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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.

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 the Institute of English Studies (IES) welcomes 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. All of our graduates are awarded a University of London degree. 

Contact the institute

If you have specific questions about this degree, please make an enquiry.

How will this degree benefit me?

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, you undertake a comprehensive induction week and a research methodology module, where you are introduced to the use of sources and resources in preparation for your coursework essays and dissertation.

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 one compulsory and two core modules) 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.

Compulsory module

  • Research Methodologies and Resources for the History of the Book

Core modules (you will select a minimum of two)

  • The Medieval Book
  • The Book in Early Modern England
  • The Book in the Industrial Age

Option modules (2018-19)

  • The Book in the Ancient World (autumn)
  • Provenance in Books (spring)
  • Book trade internship (summer)
  • Any LRBS course (summer)

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).

Students who cannot commit to a full MA can take modules from this course to gain either a Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma in the History of the Book.

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 week-long postgraduate courses in book history and related subjects taught by distinguished international scholars during the summer. MA/MRes students can, with the approval of the Course Director and Course Tutor, take an LRBS module for credit by submitting a pass-quality 5,000-word essay. The dates for LRBS 2019 are 17-21 June, 24-28 June, and 1-5 July. 

London Rare Books School Courses 2019

  • Introduction to Bibliography
  • Blocks and Plates (held at St Bride Library)
  • The Book in the Renaissance
  • Digital Scholarly Editing: An Introduction 
  • Digital Scholarly Editing: Advanced Methods
  • English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1850
  • European Bookbinding 1450-1820
  • History of Book Illustration (held at Victoria & Albert Museum)
  • History of the Book in India
  • Incunabula: Medieval Printed Material
  • The Medical Book: 1300-1900
  • The Medieval Book
  • The Medieval Manuscript Book in the Celtic World
  • The Modern Rare Book Trade
  • Music Printing and Publishing
  • Provenance in Books
  • A Publishing History of the Novel
  • The Queer Book
  • Using Publishers' Archives
  • The Woman Reader

Find out more about the London Rare Books School here. 

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 university in the UK, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard (for example a grade-point-average of 3.0 or higher).

We will consider applications from candidates who do not meet the formal academic requirements but who offer alternative qualifications and/or relevant experience. 

English is the language of instruction and applicants are required to demonstrate an appropriate level of proficiency. 

Find out more about our entry requirements here. 

How to apply

You can apply online via our online applications system. Applications for this course starting in September 2019 are now closed. Register your interest in this course to be notified when applications open for 2020 entry onwards. 

For more information on how to apply, including the documentation you will need to provide on the application form, click here.

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.

Sambrook Fund Studentship

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 and further study

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. Find out more about our PhD. 

What our students say

Laura Blair, 2018

"I chose the University of London as the lecturers that we had came from such a wide variety of fields in the history of the book. I got taught by some of the biggest names in book history which is a really amazing opportunity, something that a lot of people studying masters programs don't get."

View Laura's full story here...

Alex Wingate, 2018

"I enrolled in the M.A. course because it was a way to further my training and study in book history beyond my undergraduate experience. Additionally, being in this program is an important step along the way to becoming a rare books librarian because it means that I will be able to more deeply understand the collections I eventually work with."

Read Alex's full story here... 

Bonnie Walker, 2016

"I was definitely drawn to this programme by the opportunity to live and study in an area with such a rich history in the publishing world as well as many amazing artefact collections. We’ve had classes at the British Library and other book-related institutions where we got to go behind the scenes and get up close and personal with rare, antique books, some over a thousand years old. Through the program I also had the opportunity to work with the INK LDN rare book fair and interact with antiquarian booksellers. I even got to hold a manuscript, portable Bible from the thirteenth century—the very type of book I was in the middle of writing an essay about!"

Read Bonnie's full story here... 

Virginia Butler 

"The smaller sessions felt more conversational with as little as three people present. I really enjoyed leaving the classroom to go to the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum as it was important to see and feel examples of the books we were discussing."

Read Virginia's full story here... 



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