Social History of Art MA

Year of entry

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Start date
September 2024
Delivery type
On campus
12 months full time
24 months part time
Entry requirements
A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons)
Full entry requirements
English language requirements
IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component
UK fees
£11,500 (Total)
International fees
£24,500 (Total)

Course overview

Student stands in Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery looking at artwork

Building on over 70 years of academic programmes in the study of art history, and with an international reputation for innovative, critically engaged and globally conscious approaches to the discipline, our MA Social History of Art will equip you with a deep subject knowledge in the history of artistic practices in the broadest sense, grounded in fundamental questions about why this study matters in the world we face today.

The emphasis of the course is on social and political approaches to art history, whether looking at the most recent and contemporary, or in the study of the deeper roots of the cultures we inhabit. From Medieval and Renaissance art to live practices now, from the study of our most local environments to the arts of Africa, Asia and beyond, we approach art as central to the production and reproduction of our shared and different social worlds.

The course has well-established strengths in areas including:

  • feminist and gender studies

  • the relations between art and capitalism

  • the legacies and critiques of colonialism

  • Jewish studies

  • climate and environment.

We offer an exceptional range of choice in specialist study, founded upon in-depth understanding of the discipline of art history, and leading to a major independent research project.

Across the areas we teach, we attend critically to the institutions and spaces in which art is encountered, drawing on ongoing professional collaborations and long-standing expertise among many of our staff who have worked in major museums, galleries and related arts and cultural organisations, whether locally, nationally, or internationally.

The Social History of Art course has a quite distinct position in relation to comparable programmes. You'll be studying in a research-intensive Russell Group university, where art historians study alongside fine artists and others studying galleries, museums and heritage.

Specialist facilities

You’ll be based within a purpose-built space that includes studios and a gallery alongside seminar rooms, and a shared student common room, which is often used for film screenings, talks and other events.

In addition to the wide range of museums and galleries in the city and beyond, the University campus features:

The University Library offers online books, journals and databases, has a wealth of archive material in its Special Collections, including manuscript, archive and early printed material, and provides a range of spaces for individual study or group work. You’ll also benefit from access to Box of Broadcasts, an archive of over 2 million TV and radio broadcasts.

Course details

In this course you’ll study compulsory modules and optional modules. In your first semester, a compulsory module will cover key questions both in the history of the discipline of Art History, and its current urgency. Alongside this, and then in semester two, you’ll develop your specialist knowledge by selecting from a broad range of optional modules on diverse topics.

Through the rigorous development of complex descriptive and analytical skills central to the practice of art history, and through engagement with wider theoretical and historical frameworks, you'll be given the opportunity to develop your own interests and a distinct critical voice.

The skills you develop, combined with knowledge from your optional modules, will ultimately be focused in your dissertation – an independent and self-devised research project, which you will undertake with the guidance of your supervisor.

If you choose to study part-time, you’ll study over a longer period and take fewer modules in each year.

You sometimes find yourself going down a research path that you could not predict because you are surrounded by so many different forms of knowledge and expertise.

- Helen Collett, MA Fine Art

Course structure

The list shown below represents typical modules/components studied and may change from time to time. Read more in our terms and conditions.

Compulsory Modules

MA Social History of Art Core Course (30 Credits)
This module offers an in-depth engagement with core questions in the discipline of art history, attending specifically to their dynamic relation to broader social and political configurations. We focus on the radical transformation of the discipline in the later part of the twentieth century (not least in work undertaken at Leeds), and the emergence of questions and approaches that inform critically aware art history today. At the same time, we examine the ways in which this radical turn drew upon, challenged, and reinvigorated some of the ‘canonical’ texts that first grounded the academic study of art history. In this way, the course offers both an informed approach to the origins and development of the discipline we work in, and a set of frameworks to think through the potential in art history as a form of critical practice now.

Art History Dissertation (60 Credits)
The dissertation is a major, independently devised project, supported by the development of advanced skills in research, and one-to-one supervision with a member of the programme team.

Optional Modules (selection of options from the full list):

Postcolonial Feminisms (30 Credits)
This is a module in feminist theory and politics as these have developed in the context of the period of decolonization and its wake. Emphasis will fall on theoretical formulations concerning sexual difference and the social division of gender as these have been produced by women writing to or from former European colonies. Attention will also be given to questions posed by and for feminism within postcolonial metropoles, including the question of theory as such.

Art & Money: The Modern and Contemporary Art Markets (30 Credits)
The module is a chronologically ordered and thematic investigation of some of the key notions in the developments of the modern and contemporary art markets. It will direct critical attention to the role and function of the art market in the period 1850 to present day.

Art of the Silk Roads (30 Credits)
The ‘Silk Roads’ were a complex of networks that connected China, Japan, the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, East Africa, and the Mediterranean world from antiquity through to the fifteenth century. This module introduces you to some of the key centres and routes along these networks, exploring questions of cultural connectivity, collaboration, and innovation. It will interrogate ideas about and definitions of borders, cultural and religious identity, confrontation, collaboration, and appropriation by considering the role and agency of artworks within a series of interconnected mercantile, religious and social networks. It also explores the ways in which art (and sometimes artistic techniques) were created, exchanged, looted, censored, destroyed, and repurposed through time and across geographies.

Jewish Museums and the Display of Cultural Difference (30 Credits)
Museums are increasingly conscious of the need to be socially inclusive. Traditional models of privileging high art and 'white western' art have come under sharp criticism. On this module, we will examine how museums have integrated (or failed to do so) the artefacts of the Jewish minorities in Europe and the USA. We will look at the historical reasons for the omission of Jewish culture from many museums, and the particularities of the models adopted for Jewish museums and Jewish exhibits in ethnographic and local history contexts.

Unfinished Business: Trauma, Cultural Memory and the Holocaust (30 Credits)
The objectives of this module are to consider the continuing significance of the events known as the Holocaust or Shoah as they enter representation. The module will consider testimony and oral archives of survivors' witness, current moves to create Holocaust museums, artistic projects of memorialisation and counter-memory, autobiographical narratives and films, psychotherapeutic work with the generations of survivors' children. Cinematic attempts to respond to the Holocaust will also be studied. These voices, words and images pose the question of what it is that is struggling into or out of representation and what is means for everyone living in the shadow of this major event in western modernity.

Anthropology, Art and Representation (30 Credits)
On completion of this module you'll have a good grasp of anthropological perspectives on the category art. The course avoids the common view that the anthropology of art is only concerned with tribal or ethnographic art. Rather it uses anthropological and cultural theory to introduce you to a comparative perspective on cultural representation. You'll be introduced to a number of case studies ranging from post-colonial cinema to audience perspectives on African masquerades, via the global marketing of world music.

Unmaking Things (30 Credits)
This module attends to a series of questions generated by historical consideration of the materials from which Renaissance artworks and objects were made. With a focus on Europe (though in a number of ways thinking about European encounters with other cultures), we develop approaches that cross between close object-analysis and critical reflection on some of the broader social, political, religious and philosophical frameworks in which ideas of materiality took shape in this period. We look at primary written sources (Renaissance and earlier classical and Christian texts), and think about a broad range of objects and materials. Centrally, we pursue ways of ‘unmaking’ the ostensibly settled and self-contained appearance of Renaissance objects, and of positioning them as active engagements within dynamic, and often conflicting, cultural tendencies.

Intersecting Practices: Questioning the Intersection of Contemporary Art and Heritage (30 Credits)
Artist's 'interventions' in museums and heritage spaces are a significant form of interpretive practice in the contemporary visitor 'offer' at many museums and heritage sites. However, the role of artists within heritage interpretation needs critical attention to understand the benefits and challenges implicit within this practice. This module challenges the notion of the 'stable' heritage site, and 'temporary' intervention to enable you to understand the complexity which exists at the intersection of contemporary art and heritage, particularly in relation to interpretive methodologies and visitor experience.

Adventures in the Archive (30 Credits)
Adventures in the Archives is an interdisciplinary module that overlaps discourses such as photography & moving image, curatorial studies, historical studies, anthropology, critical studies, architecture, and cultural studies. We invite students from a range of disciplines to consider ideas around the notions of archive, memory and history; and their relation to contemporary life today.

Africa Displaying / Displaying Africa (30 Credits)
This module will allow you to explore and develop an understanding of the way in which visual cultures in Africa have been used in knowledge systems. They will be introduced to both the epistemological and ontological grounds upon which African methods of display operate. This work is then offered up in a comparative analysis to modes of display as they have developed in the twentieth century, especially in relation to Colonialism and the Independent State. The module documents changing modes of art making and viewing in the twenty first century before considering the case for reparation of African items from Europe.

Reading Sexual Difference (30 Credits)
The module begins with Freud, who inaugurated the serious study of sexuality and gender. It then moves through a number of classic texts by thinkers such as Butler, Cixous, Derrida, Irigaray, Lacan, Rubin, who return to or depart from Freud’s work in ways that profoundly transform and extend the field of interrogation. The module focusses on a strand within what’s often called ‘second wave’ feminism that’s concerned with the question of ‘sexual difference’, paying careful attention to psychoanalysis and poststructuralist thought.

Learning and teaching

Teaching is delivered through a range of innovative approaches, emphasising inclusive, active learning and student input. Approaches may include seminars, screenings, tutorials, field trips, workshops and other forms of learning generated through dialogue between tutors and students. Principally, teaching is delivered through small-group seminars focused on close reading of key texts, and the open discussion of ideas.

You’ll also be able to attend talks by visiting artists and speakers, as well as events and exhibitions both on- and off campus. There is emphasis throughout on the kind of teaching that enables you to develop your own research projects, leading towards the dissertation, a substantial independent research project on a topic of particular interest to you.

On this course you’ll be taught by our expert academics, from lecturers through to professors. You may also be taught by industry professionals with years of experience, as well as trained postgraduate researchers, connecting you to some of the brightest minds on campus.


Assessment takes varied forms, including different kinds of written assignment, presentations, group work, and innovative practice-led approaches. Our assessment is led by principles of relevance, fairness and inclusivity, and the development of vital skills beyond university, such as problem-solving, adaptability, self-reliance and reflexivity.

Mainly, the type of work you'll complete involves writing to a professional standard, in extended essays followed by a dissertation. Overall, assessment will ground you in the development of a broad range of skills in research, analysis and the expression of complex ideas – whether as preparation for doctoral study, work in the arts, or in a wide range of careers where these skills are in demand.

The University Library offers classes and resources on topics such as exam technique, public speaking, research and structuring essays throughout your degree.


Entry requirements

You’ll need a bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) or equivalent qualification, for example (though not exclusively) in a humanities or social science subject, such as History, Literature, Languages, Art History, Philosophy or Sociology, or in a practice-based Arts subject where your degree included a significant proportion of historical and theoretical studies.

Applying from China

Due to the large numbers of applications we receive, we’re only able to offer places to applicants who have attended selected Chinese institutions. With regret, any applications we receive from applicants awarded a qualification in China from an institution that isn’t on this list will be rejected.


Our admissions team are experienced in considering a wide range of international qualifications. If you wish to discuss whether your qualifications will meet the necessary entry criteria, contact the School’s admissions team.

You can also check the accepted qualifications for your country or region.

English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component. For other English qualifications, read English language equivalent qualifications.

Improve your English

International students who do not meet the English language requirements for this programme may be able to study our postgraduate pre-sessional English course, to help improve your English language level.

This pre-sessional course is designed with a progression route to your degree programme and you’ll learn academic English in the context of your subject area. To find out more, read Language for Arts and Humanities (6 weeks) and Language for Social Science and Arts: Arts and Humanities (10 weeks).

We also offer online pre-sessionals alongside our on-campus pre-sessionals. Find out more about our six week online pre-sessional.

You can also study pre-sessionals for longer periods – read about our postgraduate pre-sessional English courses.

How to apply

Please see our How to Apply page for information about application deadlines.

The ‘Apply’ link at the top of this page takes you to information on applying for taught programmes and to the University's online application system.

If you're unsure about the application process, contact the admissions team for help.

Documents and information you need

  • Your degree certificate and transcripts, or a partial transcript if you’re still studying

  • Two academic references

  • Evidence of your English language qualifications if English is not your first subject.

  • A personal statement. Please answer the following questions within your statement:

    • Please explain your reasons for applying to this particular course.

    • What specific fields within the history of art most interest you, and why? Have you studied any of these topics already? If so, you might provide some details of what you studied and to what depth.

    • Which approaches to the study of art history (i.e. methods, theories) most interest you, and why?

    • In your academic experience to date, what has prepared you to embark on postgraduate-level study of art history? If you are coming to art history from another discipline, feel free to explain this experience in terms of cognate issues.

    • What particular challenges and opportunities do you think postgraduate study will offer compared to undergraduate study?

Next steps

Applicants may be invited for an interview as part of the application process.

The Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures receives very large numbers of high-quality applications and regrets that it cannot make offers to all of its applicants. Some particularly popular schools may have to reject many that hold the necessary academic qualifications.

Read about visas, immigration and other information in International students. We recommend that international students apply as early as possible to ensure that they have time to apply for their visa.

Admissions policy

University of Leeds Taught Admissions Policy 2024

This course is taught by

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

Contact us

Taught Postgraduate Team



UK: £11,500 (Total)

International: £24,500 (Total)

For fees information for international taught postgraduate students, read Masters fees.

Read more about paying fees and charges.

Part-time fees
Fees for part-time courses are normally calculated based on the number of credits you study in a year compared to the equivalent full-time course. For example, if you study half the course credits in a year, you will pay half the full-time course fees for that year.

Additional cost information

There may be additional costs related to your course or programme of study, or related to being a student at the University of Leeds. Read more on our living costs and budgeting page.

Scholarships and financial support

If you have the talent and drive, we want you to be able to study with us, whatever your financial circumstances. There may be help for students in the form of loans, scholarships and non-repayable grants from the University and from the government.

The School offers a Head of School Excellence Scholarship (International) for international applicants. Find out about awards and scholarships.

Career opportunities

This postgraduate degree will develop your visual, critical and cultural awareness and expand your subject knowledge in history of art. In addition, you will graduate equipped with sophisticated research, analytical, critical and communication skills that will support you to succeed in a variety of careers.

Our graduates have pursued careers as curators and education staff in museums and galleries and worked for national heritage organisations, as well as in journalism, publishing, arts marketing, public relations, university administration and teaching.

Others have transferred the skills they gained into industry, the charity sector, and the full range of professions where high-level analytical and communication skills are in demand.

Many of our graduates have also continued with their research at PhD level and secured external funding to support them – including AHRC scholarships. Some of our former postgraduate researchers are now developing academic careers in the UK, Europe, Asia, USA and Canada.

Reach your potential

Hear more about the School and Faculty support you can access from our employability lead, Anna Douglas.

Careers support

The School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies has a strong commitment to enhancing student employability and embedding transferable, career-oriented skills. We encourage you to prepare for your career from day one. That’s one of the reasons Leeds graduates are so sought after by employers.

The School regularly hosts events and external visitors from the arts and heritage sectors, as well as a weekly Visiting Artist Talk Programme, with leading artists regionally and internationally discussing their careers and practice. 

We encourage you to prepare for your career from day one. That’s one of the reasons Leeds graduates are so sought after by employers.

The Careers Centre and staff in your faculty provide a range of help and advice to help you plan your career and make well-informed decisions along the way, even after you graduate. Find out more about Careers support.

Student profile: Laura Fungai Ganda

When I was looking for a place to study, I was looking for a city that allowed me to be involved in the arts easily and Leeds offered me that, with lots of volunteering opportunities for students.
Find out more about Laura Fungai Ganda's time at Leeds