This cutting-edge programme is unique to Buckingham. A course with wide appeal, it is aimed at anyone who has an interest in biography or in researching and writing biography for themselves. The varied mix of backgrounds and interests that students bring to the course, the experience and commitment of the programme director and the friendly small-group setting allow a lively, enjoyable and intellectually rigorous exchange of ideas. Graduates have gone on to publish their own books, and to win prizes. Some have embarked on further research for the MPhil or the DPhil in Biography.
When it was founded in 1996, the Biography MA was the first of its kind. Since then Life Writing has become part of the postgraduate menu, but the Buckingham course has kept its distinctive edge. Unlike most Life Writing degrees, it is not linked to Creative Writing, and there is a strong emphasis on research and historical biography. The programme is consistently rated ‘excellent’ by external examiners and inspectors.
Teaching takes place at the University’s London premises: 51 Gower Street Bloomsbury London WC1E 6HJ
The course offers entry points in September and January and runs for a calendar year if taken full-time. Teaching takes place on one day a week over three terms running from September to December, January to March and April to June; the term from July to September is devoted to independent research. The programme may be followed part-time over 2 years. In the first year part-time students follow the taught courses and the second year is normally devoted to the dissertation. A detailed programme is shown here. Suitably qualified students with a major research topic in mind may be accepted for the higher degrees of MPhil (two years full-time/four years part-time) or DPhil (three years full-time/six years part-time).
Students have a choice between following the taught MA, or opting for the MA by Research. The taught MA gives an opportunity to produce written term papers on a variety of topics as well as a dissertation of up to 20,000 words. Students accepted for the MA by Research are required to produce written work which includes an extended dissertation of up to 40,000 words. All students produce coursework for the Research Methods module: an annotated bibliography and a short biography, with supporting material, produced according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography format.
One of the distinctive features of the programme is the value attached to the supervision which is provided for students working on dissertations. One-on-one supervisions are held every two or three weeks during term. While the dissertation must be the candidate’s independent work, it is the supervisor who offers advice on refining the topic (if necessary), on primary sources, on secondary reading, on research techniques and on writing the dissertation. Regular group discussions between research students at all degree levels (MA, MPhil and DPhil) allow the exchange of research experiences and mutual support.
Professor Jane Ridley founded the Buckingham Biography MA in 1996. She is an Oxford-trained historian and biographer, and her publications include The Young Disraeli (1995); The Architect and his Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens (2002), which won the Duff Cooper Prize; and Bertie: A Life of Edward VII (2012), for which she was awarded a research fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust. She has contributed widely to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and she is a regular reviewer for publications such as the Spectator, the Literary Review and the Times Literary Supplement.