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Contemporary History and Politics (MA)

Course Description

This Master's degree in history and politics will give you a deep understanding of the recent past and the contemporary world and help you develop the approaches, techniques and skills of the professional historian. Using an interdisciplinary combination of historical and political approaches, it lays a strong emphasis on the critical analysis of the recent past, with the overall aim of giving you specialist knowledge of particular regions and themes. You will study the complex interplay between national, international and global political, social and historical forces that have produced the contemporary world.

The introductory core module offers an in-depth exploration of the methodological, conceptual and theoretical background necessary for historical study at postgraduate level. It also considers specific topics and questions in contemporary history and politics. You will undertake training in research skills to prepare you for researching and writing a dissertation on the subject that most interests you.

You can choose from an impressive range of option modules, selecting from those offered by the Department of Politics and by the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology. These options cover a wide sweep of political ideas and systems, historical periods and geographical places, including the United States, China, the Middle East and Europe. Options modules are usually available in topics including the post-war reconstruction of Europe, Islam and the politics of fundamentalism, American global supremacy and foreign policy, national and transnational structures for ensuring global order and justice, and the rise of China as a superpower, among others.

Key teaching staff on this programme

Course directors: Dr Sarah Howard and Professor Naoko Shimazu
Professor Joanna Bourke
Professor Orlando Figes
Professor Daniel Pick
Professor Frank Trentmann
Dr Hilary Sapire
Professor Naoko Shimazu
Professor Chandak Sengoopta
Dr Jan Rueger.

Why study this course at Birkbeck?

Arts and humanities courses at Birkbeck are ranked third best in London and 11th in the UK in the Times Higher Education 2015-16 World University Subject Rankings.
This interdisciplinary Master's degree in history and politics provides a unique perspective on the modern world and gives you the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects in depth.
The course allows you to follow your own interests, with a wide choice of option modules, while developing your research skills and undertaking a dissertation in an area that interests you.
Our Department of History, Classics and Archaeology is one of the leading research and teaching departments for history in the UK. It is ranked 6th in the UK for the percentage of our research deemed world-leading or internationally excellent.
Our academic staff are international authorities in their fields, delivering stimulating, research-led teaching.
Our department is home to thriving student societies and a number of affiliated research centres that actively run seminars, conferences and other events where some of the world's best scholars present their latest research. These include the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.
We are located 5 minutes' walk from the British Museum and the British Library, while the Museum of London is easily reachable. The Institute of Historical Research is located in Bloomsbury, near the main Birkbeck campus, and has an internationally renowned library collection and seminars that you can attend.
Birkbeck Library has an extensive history collection, including the major specialist journals, and access to online materials.

Visit the Contemporary History and Politics (MA) page on the Birkbeck, University of London website for more details!

(Student Profile)

Neil Johnson

4036.jpg Neil said: 'I am vaguely surprised at the age of 75 to find myself being awarded an MA, but I am a great believer in lifelong learning.'

The return to study was motivated by Neil’s need to gain a better understanding of employment law. He was working part-time as a regional official for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and an understanding of employment law was beneficial. When he retired from that role, aged 70, he began to wonder what to do next. His previous studies in Law and related topics had led him onto further study in areas including comparative history, political philosophy, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. He comments: 'My developing interest in these areas sparked the idea of studying for a further degree, and after careful examination of the prospectus and discussions with staff at Open Evenings, I discovered that Birkbeck offered plenty of enticing options that appealed to me.'

As one of the oldest students in his classes, Neil found that the variety of student backgrounds in each group created a great atmosphere during discussions. “We were a very mixed group of people, teachers, people starting out in their careers and some who had retired and that really enhanced the learning experience. One of the fascinations of Birkbeck is that the elderly looking man who had just walked into the room is not the lecturer - that's the young chap in jeans who has just followed him in!” he comments.

Before deciding to study at Birkbeck, Neil was aware of the strong research profile of the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy, and found that this became evident in lectures. He said: 'I came out of two hour seminars thinking "I want more", having got a real buzz from it all.'

Neil took full advantage of the libraries at Birkbeck, and in the Bloomsbury area and arranged his modules so that he would have time to do enough reading and research on each topic; however he still needed a lot of self-discipline and is even now catching up on the reading that he wanted to do. In fact, he is considering developing his final dissertation, which was about Hitler’s speeches, and applying for a Master’s in Philosophy at Birkbeck.

When friends ask whether he would recommend Birkbeck he says: 'Of course! I don’t think there’s anywhere else in London like it.'

(Student Profile)

Chris Deal

4122.jpg 'Unlike my BA in Modern History and Politics, I was probably the youngest in my class but that didn't make any difference. It was interesting to be studying with such a mixed group of people as they had lots of relevant and varied knowledge to share.

'While studying, I worked in the shop on HMS Belfast which nicely complemented my history studies. I am now much more confident in my knowledge and it is great to know the history surrounding the ship and to be able to answer people's questions. I had a very flexible work rota which meant that I could easily balance working and studying; they have realistic expectations of you at Birkbeck.

'It was great to be taught by well known, published historians and I liked the proximity to such a great range of libraries. At Birkbeck you are really in the centre of everything. The year went very quickly and I really enjoyed it. It was over too soon!

'I enjoyed the subject much more then at undergraduate level and it has made me want to carry on my research. Although I am still working in the shop, I hope to get more involved in the curatorial side of the Imperial War Museum.'


Eric Hobsbawm Postgraduate Scholarships - Fee Waiver - 2 Awards

Birkbeck College is pleased to announce the first call for Eric Hobsbawm Postgraduate Scholarships, named in memory of one of the greatest historians of the last century. From 1947 until his death in 2012, Eric Hobsbawm was a loyal member of Birkbeck College.The Scholarships have been set up to encourage the next generation of talented historians to pursue original, high-quality and exciting research in history by assisting financially with study and research costs.Applicants are invited for two full fee-waiver scholarships for MA study in the department of History, Classics and Archaeology (£6,950). Overseas applicants and part-time applicants are welcome, as well as home/EU full-time applications (part-time awards are pro-rata).The Eric Hobsbawm Scholarships have been made possible thanks to many large and small donations from his friends and former students. Birkbeck College gratefully acknowledges the help and support of the Hobsbawm family.

Value of Scholarship(s)



Overseas applicants and part-time applicants are welcome, as well as home/EU full-time applications (part-time awards are pro-rata).

Application Procedure

Applicant for the MA fee-waiver scholarships must apply through the usual process for a place on the MA programme (see information elsewhere on this website). In addition, applicants are asked to submit two documents directly to the department:1) a one-page statement outlining what they hope to achieve by taking the MA programme, noting in particular what they hope to research for their dissertation2) a one-page personal statement that includes a basic CV, and a note on the applicant’s financial circumstances.

Further Information



School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy, Postgraduate Taught (PGT) Bursary - Single Award

Applications are invited for one 'Postgraduate Taught' Bursary worth £6,000, to be awarded to a candidate with an outstanding academic record who shows high potential for strong performance on one of the School's 'Postgraduate Taught' programmes.This competition is open to new Home/EU and International students who are applying for either a full-time or part-time MA/MSc place in the departments listed below; the competition is also open to students who are applying to the Department of Philosophy and the degree of M.Phil. Stud. Philosophy.This £6,000 award is in the form of a bursary (i.e., there is no 'fee waiver' but the bursary may be used towards payment of fees). If awarded to a part-time student, the bursary will be paid for two years of PGT study.Please note that in order to apply for funding you must also complete an application for a place at Birkbeck on an MA/MSc programme within the School of SSHP or the MPhil. Stud. in the Department of Philosophy, either before or at the same time as applying for funding.Prospective studentsCandidates will be expected to fulfil similar academic criteria to those demanded by external funding bodies. They will normally possess at least an upper second class honours degree or equivalent.

Value of Scholarship(s)



This competition is open to new Home/EU and International students who are applying for either a full-time or part-time MA/MSc place in the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy; the competition is also open to students who are applying to the Department of Philosophy and the degree of M.Phil. Stud. Philosophy.This competition is open to new students only.

Application Procedure

Before you apply, you should contact the relevant department for advice.Once you have identified a relevant programme, you will need to:Apply online for the relevant MA/MSc or MPhil. Stud. (Dept. of Philosophy) degree in the normal wayDownload the SSHP Postgraduate Taught Bursary Application Form Word iconThe SSHP Studentship application form should be returned to Jane Halstead, Assistant School Manager, via the following email address:[email protected] STATE ‘PGT BURSARY’ AND DEPARTMENT APPLIED TO IN THE ‘SUBJECT’ LINE OF YOUR E-MAIL.Any queries relating to the PGT Bursary can also be sent to this email address.

Further Information



Postgraduate Support Scheme for final-year undergraduates (full-time) - 20+ Awards

We are pleased to announce that, for October 2015 entry, Birkbeck has a limited number of new £10,000 postgraduate scholarships. These scholarships are for students progressing from a full-time undergraduate degree to a part-time Master’s degree starting in 2015/16.

Value of Scholarship(s)



To be eligible for the scholarship you must be:Starting a 2-year part-time taught Master’s degree in 2015/16
Domiciled in the UK/EU
Progressing from an undergraduate course for which you were charged the higher tuition fee (applicable since 2012–13)
Studying at postgraduate Master’s level for the first time

Application Procedure

If you want to apply for this support, you must follow these steps:Submit an application for your intended course
Submit an application for the Postgraduate Support Scheme

Further Information


Entry Requirements

Second-class honours degree and references.We also offer a 1-year Graduate Certificate in History, which can be used as a conversion course if you want to study history at postgraduate level, but have a degree in a significantly different discipline. If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, our usual requirement is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests.

Course Fees

Part-time home/EU students: £ 3975 pa Full-time home/EU students: £ 7950 pa

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