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The Warburg Institute MA in Cultural and Intellectual History aims to equip students for interdisciplinary research in the late medieval and early modern period, with a particular emphasis on the reception of the classical tradition. The programme combines the study of images and texts, art history, philosophy, the history of science, European literature and the impact of religion on society. 

Working with text in its original language is an important part of this programme and we welcome those with language skills and those with interests in learning languages. During this twelve-month, full-time course, students will improve their knowledge of classical and/or European languages and will acquire the library and archival skills essential for research on primary texts. 
Although it is a qualification in its own right, the MA is also designed to provide training for further research at doctoral level. It is taught through classes and supervision by members of the academic staff of the Institute and by outside teachers. The teaching staff are leading academics in their field who have published widely and are involved in research related to the topics they teach. 

 

Contact the institute

If you have specific questions about the MA or MRes degree, please contact warburg@sas.ac.uk or the admissions office.

Degree Overview

The MA is characterized by four distinguishing features: interdisciplinary openness, emphasis on linguistic competence, a view of scholarship as a process of apprenticeship and the belief that a most rigorous training is necessary to acquire all the specific skills required for doctoral research.

The interdisciplinary ethos of the MA course is a natural expression of the very character and history of the Warburg Institute and its Library. Aby Warburg, the founder of the Institute and the Library, is regarded as one of the fathers of the modern field of cultural studies, a legacy that is reflected in both his works and the library he established (which is organized according to his way of dividing the fields of knowledge according to disciplinary intersections: art, literature, religion, philosophy, science and history). 
Developing a reading knowledge of languages is key to acquiring a more nuanced perception of the historical, cultural and national differences underlying established disciplinary divisions.

In addition to the MA course programme, there is a varied and exciting range of public lectures and conferences available to students at the Warburg Institute. They have the opportunity to consult and exchange ideas with the community of academics who use the Warburg as their base and provide access to networks which will support them in their future profession.

Located in Bloomsbury, we are at the centre of an academic and cultural hub and students can benefit from many other research institutions, including the British Library, the British Museum and the other research institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

The MA programme aims to:

  • Act as an introduction to interdisciplinary research in the cultural and intellectual history of Western Europe from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period, with particular attention on the legacy of classical antiquity.
  • Cover aspects of cultural and intellectual history seldom studied in any depth in undergraduate courses, for example Renaissance philosophy, iconology, humanism and history. The main emphasis is on Italy, but consideration is also given to the rest of Western Europe.
  • Provide students with a solid grounding in current scholarship in the areas covered, largely through the study of primary source material in the original languages.
  • Provide training in reading medieval and Renaissance languages, particularly Latin, Italian and French, in Latin and Italian palaeography, and in the description of manuscripts and early printed books.  
  • Equip students to undertake research, and to give them experience of such research through the writing of a dissertation. The MA is a qualification in its own right but it also serves as an introduction to further research. Many students have progressed to PhD study at the Warburg and elsewhere and many are pursuing successful academic careers in institutions across the globe including at the Universities of Cambridge, Copenhagen, Notre Dame (US), Padua, UCL, Birkbeck, La Sapienza (Rome), Warwick, York and Yeshiva (New York). 

Modules and structure

The course begins in early October with a Foundation Week, in which students are introduced to the main topics and themes to be covered over the year. All students take two core modules and two optional modules. Reading classes in Latin, Italian and French are provided to help acquire the necessary familiarity with those languages as written in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Students are also required to attend the weekly research seminar and encouraged to attend any of the other regular seminars held in the Institute that may be of interest to them. The third term and summer are spent in researching and writing a dissertation, under the guidance of a supervisor from the academic staff. 

In addition to the core and optional modules offered in the first and second term, there is a regular series of classes throughout the three terms on Techniques of Scholarship, which include the study of manuscripts, palaeography, printing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, editing a text, preparation of dissertations and photographic images. Some of these classes are held outside the Institute, in locations such as the British Library or the Wellcome Library. Students are given the opportunity to examine early printed books and manuscripts.

The core courses are taught in the first term and will vary from year to year. The optional subjects are taught in the second term and the options available vary each year. The courses listed below are indicative of the selection available to students in 2017–18. Note: The availability of optional modules will be dependent on student option selections.

Core modules: term 1

Core modules explore European early modern social and religious life, intellectual ideas and visual culture. Students develop skills in the analysis of primary texts, images and key secondary material in the field of cultural and intellectual history. An introduction to central debates on the writing of cultural and intellectual history involves students with methods of engaging with the historical record.

Optional modules: term 2 (two to be chosen)

  • Artistic Intentions 1400 to 1700
  • The History of the Book in the Renaissance
  • Islamic Authorities and Arabic Elements in the Renaissance
  • Music and the Arts in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance
  • Italian Mural Painting and the Making of Visual Cultures 
  • Mapping Worlds: Medieval to Modern
  • Renaissance Material Culture 
  • Sin and Sanctity in the Reformation

See the Warburg website for more details on modules and the selection process.The availability of optional modules will depend on student numbers (a minimum of three students required per option).

Dissertation: term 3

  • Independent Research Project
  • Submission by the end of September 2019

Lecturing and teaching

The normal format for classes is a small weekly seminar, in which students discuss texts both in their original languages and in translation. In most courses, students also give short presentations of their own research, which are not assessed.

The emphasis is on helping students to acquire the skills necessary to interpret philosophical, literary and historical documents as well as works of art.

Because of our relatively small cohort, students have frequent contact, formal and informal, with their teachers (an average of ten to twelve contact hours per week in terms 1 and 2).

Assessment

Each compulsory or optional module will be assessed by means of a 4,000-word essay to be submitted on the first day of the term following that in which the module was taught. A dissertation of 18,000–20,000 words, on a topic agreed by the student and supervisor, has to be submitted by the end of September. The course is examined on these five pieces of written work, and on a written translation examination paper in the third term. Students are allocated a course tutor and, in addition, are encouraged to discuss their work with other members of the academic staff. 

Mode of Study

This course is studied on-campus in London for 12 months full time.  

Find out more about the modules and structure of the course in the course handbook.

 

About the institute

The Warburg Institute is renowned across the world for the interdisciplinary study of cultural and intellectual history, particularly the role of images in culture. It is dedicated to research on the history of ideas, the dissemination and transformations of texts, ideas and images in society, and the relationship between images, art and their texts and subtexts. Its work is historical, philological and anthropological.

The Institute houses a research Library of international importance, a photographic collection organised according to a unique iconographic classification system, and the archive of Aby Warburg, which also holds the papers of other major thinkers of the 20th century who were connected to the Institute. Situated in the heart of Bloomsbury, the Institute is a stone’s throw from the British Library, the British Museum, the Wellcome Institute and the National Gallery, providing students with access to a wealth of academic and cultural resources. 

The National Gallery houses the UK’s national collection of over 2,300 Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Its collection contains famous works, such as The Wilton Diptych, Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks, van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus and Turner’s Fighting Temeraire. The gallery’s aim is to care for the collection, to enhance and to study it, while encouraging access to the pictures for the education and enjoyment of the widest possible public now and in the future.

Entry requirements

The normal minimum entrance requirement would be a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree from a recognised university in the UK, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard (for example a grade-point-average of 3.0 or higher).

Applications from candidates who do not meet the formal academic requirements but who offer alternative qualifications and/or relevant experience, could be considered.

In addition to a good knowledge of Art History, especially related to the Renaissance, a reading knowledge of one and preferably two European modern languages, apart from English, is required. All students whose first language is not English must provide recent evidence that their written and spoken English is adequate for postgraduate study.

How to apply

You can apply online via our online applications system.

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For more information on how to apply, click here.

Fees, funding and scholarships

Find out more about tuition fees here.

The School of Advanced Study has a range of funding opportunities for home, EU and international applicants. Find out more about funding opportunities here. If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline.

The Warburg Institute accepts applications from taught master’s degree students for bursaries that offset some or all of the cost of student fees and, occasionally, maintenance costs. There is no fixed award and applications are considered by the Bursaries Committee of the Institute on the basis of individual student financial need. The bursaries are funded by the generosity of the American Friends of the Warburg Institute, the Saxl Fund, and the Warburg Charitable Trust. More information on the Warburg bursaries.

 

What our students say

The course gave me the opportunity to consolidate my research skills, attend interesting classes and meet a wide range of academics in an inspiring multicultural environment at the Warburg Institute.
Valentina Cacopardo, 2017

I was very pleasantly surprised to find a degree of support and encouragement that I had never experienced before in academic studying; neither in Italy nor in the UK … There is a unique blend of academic rigour and conviviality that has made my experience of studying at the Warburg Institute very rewarding.

- Aldo Miceli, 2015 

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Apply to study the MA in Cultural and Intellectual History 1300–1650