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Masters Degrees (Decoration)

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The MSt in the History of Design is a taught Master's Degree offered part-time over two years. A tea cup, be it hand-painted porcelain, studio pottery or mass produced ceramic, offers a glimpse of the rituals of everyday life and historical experience. Read more
The MSt in the History of Design is a taught Master's Degree offered part-time over two years.

A tea cup, be it hand-painted porcelain, studio pottery or mass produced ceramic, offers a glimpse of the rituals of everyday life and historical experience. A designed object or space reflects the individual, the society for which it was created, as well as its creator. It expresses aesthetic preoccupations and articulates historical and political conditions. Decoration challenges the hierarchies and contested inter-relationships between the disciplines and careers of artists, designers, crafts workers, gardeners, and architects. Such concerns reside at the heart of the study of the history of design.

This history of design course is taught on nine monthly Saturdays and one residential weekend per annum. The syllabus focuses particularly on the period from 1851 to 1951 in Europe (including Britain) and America. Combining close visual and material analysis with historical methodologies, the course explores decorative and applied art, the design of interiors and public spaces, and for performance and industry.

There will be two Open Mornings, on one Saturday in November 2016 11am - 12.30pm and on one Saturday in February 2017 11am - 12.30pm, where you can meet the Course Director, Dr Claire O'Mahony, and learn more about the course. Please contact usl if you would like to attend including which day you prefer: .

Visit the website https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/mst-in-the-history-of-design


Core themes of the History of Design course will include the rivalries between historicism and modernity; internationalist and nationalist tendencies; handicraft and industrial processes, as well as the analysis of critical debates about the makers and audiences of decoration in advice literature and aesthetic writing.

The programme aims to provide students with a framework of interpretative skills useful to understanding design. It provides grounding in the analysis of the techniques and materials deployed in creating objects or sites. It enables students to develop a grasp of historical context, encompassing the impact of the hierarchies within, and audiences for, the critical reception of 'decoration'. It encourages the analysis of the historiography of political and aesthetic debates articulated by designers, critics and historians about design, its forms and purposes.

Teaching and learning takes a variety of forms in this programme. In keeping with the Oxford ethos, individual tutorials and supervisions will be an important of the course, particularly whilst researching the dissertation, whilst earlier stages of the programme principally take the form of seminar group discussion, lectures and independent study. First-hand visual analysis is an essential component of the discipline of the history of design. As such each course element of the programme includes site visits, both to Oxford University's unique museum and library collections, and to those nearby in London and the regions. Formal assessment is by means of analytical essay and dissertation writing, complemented by informal assessment methods including a portfolio of research skills tasks and an oral presentation about each candidate's dissertation topic.

The monthly format of the programme should enable applicants who are employed or have caring duties to undertake postgraduate study, given they have a determined commitment to study and to undertake independent research.

The University of Oxford offers a uniquely rich programme of lectures and research seminars relevant to the study of Design History. Research specialisms particularly well represented in the Department for Continuing Education are:

- Art Nouveau and Modern French Decoration
- Modernist Design and Architecture
- The Arts and Crafts Movement
- Garden History
- The Art of the Book
- Ecclesiastical Architecture and Design

As a discipline Design History is well represented in conferences organised and academic journals and books published by The Design History Society; the Association of Art Historians; AHRC Centre for the Historic Interior at the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Modern Interior Centre at Kingston University; The Twentieth Century Society; The Garden History Society; The Textile History Society; The Wallpaper Society, The Societe des Dix-Neuviemistes.

Graduate destinations

Future research and career paths might be a DPhil programme; creative industries; museum curatorship; the art market; teaching; arts publishing.

Programme details

- Course structure
The MSt is a part-time course over two years with one residential weekend per annum. Each year comprises nine Saturdays (monthly; three in each of the three terms in the academic year) students will also have fortnightly individual tutorials and undertake research in reference libraries in Oxford between these monthly meetings. The course is designed for the needs of students wishing to study part-time, including those who are in full-time employment but will require 15 to 20 hours of study per week.

- Course content and timetable
The course is based at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JA. Some classes may take place at other venues in Oxford. Class details, reading lists and information about any field trips will be supplied when you have taken up your place.

Core Courses

- Materials and Techniques of Design
- Historical Methods
- Research Project in the History of Modern Design
- Dissertation

Options Courses

- Decoration in Modern France
- The Arts and Crafts Tradition in Modern Britain
- Design in the Machine Age
- Design, Body, Environment
- Visual Cultures of the World Wars
- Academic Writing and Contemporary Practice

Course aims

The MSt was devised with the aim of providing effective postgraduate-level education in history of design on a part-time basis in which case it should be possible to participate fully in the programme while remaining in full-time employment.

The programme aims to provide students with skills:

- To develop further their critical understanding of the principles and practice of the history of design

- To enhance their subject knowledge, analytical and communication skills needed for professional involvement in the history of design

- To demonstrate a grasp of primary evidence to build on their critical understanding of the types of evidence used in the historical study of designed objects and sites and how they are selected and interpreted

- To build on the appropriate skills and concepts for analysing material objects and textural sources

- To enable the student to undertake their own research to be presented in essays, oral presentations and as a dissertation

- To demonstrate an understanding of primary evidence and secondary sources through the application of appropriate analytical skills and concepts within a research context resulting in a dissertation.

Find out how to apply here - http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/applying-to-oxford

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Students on this course cultivate an innovative view of surface design. They are challenged to ruthlessly explore pattern and decoration, reflecting on the social, cultural and aesthetic context for surface pattern design in the 21st century. Read more
Students on this course cultivate an innovative view of surface design. They are challenged to ruthlessly explore pattern and decoration, reflecting on the social, cultural and aesthetic context for surface pattern design in the 21st century. New relationships like that of surfaces and light are being investigated, while new materials and technologies continually challenge designers to develop fresh ideas and methods. Students get to research and experiment with lots of materials and new technology to decorate ceramics, plastics, cloth, glass, wood, metal and paper. They use our cutting edge digital equipment to develop designs for wallpaper, tableware, floor coverings, interior products, garments and jewellery. We help our students find their own creative process and to develop their own direction and style which enables them to choose a rewarding career.


Practical work is carried out within our extensive and very well equipped studios and workshops. A programme of guest lecturers and visits to exhibitions, workshops, manufacturers, etc. further supports study.

A special feature of this course is the blend of practice and theory which underpins the student projects. As a student on a MA course in the School of Art, Design and Performance you will belong to a postgraduate design community. You will study some modules alongside students from other design disciplines. Through participation in a common programme, you will experience a strong sense of community, sharing of knowledge and access to a wide range of staff skills and resources.

Practical and theoretical elements will be assessed both during and at the end of each module. Assessment strategies for the Practice modules will usually involve portfolio assessment, presentations, summaries of reflective journals and the learning agreement. There are intermediate exit awards at appropriate stages.


Surface pattern designers work with many different products, processes and materials. They may practice within conventional design studios in traditional industries as well as in the smaller creative industries. The student will be expected to develop a personal focus of research and design or craft practice, which should lead to a package of research activities (live projects, placements, competitions, attendance at exhibitions and trade fairs, etc.) appropriate to their field of study. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to pursue a critical enquiry alongside the physical development of work. They should move toward developing concepts and understanding context.

The core belief of the MA degree is that understanding for the Design Practitioner can only be achieved through doing, making and creating. Thus a central theme of the course is that of 'Reflective Practice' where academic and theoretical issues arise out of Practice itself and where the Practice is informed by the theoretical considerations. Students will be asked to keep a reflective journal to record their thoughts, ideas and discoveries.

The MA exists in the framework of the University modular scheme. The first step for every new student is a two to three week induction block in which the student's proposed area of study is discussed, negotiated and formulated with their supervisor into a learning agreement. Following this induction and diagnostic phase, students continue to develop their physical work in Surface Pattern Practice 1. In Semester 2, they undertake Practice 2, which involves the opportunity for field study or external placement. Running parallel with, and complementary to the practice modules, are two Research for Creative Design Practice modules, one studied in semester 1 and the other in Semester 2.

The course is concluded in Semester 3 with the Postgraduate Project/Dissertation and Surface Pattern Practice 3 modules. In the Practice module, students continue their investigation into a particular personal area of study, leading to a final assessment presentation or public body of work.

Fundamental to the philosophy of the course is providing the opportunity for students to explore and realise their individual aspirations and potential, creating a framework for developing as skilled and informed professional practitioners.

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This course is to be an interdisciplinary programme enabling students to examine, by way of a thesis of the usual length allowed for Buckingham Master’s degree dissertations, aspects of Western Architectural History from the medieval period to the mid-twentieth century. Read more

Course outline

This course is to be an interdisciplinary programme enabling students to examine, by way of a thesis of the usual length allowed for Buckingham Master’s degree dissertations, aspects of Western Architectural History from the medieval period to the mid-twentieth century. Students will be encouraged to consider the interrelation of architectural history, art history and social history.

The seminar programme, which serves to complement the student’s individual research, will explore these themes in a series of twelve meetings, which will be addressed by some of the United Kingdom’s most distinguished architectural historians. These will be prefaced by a general introductory class led by the Course Director, offering an introduction to research techniques, relevant library resources available in London and through the University of Buckingham’s online subscriptions, to relevant museum collections and to the most recent academic approaches to the subject.

Each seminar will take place in central London in the early evening, followed by a 40-minute question-and-answer session with the seminar speakers, all recognised experts in their fields, and a dinner at which there will be further discussion with the speaker and a general conversation about the topic in hand. Six seminars will be scheduled for the period between October and December, and a further six in the period between the New Year and March.

After the course leader’s general introduction, there will be a series of twelve seminar papers which explore the architecture of the Western world: the medieval castle, the Gothic cathedral, Italian renaissance architecture, French and English baroque palace and country house architecture, European baroque church architecture, the inspiration of the Classical world, the Gothic Revival and historicism, Ruskin and Morris and the birth of conservation philosophy, industrialisation and the transformation of urban architecture, colonial architecture, Beaux-Arts architecture in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the meaning of Modern architecture. Reading lists will be made available before each lecture to allow for background reading and discussion with the expert speakers.

Location for seminars: The Reform Club (104 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5EW) and the University of Buckingham’s London premises at 51 Gower Street (Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 6HJ)

Course director

Jeremy Musson has a distinguished reputation as an architectural and social historian. A former National Trust assistant curator, he was Architectural Editor of Country Life magazine in 1998-2007, and presented the BBC 2 series The Curious House Guest, 2006-2007. He is an author and historic buildings consultant, working with a range of clients including the National Trust and St Paul’s Cathedral.

He is a regular lecturer and supervisor on the Master’s in Building History course at the University of Cambridge, a second supervisor to the Buckingham Master’s in the English Country House, regular speaker and tutor on the Attingham Summer School and has been a course director for the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. He has also lectured The Royal Oak in the USA and at various US museums.

His books include The Country Houses of Sir John Vanbrugh, English Ruins, Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant, English Country House Interiors and Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration and the Art of Elegance (2017). He recently contributed a chapter to the new monograph King’s College Chapel 1515-2015: Art, Music and Religion in Cambridge, 2014, and another to Fin de siècle Rediscovered. A Mosaic of the Turn of the Century, proceedings of a conference at the National Museum in Warsaw. He is co-editor with Sir David Cannadine of the forthcoming collection of essays The British Country House Revisited.

Associate students

For those wishing to attend the evening research seminar programme, but unable to devote the time to the coursework or to register for the MA degree, there is the option of becoming an Associate Student. This status will enable the student to attend the twelve research seminars and to meet the guest lecturers, in the first six months of the programme, but does not require the submission of written work. Associate Students are not registered for, and do not receive, the MA degree.

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