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The University of London’s MA degree in the History of the Book is the oldest postgraduate programme in this growing area in the humanities. Each year we welcome a range of students from varied educational and professional backgrounds and from many different countries.

The University’s location in central London provides easy access to unrivalled library and museum resources, and the programme draws on a range of tutors, each of whom are international experts in their field. There are opportunities to undertake placement work in the rare book trade. This programme can also lead to the award of an MRes degree.

The history of the book is concerned with the making, manufacturing, distribution and reading of books, and thus offers a unique way of understanding different literary, cultural, social, intellectual, and technological processes in history.

The subject extends to include newspapers, magazines, chapbooks, ephemera, digital text, and all kinds of printed or written media. It also includes the manuscript book in all its forms from the pre-classical, classical, and medieval periods.

In this programme we explore the different material forms the book has taken over time, from clay tablets to computer screens. Core courses provide a comprehensive overview of the book from the medieval period to the present day. Optional courses allow for in-depth analysis of the history of specific components of the book, such as bindings, and book illustration, as well as focused courses on key topics, including textual editing, digital publishing, and the history of reading. There is also an exciting opportunity to work as an intern in the London rare book trade. 

In addition to weekly taught seminars, students undertake a comprehensive induction week and two research methodology days where they are introduced to the use of sources and resources in preparation for their coursework essays and dissertation. 

Contact the institute

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

Degree Overview

The programme aims to:

  • Give you a broad understanding of book history from c. 3000 BCE to 2000 CE.
  • Introduce you to the range of disciplines that make up the subject, including historical bibliography, palaeography, codicology, history of printing, bibliometrics, history of publishing, history of reading, and library history.
  • Provide frequent opportunities to handle archaeological and historical objects relating to the subject.
  • Give you the ability and confidence to deal with primary sources for book history (both manuscript and printed).

In addition, the MRes will:

  • Provide you with a foundation of three appropriately specialized taught courses (60 points in all), which will equip them to undertake a more extensive programme of master’s-level research.
  • Provide the opportunity for you to write an extended dissertation (30,000 words) on a subject that requires treatment at a much greater length and depth than the usual MA topic.
  • Offer a degree programme that satisfies the needs of those who wish to undertake more extensive research or go on to do an MPhil or PhD.

Modules and structure

The MA consists of a series of six taught courses (including two core courses) plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.

The MRes consists of a series of three taught modules and a 30,000-word dissertation. Each taught module will be examined by one 5000-word essay on a topic to be agreed with the tutor.

You may also choose courses from the London Rare Books School programme under the guidance of the Course Director and Course Tutor.

Core modules

  • The Medieval Book
  • Printed Text in Britain and Elsewhere, 1450–2010
  • Research Methodology

Optional modules

  • Digital Publishing and Book Studies
  • The Book in the Ancient World
  • Hand-Press Printing: A Practical Course
  • An Introduction to Bibliography
  • The Historical Reader: The Practice and Representation of Reading, 1400–1900
  • The Printed Book in the East: China, India and Japan 
  • Western Book Structures

Assessment

The MA consists of a series of six taught modules (including two core courses) plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.

The MRes consists of a series of three taught modules and a 30,000 word dissertation.

Each taught module will be examined by one 5000-word essay on a topic to be agreed with the tutor.

Teaching and supervision

Teachers are recognised experts drawn from the Institute, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Lambeth Palace Library, and other institutions, at which some of the teaching takes place.

Mode of Study

One year full time or two years part time. Part-time students normally complete the two required courses and two option courses in the first year, with the third and fourth option courses and the dissertation being taken in the second year. However, it is assumed that some preliminary work on the dissertation will be undertaken during the first year. In order to accommodate part-time study for students on day-release we try to arrange for most courses to be taught on one day in the week (usually Wednesday).

About the institute

The Institute of English Studies is an internationally renowned research centre specialising in the history of the book, manuscript and print studies, and textual scholarship. Our activities include providing postgraduate studies, hosting major collaborative research projects, providing essential research training in book history and palaeography, and facilitating scholarly communities in all areas of English studies.

London Rare Books School

The London Rare Books School (LRBS) offers a range of individual postgraduate courses in book history and related subjects taught by distinguished international scholars. LRBS students can take a course for credit by submitting a pass-quality 5,000-word essay within two months of taking the course (charged at £150), allowing you to build up credits towards the MA/MRes. 

Courses

  • A History of Reading
  • European Bookbinding
  • History of Book Illustration
  • History of Colour Printing
  • History of the Book in India
  • History of the Book in Scotland
  • History of the British Book Trade
  • Introduction to Bibliography
  • Medieval Women and the Book
  • The Modern Rare Book Trade
  • Provenance in Books
  • Scholarly Editing
  • The Book in the Renaissance
  • The Digital Book
  • The Medieval Book
  • The Printed Book in Europe, 1455–2010

London book trade internship

You have the option to substitute one of the modules with an internship at a London bookselling firm. The internships offer a key opportunity for you to experience life in a bookselling firm, to undertake projects for the company (everything from stocktaking to cataloguing to running a book stall at a fair), and to make connections in the book trade. In the past, students have been placed in Maggs Bros., Jarndyce Booksellers, Robert Frew Ltd., and Ash Rare Books. 

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

How to apply

Fees, funding and scholarships

Find out more about tuition fees here.

Find out more about funding opportunities for home, EU and international applicants here. If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline.

The Sambrook Fund Studentship seeks to support an excellent student who wishes to study on the MA in the History of the Book, but whose circumstances might make it difficult to access the programme. The award covers fees in full at the Home/EU rate. The studentship will be funded through the Institute’s Sambrook Fund, established when Keith Sambrook, a fellow at the IES, generously donated his teaching fees from the Institute’s MA course. More information on the Sambrook Fund.

Careers

The MA and the MRes in the History of the Book attract students from a wide variety of backgrounds. The programme gives you a broad understanding and experience of the chronological range of book history from c. 3000 BCE to 2000 CE and introduces you to a range of disciplines that make up the subject, including bibliography, palaeography, codicology, history of printing, bibliometrics, history of publishing, history of reading and library history.

Many of our alumni go on to establish successful careers in related fields, including academic librarianship, museum curatorship, publishing, art, and the print and antiquarian book trade. Some students aim to progress to study at PhD level for a career in academia. Our programmes provide outstanding training in research skills and equip you with the intellectual framework and language proficiency to undertake independent research with confidence and success. Former students have progressed to PhD study at the Institute and elsewhere.

 

 

What our students say

I work as a freelance indexer and proof-reader and found out about the MA in the History of the Book from a client. I decided to take the course because I have always been interested in the book as an artefact as well as the history of information transmission.

The course has encouraged me to make more use of electronic resources and I have become more self-reliant in my research techniques. The course covers the history of the book from the time of clay tablets and papyrus scrolls to the present day with electronic documents. It gives an overview of various technological and stylistic changes through the centuries.

As an indexer I am interested in the development of indexing as a profession within the book trade and my master’s project is on the history and development of indexing, covering manuscripts, printed books and the development of professional bodies for indexers.

After I graduate, I intend to return to full time indexing and to expand my business to a full-time venture. As a result of my further study, I could go into several areas of work including information management, indexing, public sector administration and anywhere that requires an enquiring mind and a can-do attitude.

- Janet Reed (UK)

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