Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2019/2020

MA Honours in History and History of Art

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: n/a
Final award: MA Honours
Programme title: History and History of Art
UCAS code: VV13
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s):

QAA Benchmark Statement – History: History of Art, Architecture and Design

Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: SHCA Quality Director
Date of production/revision: April 2012

External summary

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.

Students will be expected to:

  • work independently, to organise and synthesise data derived from a variety of sources, to assess the reliability of evidence and weigh a variety of competing or conflicting factors, to analyse complex questions and make independent judgements, to develop and organise their arguments, and to present a coherent, reasoned and well supported set of conclusions.
  • make effective use of information sources and data.
  • understand the problems of historical interpretation.
  • present arguments and results in written form, in clear and correct English.
  • present information and arguments orally with clarity and confidence.
  • manage their time effectively.
  • show their ability to use information technology.
  • demonstrate an ability to use, evaluate and criticise quantitative evidence where this is relevant to their work.
  • demonstrate a general maturity of outlook, to show the sense of perspective and judgement imparted by the study of the societies, beliefs and mentalities of the past, and to understand the relevance of the past to the problems of the present.

Educational aims of programme

In History the degree aims:

  • To introduce students to problems of historical methodology in a variety of contexts and to develop their analytical and critical skills through their studies at degree level.
  • To recognise the relationship of breadth of historical knowledge in relation to more specialised study.
  • To develop the students’ critical appreciation of a wide range of historical materials in their broader cultural and intellectual context.
  • To enable students to develop key generic skills in critical thinking, conceptual analysis, research and written and oral articulation of information and argument.
  • To equip students for progression to a wide variety of careers or further academic study.

In History of Art the degree aims:

  • To enable students to engage in a more specialised way with the periods and cultures that especially interest them, both through their selection of Honours courses and through focused Project and Dissertation work.
  • To encourage an awareness of the insights to be gained from studying and analysing works of art in the original, not just in reproduction. At all levels, teaching is conducted, where practical, in front of objects.
  • To prepare undergraduates for postgraduate study and for a range of careers in teaching, the museum world, and arts administration. Students may opt for an element of vocational experience and study as part of their course.
  • To broaden students’ conception of what the history of art might embrace. For example, alongside mainstream post-classical Western art, we have traditionally placed an emphasis in our teaching on Eastern visual cultures, especially Islamic and Chinese. All students are exposed to such less familiar material in the pre-Honours years, and may opt to undertake more specialist studies at Honours level.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

  • understanding of a range of viewpoints on problems of interpretation and evaluation of the past
  • understanding of economic, legal, social, cultural, ethical, global and environmental responsibilities and issues surrounding the study of the past and its applications
  • understanding of the role of the past and its study in the shaping of class, ethnic, gender, national and other identities with current, sometimes sensitive relevance
  • understanding of how to enjoy the life of the mind

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

  • ability to draw valid conclusions about the past
  • ability to identify, define and analyse historical  problems
  • ability to select and apply a variety of critical approaches to problems informed by uneven evidence
  • ability to exercise critical judgement in creating new understanding
  • ability to extract key elements from complex information
  • readiness and capacity to ask key questions and exercise rational enquiry
  • ability critically to assess existing understanding and the limitations of knowledge and recognition of the need regularly to challenge/test knowledge
  • ability to search for, evaluate and use information to develop knowledge and understanding
  • possession of an informed respect for the principles, methods, standards, values and boundaries of the discipline(s), as well as the capacity to question these
  • recognition of the importance of reflecting on one’s learning experiences and being aware of one’s own particular learning style

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

  • openness to new ideas, methods and ways of thinking
  • ability to identify processes and strategies for learning
  • independence as a learner, with readiness to take responsibility for one’s own learning, and commitment to continuous reflection, self-evaluation and self-improvement
  • ability to make decisions on the basis of rigorous and independent thought.
  • ability to test, modify and strengthen one’s own views through collaboration and debate
  • intellectual curiosity
  • ability to sustain intellectual interest

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

  • ability to make effective use of oral, written and visual means convey understanding of historical issues and one’s interpretation of them.
  • ability to marshal argument lucidly and coherently
  • ability to collaborate and to relate to others
  • readiness to seek and value open feedback to inform genuine self-awareness
  • ability to articulate one’s skills as identified through self-reflection

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

  • ability to approach historical problems with academic rigour
  • ability to manage and meet firm deadlines
  • flexible, adaptable and proactive responsiveness to changing surroundings
  • possession of the confidence to make decisions based on one’s understanding and personal/intellectual autonomy
  • ability to transfer knowledge, learning, skills and abilities flexibly from one context to another
  • ability to work effectively with others, capitalising on diversities of thinking, experience and skills
  • working with, managing, and leading others in ways that value their diversity and equality and that encourage their contribution

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

  • a command of bibliographical and library research skills, as well as a range of skills in reading and textual analysis
  • close reading of texts
  • ability to deal with quantitative evidence, where relevant
  • ability to read foreign language material, where relevant
  • a command of palaeography, where relevant
  • an ability to produce coherent and well presented text, sometimes of considerable length
  • an ability to produce text to meet standard presentational specifications as laid out in a style sheet
  • an ability to make effective presentations, perhaps using audio visual support

Programme structure and features

Each year of the programme carries 120 credit points. In first year students must take 40 credits of History courses: The Historian’s Toolkit (20 credits) plus 20 credits from Medieval Worlds: A Journey through the Middle Ages, Early Modern History: A Connected World or Making of the Modern World (20 credits each); and History of Art 1 (40 credits). You will have the opportunity to study 40 credits of courses from other disciplines. In second year students must take Introduction to Historiography (20 credits) and 20 credits from Making and Breaking Medieval Britain: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, c. 1100-1500; Britain, Ireland and Empire c. 1800-2000; Themes in Modern European History; Modern United States History; Global Connections, 1450 to the present (20 credits each); plus History of Art 2 (40 credits), and 40 credits of outside subject(s). In the third year, you will take level-ten 20-credit (one-semester) History 3/4MA courses (options), including Skills and Methods in History II; the Analytical Report in History of Art is compulsory and there is a choice of further History of Art courses. In the fourth year, you will take one level-ten 4MA, 40-credit, History course which runs over both semesters and 40 credits of History of Art courses. You will also write a level-ten dissertation of 8,000-12,000 words (40 credits), this can be either in History or History of Art.


To progress from Year 1 to Year 2, passes are required in all first year courses (120 credits); to progress from Year 2 into Year 3 passes are required in all of the courses taken in second year (120 credits).

Entry into Honours normally requires (i) passes in 240 credits of courses taken in the first two years, which must include all compulsory first year History courses, and(ii) passes at 50% or above, achieved at the first attempt, in 40 credits of second year compulsory History courses, which must include Introduction to Historiography, and 40 credits of the second year History of Art courses.

Progression from third to fourth year is dependent upon the completion of at least eighty credits and the award of an aggregate pass for the 120 credits of study in third year.

Exit awards

  • Certificate of Higher Education: year one
  • Diploma of Higher Education: year two
  • BA in Humanities and Social Science: year three (although entry to honours means the commencement of two years of integrated study leading to an honours degree and not all students will be qualified for the BA HSS)
  • MA Honours in History and History of Art: year four

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

The learning outcomes are achieved through a variety of modes of study and assessment practices.

In first and second year the courses are of a broad survey type. These deal with a wide span of chronology and, sometimes, of geographical area. Teaching is delivered at this level through a combination of lectures to the whole class and small group sessions. A variety of different pieces of work will be assessed. These may include: essays, examinations, seminar presentations, tutorial performance, document commentaries and seminar diaries.

In third and fourth years students take more specialised courses which are partly defined by the research interests of the members of staff. These are taught in seminar classes where a greater degree of independent study is required. These classes engage in a deeper way with the historiography relating to the course and may involve work with primary source materials.

In fourth year the engagement with primary evidence is central to the work of 4MA classes and the writing of a dissertation which is an exercise independent study. In the honours years work will be assessed through a variety of different means: essays, examinations, seminar presentations, seminar performance, document commentaries, projects, dissertations and seminar diaries.

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 222780
Year 313870
Year 410900

Assessment methods and strategies

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

Various assessment methods are used dependent on course options taken, but may include:

In Year 1

  • Essays
  • Coursework
  • Written Examinations
  • Class Tests
  • Seminar Presentations

In Year 2

  • Essays
  • Coursework
  • Written Examinations
  • Class Tests
  • Seminar Presentations

In Year 3

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

In Year 4

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

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 133562
Year 249645
Year 339061
Year 430070

Career opportunities

History graduates from the University of Edinburgh are highly regarded by employers. 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, the Diplomatic Service or teaching. Previous graduates have also gone on to work in finance, law or local government or have chosen postgraduate study.

Other items


Students have access to the well-stocked University Library and a range of other library facilities in the city.

Study abroad:

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