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The History of the Book studies 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 MA degree in the History of the Book is the oldest postgraduate programme in this growing area in the humanities. You'll study six taught modules and complete a dissertation of 15,000 words.

If you're interested in undertaking a larger independent research project, you can consider the MRes, which leads to an equivalent master’s qualification. You'll study three taught modules and complete a 30,000-word dissertation. 

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Key Information

Degree overview

In this programme we explore the different material forms the book has taken over time, from clay tablets to computer screens. A research methodologies module introduces you to different approaches to the subject and the range of resources in the field.

Core modules provide a comprehensive overview of the book from the medieval period to the present day. Optional modules studied during the course of the year, or on the London Rare Books School, allow for in-depth analysis of the history of specific components of the book, such as bindings and book illustration, as well as focused modules on key topics, including textual editing, provenance in books and the history of reading.

There is an exciting opportunity to work as an intern in a special collections library or the London rare book trade. There are also a number of opportunities to experience the wider book world in London and beyond with visits to libraries, antiquarian bookshops and auction houses.

To find out more about the MA in History of the Book course, download our programme specification.

To find out more about the MRes in History of the Book course, download our programme specification.

How will this degree benefit me?

You're encouraged to participate in the wider activities of the University and are able to use the libraries of other colleges in addition to the internationally renowned Senate House Library. With more than two million books and 1,200 archival collections, Senate House is one of the UK’s largest academic libraries focused on the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

You'll have the opportunity to substitute one of your option modules with an internship at a London bookselling firm or a special collections library or archive. The internship offers the chance to experience working life in the book world and to undertake projects for a company or institution. 

In the past, students have been placed in Maggs Bros., Jarndyce Booksellers, Robert Frew Ltd., the Foundling Museum, and many others. Several students undertaking the internship have gone on to secure successful careers in the book trade or the libraries and archives sector.

Located steps away from worldrenowned research resources such as the British Library, and British Museum, the Institute of English Studies is at the centre of academic and intellectual life in London. London is regularly named the best university city in the world for its welcoming attitude, diversity and vibrant, student-friendly culture.

Modules and structure

The degree can be taken full-time over one year, or part-time over two or three years, with entry in October only. 

Part-time students normally complete at least four taught modules before embarking on the dissertation which is taken in the final year. 

In order to accommodate part-time study for students on day-release we try to arrange for most modules 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.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment 

The MA consists of six taught modules (including one compulsory module and two or three core modules) plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.

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

Core and option modules will be examined by one 5,000-word essay or project on a topic to be agreed with the tutor.

The compulsory research methodology module is examined by a series of shorter exercises.

You also have the opportunity choose courses from the wide range of options on the London Rare Books School. Distance or blended learning options are available. For more information visit:

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.


If you're not an MA/MRes student, but you're interested in potentially pursuing a postgraduate programme with a phased-approach or accumulating credits, the Institute offers credit for LRBS courses.

In order to earn credit, a student will have to complete the course successfully, and pass a 5,000 word essay which must be submitted within three months of the end of the course. An extra fee per course to cover marking will be charged.

A full LRBS five-day course will attract 20 CATS M points. Students earning credit in LRBS should be able to transfer it to Masters programmes that they may be following elsewhere in the UK, Europe or the USA.

Alternatively, students will be able to take further LRBS courses and build up enough credit to take a Postgraduate Certificate in the History of the Book (60 CATS point required) or a  Postgraduate Diploma in the History of the Book (120 CATS points required) from the University of London.

Credits from LRBS courses can also be transferred to the MA/MRes in the History of the Book run at the Institute.

Module options with the LRBS

As an MA/MRes student you can also, 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.

Sample list of courses (not all courses will be offered in any one year)

  • The Book in the Ancient World
  • The Book in the Renaissance
  • Colour Printing: 1400–1800
  • 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 the Victoria and Albert Museum)
  • History of Maps and Mapping
  • Incunabula: Medieval Printed Material
  • Introduction to Bibliography
  • The Medical Book: 1300–1900
  • The Medieval Book
  • Medieval Women and the Book
  • The Modern Rare Book Trade
  • Provenance in Books
  • A Publishing History of the Novel
  • The Queer Book
  • Using Publishers’ Archives
  • The Woman Reader

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.

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

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

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

The School of Advanced Study is a unique environment in which to study the humanities.  The School strives to reflect the latest developments in thinking across the humanities disciplines it supports and to ensure that its programmes reflect this.   We are also aware that the needs of our students are constantly changing.  With that in mind, the School continually reviews the its programmes and, as part of that process, reserves the right to alter or discontinue them. 

We assure you that we carry out these exercises at no detriment to any enrolled students. Students enrolled on any programme that we discontinue will be able to complete that programme within a reasonable timeframe and with all the necessary resources at their disposal. The School will communicate any anticipated changes with students as early as possible.

Read some of our student profiles