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Course content

Ideas and patterns of thought always have been, and continue to be, subject to historical change. The ways in which they change, and the reasons why they do so, make for fascinating study. In this comprehensive programme, you’ll be introduced to the principal methodologies of intellectual history. You will also have the opportunity to explore particular themes in intellectual history, developing a detailed understanding of their origins, historical circumstances and implications.

By the end of the programme you will have the tools you need to appreciate the interdependence of text and context and the importance of ideas in past and present, as well as the ability to research effectively and present your work with confidence.

Programme structure

You will take a variety of seminar-style courses in small groups. Most courses are assessed by means of an extended piece of written work, while some courses may also assess non-written skills. You will complete two compulsory courses and select a further four options from a wide range on offer. You will then complete an independent research dissertation and will be assigned a supervisor from the outset.

The compulsory courses are:

  • Historical Methodology
  • Historical Research: Skills and Sources

Option courses previously offered include those listed below. Option courses change from year to year and those available when you start your studies may be different from those shown in the list:

  • Myth and the History of Scholarship in Early Modern Europe
  • The Scientific Revolution in Global Perspective
  • Citizens and Subjects: Concepts of Citizenship in Modern African Intellectual History
  • Currents of Radicalism, 1776-1848
  • Debating Marriage from Antiquity to the Middle Ages
  • History as Romance, Profession, Critique: Theory and Scholarship in the West, 1835 to 1985
  • Literature and History in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland
  • Thinking the 20th Century - Hannah Arendt and the Breakdown of European Civilisation

Learning outcomes

Students are expected to achieve several aims, which will be assessed primarily by essays and a dissertation, such as:

  • knowledge of the chief methods of practising intellectual history
  • a detailed understanding of certain major episodes in intellectual history
  • an appreciation of the interdependence of text and context, and of the importance of ideas in past and present

A wide variety of intellectual skills are promoted through seminars, discussions and advanced study, encouraging the development of the:

  • ability to develop tight and coherent arguments both orally and on the page
  • capacity to read texts critically and sensitively, evaluating their arguments as well as situating them in their practical and intellectual contexts
  • appreciation of a variety of approaches to intellectual history
  • ability to cross-disciplinary boundaries, for example, between philosophy, science and history

Career opportunities

Our students view the programme and a graduate degree from Edinburgh as an advanced qualification valued and respected by many employers, others are interested in pursuing long-term academic careers and therefore consider the MSc as preparation for a PhD. The combination of skills training courses, specialised seminars, and independent research provides you with transferable skills that will be beneficial whatever path you choose.

Graduates pursue work in related areas such as museums, policy think tanks,national and international civil services, non-governmental organisations, galleries, libraries and historic trusts while others build on the transferable skills gained and enter areas as diverse as business, media, public administration and marketing.

Visit the Intellectual History (MSc) page on the University of Edinburgh website for more details!




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