sixteenth century onwards, as in France; different aspects of the ‘natural’ garden from the eighteenth century onwards; conflict between the ‘natural’ and the formal in the nineteenth century between William Robinson and Reginald Blomfield in Britain; gender and garden making; and shifting boundaries between architect, landscape architect and plantsman relating to the status of those designing gardens and landscapes in the 21st century.

    Students will choose one unit from each group:

    Group A: French gardens of the seventeenth century or the evolution of the English garden in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries
    Group B: The eighteenth-century garden or Nineteenth-century gardens
    Group C: The suburban garden in England between the wars or Twentieth- and twenty-first-century gardens

    Please note: optional units are subject to change and depend on a minimum number of students expressing an interest. Please consider this a guide only.

    This module is assessed by a 5,000 word essay on one of the three options taken, and an assessed student presentation. For students completing module 3, a written proposal for the dissertation should also be submitted.

    Module 3: Supervised Dissertation of 15,000 words (60 credits)


    Mode of Study

    The programme is designed to be completed over one year (full-time) or two years (part-time). The programme is modular, with each candidate being required to complete two modules and a dissertation of 15,000 words.

    The Institute welcomes applications from part-time students and has ensured that the degree is accessible to those who are working and studying part-time, with all the teaching of the core modules being undertaken on one day a week, i.e. Thursdays. Supervision for the dissertation can be arranged to suit working patterns.