Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

M.A. Honours in English Literature and History

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: The University of Edinburgh
Final award: MA (Hons)
Programme title: English Literature and History
UCAS code: QVH1
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): English
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Head of School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
Date of production/revision: May 2012

External summary

English Literature is a versatile academic discipline characterised by the rigorous and critical study of the production, reception and interpretation of written texts, both literary and non-literary; and with the nature, history and potential of the English language. The study of English develops a flexible and responsive openness of mind, conceptual sophistication in argument, and the ability to engage in dialogue with past and present cultures and values.

The University of Edinburgh is proud to house the oldest Department of English Literature in the world, having offered courses on ‘rhetoric and belles lettres’ for over 200 years. The Department’s position as one of the premier departments in the country was confirmed in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise when it was placed amongst the top three in the United Kingdom Located at the heart of the city, itself UNESCO's first World City of Literature, the Department offers a rich array of unique resources which facilitate scholarship and learning.

Outstanding libraries are among the many factors that make the city an ideal place for the study of literature. As well as the wealth of resources in the main University Library, the National Library of Scotland, one of the finest bibliographical collections in Europe, is only five minutes walk from the Department.

With its annual International Festival the attraction of the city for those with an interest in the performing arts is obvious: students enjoy attending productions in the city's many theatres, or working with the University's lively drama society.

Extending its rich scholarly tradition, the department is committed to updating courses and teaching methods in line with the latest advances in the field. For those interested in creative writing, courses are available at undergraduate and postgraduate level and the University Writer in Residence is housed in the Department and is available for consultation. The department is also the home of the James Tait Black Prizes for fiction and biography, Britain's oldest and most prestigious literary awards.

The discipline of History involves study of the human past adopting a critical approach to evidence relevant to that enquiry. Work in History takes the form of interaction with the evidence in primary form and through sceptical reading of a wide body of historical writing. The Edinburgh experience is distinctive for the range of historical themes, chronological periods and geographical areas which can be studied using a variety of different intellectual approaches to the past.

The English Literature and History programme is designed to

  1. Develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the history of literary development in English from the fourteenth century to the present, by ensuring that all students study a range of texts from the following periods: renaissance; romantic; modern; medieval; eighteenth-century; Victorian; contemporary (post-1945).
  2. Recognise and understand the significance of literary form, both specific (e.g. comedy, tragedy) and general (e.g. conceptions of narrative, poetic structure).
  3. Enable students to recognise and evaluate the social, historical and intellectual contexts by which literary and historical texts are shaped.
  4. Engage students in the theoretical debates about literature in order that they can reflect critically on the processes of reading.
  5. Understand developments at the forefront of the subject and to participate in research-led study.
  6. Develop the independent critical, analytic and communicative skills which will fit students for a wide range of employment, further training and life-long learning.
Understand the problems of historical interpretation.

Educational aims of programme

The English Literature and History programme aims to develop the critical, analytic, linguistic and creative skills of students by engaging with a broad range of texts and a variety of approaches to reading. By enhancing the literary and critical faculties of individual students, the programme prepares them to contribute to a society in which an understanding of texts of all kinds is crucially important.

To introduce students to problems of historical methodology in a variety of contexts.  To recognised the relationship of breadth of historical knowledge in relation to more specialised study.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

All students will acquire an understanding of the cultural contexts of all major periods of English literature from the late middle-ages to the present, and a detailed knowledge of a specific topic or set of texts within each period. Students will also study a set of specific research-led subjects offered by staff and selected by students on the basis of their own interests.  Over the degree programme, students acquire knowledge and understanding of:

  1. the ways in which language is used in literary texts and deployed in critical discourse;
  2. a wide variety of literary genres in English, and a critical understanding of their formal structures;
  3. the significance of issues such as class, nation and gender in the production and understanding of literary texts;
  4. the significance of historical and cultural contexts to our understanding of literary works;
  5. the rhetoric of critical and theoretical debates;
  6. the activity of the interpretation of literary works.
  7. Understanding of a range of viewpoints on problems of interpretation and evaluation of the past
  8. Understanding the role of the past and its study in the shaping of class, ethnic, gender, national and other identities with current, sometimes sensitive relevance

These abilities are acquired by attending lectures, and in preparing for and participating in tutorials and seminars

First and second year students attend lecture programmes which address both general and theoretical issues, and specific topics and texts. Individual development of knowledge is enhanced by tutorials in which students engage in active learning on key topics with their tutor and their peers. The acquisition and consolidation of this knowledge base is tested by assessed course work (primarily essays) and end of year examinations.

In third and fourth year students’ knowledge in these areas is developed by taking a core course in each semester which covers a particular period (pre-1600; 1660-1760; Victorian; Contemporary). At the same time, students also choose an option course in each semester on a wide range of topics which enables them to choose to focus on particular topics and develop their individual areas of interest (for example, language, creative writing, post-colonialism, Shakespeare). These courses are taught by weekly two-hour seminars, supported by weekly small group peer-learning groups (autonomous learning groups), and are assessed by course essays and end of year examinations (either sit down or take-home papers). Essay questions are designed to extend knowledge and understanding by research and independent study; exam questions are designed to test the students’ understanding of specific areas of knowledge.

In addition, in third year, students also follow two lecture-based critical practice courses in each semester which explore a generic aspect of literary studies (S1: criticism; poetry; S2: prose; performance). Apart from the performance course (which is assessed by a portfolio of coursework material), these courses are assessed at the end of each semester.

In fourth year, these courses are replaced by intensive work on a 10,000 word dissertation. While students are primarily encouraged to work independently, their research is supported by a dissertation supervisor and peer-learning sessions. While this project will enable students to deepen their knowledge and understanding of a specific aspect of literary studies, it will also crucially enhance their skills and abilities in Research and Enquiry, and in Personal and Intellectual Autonomy.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

Graduates in English Literature and History will be able to:

  1. interpret and compare a wide range of texts;
  2. evaluate and critique other scholars’ deployment of methods of literary and critical analysis;
  3. formulate questions and structure an argument to express resolutions to these questions critically and analytically;
  4. collect and synthesise evidence in order to identify, define and analyse individual research questions;
  5. examine self-reflexively the intellectual practices that they are using;
  6. demonstrate their creative, reflective and imaginative thinking in extended pieces of independent scholarly and/or creative writing;
  7. search for, evaluate and use library and other resources appropriate to the subject to develop their knowledge and understanding.
  8. Ability to draw valid conclusions about the past
  9. Ability to identify, define and analyse historical problems

The overall structure of the four-year degree programme is designed to ensure that students engage with a variety of historical and generic material and a variety of critical methodologies, and that they participate in the practice of comparative analysis. Although some elements of the curriculum are mandatory, the core and option courses allow students to make their degree as broad or as focused as they desire. As such, the degree programme overall encourages students to develop their own areas of research and enquiry.

While the teaching and learning methods (see 11a) develop each of these skills, the assessment structure also tests different forms of research and enquiry. Coursework and sit-down examinations primarily require students to compose an argument in relation to a pre-set question within a short and specific time frame. While students’ creativity and independence of thought are demonstrated in these tasks, the final year dissertation represents the ultimate test of the acquisition of these skills in the production of a sustained and independent piece of scholarly work.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

Graduates in English Literature and History will be able to:

  1. be intellectually curious and open to new ideas, methods and ways of thinking;
  2. demonstrate creativity and independence of thought;
  3. work independently and be self-reliant;
  4. use collaboration and debate effectively to test, modify and/or strengthen their own views;
  5. work towards personal goals in sustainable ways;
  6. identify what is significant/important in a large body of complex material, to locate salient points in individual texts and in large bodies of texts;
  7. prioritise and to make different kinds of critical discriminations, judgements and evaluations about various kinds of text;
  8. evaluate the relative merits of different points of intellectual debate

All courses, at both pre-Honours and at Honours level, are informed by best practice in the field and the lecturer’s research interests. Accordingly, lectures, tutorials and seminars engage with current research questions and provide models of intellectual curiosity.

Formative and summative assessment is used to develop, consolidate and evaluate these skills. At Honours level students participate in Autonomous Learning Groups (ALGs) which provide an opportunity to test out ideas among peers and submit group reports/presentations. Students gain the opportunity to display their advanced achievements in these areas in their final year dissertation.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

Graduates in English Literature and History will be able to:

  1. use communication as a tool for collaborating and relating to others;
  2. deploy rhetorical skills of effective communication and argument, both orally and in writing;
  3. demonstrate a command of a broad range of vocabulary and an appropriate critical terminology;
  4. articulate a knowledge and understanding of texts, concepts and theories;
  5. engage in processes of drafting and redrafting of texts to achieve clarity of expression and an appropriate style
  6. demonstrate awareness of how different social and cultural contexts affect the nature of language and meaning;
  7. communicate effectively and appropriately in a variety of contexts
  8. handle information and argument in a critical and self-reflective manner.

Lectures encourage concentration and listening skills as well as skills in noting and summarising information. Tutorial and seminar discussion helps students to develop personal judgements and a capacity for oral argument, by allowing them to participate in intellectual debate and to develop their ability to negotiate challenges to their own arguments and judgements. At pre-honours level oral participation is directly assessed; at Honours level, students are encouraged to develop their collaborative skills in this area via autonomous learning groups. Essays require students to formulate independent, sustained and persuasive arguments in writing cogently and coherently.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

Graduates in English Literature and History will be able to:

  1. work autonomously, setting their own goals, and organising their own learning;
  2. manage their time and priorities, working to self-imposed and external deadlines, particularly with reference to the planning and execution of essays, presentations and other writing and project work;
  3. collaborate effectively and productively with and in relation to others in the presentation of ideas and information, and the collective negotiation of solutions;
  4. adapt and transfer the critical methods of their discipline to a variety of working environments;
  5. respond flexibly, adaptably and proactively to changing surroundings;
  6. exercise sensitivity to ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings;
  7. make decisions with confidence, based on their understanding and personal/intellectual autonomy;
  8. work with, manage, and lead others in ways that value equality and diversity, and encourage their contribution to the organisation and the wider community.
  9. Ability to approach historical problems with academic rigour
Essays, dissertations, exam-essays and exams test students’ ability to work to a specific deadline (and there are penalties for failing to do so). Sit-down exams, in particular, test students’ ability to fulfil tasks under pressure of limited time. Critical Practice and Creative Writing courses encourage students to collaborate within a workshop environment and produce portfoilios of original materials. . The diversity and inclusivity of our curriculum, along with the opportunity to engage in dramatic productions, both within and without the department, enables those who do so to develop further skills in all these areas.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

Information technology skills: use of email, word processing, and internet applications. There is a requirement that all essays are word-processed, with footnotes and bibliography and full scholarly apparatus that acknowledges the students’ use of library and other resources.  Ability to deal with quantitative evidence, where relevant.

Programme structure and features


Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Teaching and Learning strategies employed at the University of Edinburgh consist of a variety of different methods appropriate to the programme aims.  The graduate attributes listed above are met through a teaching and learning framework (detailed below) which is appropriate to the level and content of the course.

Teaching and Learning Activities

In Year 1

  • Lectures
  • Tutorials

In Year 2

  • Lectures
  • Tutorials

In Year 3

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Portfolios

In Year 4

  • Seminars
  • Lectures
  • Workshops
  • Portfolios

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 122780
Year 223770
Year 313870
Year 47930

Assessment methods and strategies

Courses can be assessed by a diverse range of methods and often takes the form of formative work which provided the student with on-going feedback as well as summative assessment which is submitted for assessment.

In Year 1

  • Written Examinations
  • Coursework
  • Essays
  • Tutorial Assessment
  • Class Tests
  • Oral Presentations

In Year 2

  • Written Examinations
  • Coursework
  • Essays
  • Tutorial Assessment
  • Class Tests
  • Tutorial Logbook

In Year 3

  • Written Examinations
  • Coursework
  • Essays
  • Seminar Presentations
  • Project

In Year 4

  • Written Examinations
  • Coursework
  • Essays
  • Dissertation
  • Seminar Presentations

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 127766
Year 241752
Year 347548
Year 413780

Career opportunities

There are a variety of careers open to English Literature and History graduates. The research and analytical skills you will develop throughout the course can be used in any research-based career. These skills can also be applied to careers including journalism, museum or heritage work, public relations, arts, administration, the Diplomatic Service, teaching, or a media-related career like PR, media production or advertising. Previous graduates have also gone on to work in the finance, law, business sectors or local government. There are opportunities for postgraduate study at the University of Edinburgh or you may choose to continue studying at another university.

Other items

all students are assigned a Personal Tutor on admission to the degree programme, who oversees the course of the student’s degree programme, offers advice on academic matters (including degree-progression) and should be the student’s first port of call for course-related worries or concerns

student opinion is actively sought through participation in Staff-Student Liaison Committees, through the election of class- and tutorial-representatives, and by the wide circulation and review of detailed student questionnaires each semester. 

LLC have a student support office, where students can go for advice on degree transfers, course changes, authorised interruption of studies, confirmation letters and general support. Information can be found at: - http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/literatures-languages-cultures/current-students/undergraduate-support

further information about English Literature can be found at http://www.englit.ed.ac.uk/

Study abroad:

The University has well-established exchange schemes with leading world universities, which usually take place in the third year.