MSt in the History of Design

Course details

The information on this page relates to 2023 entry. Details will be updated when the course opens to applications for 2025 entry.

This two-year part-time master's degree explores how ordinary things and places created since 1851 reveal fascinating traces of historical experience.

The programme is taught through blended learning, enabling participants to join from all over the world and to allow those with other commitments, such as full-time employment, to pursue postgraduate study with Oxford University.

The course aims to provide students with a framework of interpretative skills helpful to understanding design historically. Combining close visual and material analysis with archival research and historical methodologies, the course explores the design of objects for use and environments.

Quick links

Who is this course for?

This course will appeal to those who wish to develop a critical understanding of the history of design, such as:

  • graduates of any age seeking to develop their previous experience of critical analysis and writing about objects and sites
  • teaching professionals in art and design, history and cultural studies seeking to deepen their grounding in the critical and contextual components of their teaching and research.
  • studio practitioners in the fields of graphic, industrial, interior and textile design, craft, and landscape architecture and the built environment who wish to inform their own work with specialist knowledge of design history and current methodological debates
  • museum, heritage industry and art market professionals seeking to continue their professional development by enriching their specialist knowledge

The blended format of the course should enable applicants worldwide who are employed, have caring duties or other constraints to pursue postgraduate study. To make the most of this degree requires a determined commitment to the history of design and 20 hours each week to develop skills as an independent researcher.

This preliminary reading list gives an indication of the level and content of the degree: See preliminary reading suggestions

Future research and career paths might include a DPhil programme, the creative industries, museum curatorship, the art market, teaching and arts publishing.

How you will study

To be accessible to the greatest diversity of applicants worldwide, this interactive programme of study is taught synchronously through Microsoft Teams in term-time. The degree also has 3 required two-day residencies in Oxford: handling sessions and site visits at the start of each year and a Dissertation Forum in the summer of the second year.

In Year One, the whole cohort meets for mandatory courses taught through synchronous virtual sessions on weekly Saturday afternoons (UK time) for three terms between October and June.

In Year Two, the cohort splits into smaller groups focusing on a choice of one of two option modules which are taught through synchronous virtual sessions on monthly Saturdays. The Course Director also leads a weekly group tutorial bringing the whole cohort back together on Thursdays evenings (UK time).

In the first five terms of the programme, each student has two individual tutorials with the Course Director booked on Thursdays. Each student also has four individual dissertation supervisions with the Course Director on set monthly Thursday, Fridays or Saturdays between April and August of Year Two.

The course in detail

The first-year grounds everyone in the skills of close material analysis and historical research methods. We explore how design is represented in and can be interpreted through advertising, writing and film. The second-year focuses on how you can develop as a researcher through themed small-group seminars and individual dissertation supervision.  

Course aims

The course aims to enable students to:

  • develop further their critical understanding of the principles and practice of the history of design
  • enhance their subject knowledge and the analytical and communication skills needed for professional involvement in the history of design
  • demonstrate a grasp of primary evidence to build on their critical understanding of the types of evidence used in the historical study of designed objects and sites and how they are selected and interpreted
  • build on the appropriate skills and concepts for analysing material objects and textual sources
  • undertake their own research to be presented in essays, in oral presentations and as a dissertation
  • demonstrate an understanding of primary evidence and secondary sources through the application of appropriate analytical skills and concepts within a research context resulting in a dissertation.

Course content

The syllabus examines how everyday things and places are created through handicraft, industrial and digital processes. We immerse ourselves in the rediscovery and analysis of critical debates amongst makers, manufacturers, mediators, and consumers. Assessing the printed and spoken word, graphic design, and moving images is vital to understanding how designed objects and environments were experienced historically. We will assess how and why design embodies local and transnational identities and politics as well as private and public sensorial histories. 

Students complete four compulsory core modules and select two option modules.

Year 1

In Year 1, students take three core modules:

Term 1 (Michaelmas term)
Materials and Techniques of Design

Term 2 (Hilary term)
Historical Methods

Term 3 (Trinity term)
Research Project in the Histories of Modern Design 1851-1951

Year 2

In Year 2, students complete two option modules and a dissertation. The options in 2023-5 will be:

Michaelmas term 2024

  1. Modern Design and the Home
  2. Design for War and Peace

Hilary term 2025

  1. Arts and Crafts Traditions: Local and Transnational Perspectives
  2. Design, Body, Environment

Attendance and assessment

Students must attend at least 80% of all residencies, seminars, group and individual tutorials. Formal assessment is by means of analytical writing grounded in material analysis and historical context.

Committing to sustained weekly reading, looking and reflection, participation in group discussion and timely delivery of preparatory tasks before for each individual tutorial or supervision will be vital for you to get the most out of this degree. The independent research required for analytical design history writing is enhanced by direct observation of case studies, and archival searching where possible, so candidates should plan for the time and logistics required to undertake fieldwork alongside assigned weekly study. 

Year 1

There are three assignments for the compulsory core modules taken in Year 1:

  • Materials and Techniques: Object case study (2,500 words)
  • Historical Methods: Methodology and critical sources analysis (3,000 words)
  • Research Project: Extended essay (5,000 words)

Students are also required to complete skills development tasks through the Virtual Learning Environment in concert with the compulsory core modules.

Year 2

In Year 2, students complete:

  • two Advanced Paper (option module) extended essays of 5,000 words each
  • a dissertation with a maximum length of 15,000 words.

Teaching staff

Course Director

Dr Claire O’Mahony, Associate Professor in History of Art and Design, Department for Continuing Education.

Guest speakers

Teaching will be provided principally by the Course Director. Guest speakers are also invited each term to present their recent publications and provide opportunities to hear about their career paths. Speakers have included Dr Jonathan Black, Professor David Brett, Professor Nicholas Bullock, Dr Helena Chance, Dr Elizabeth Darling, Professor Amy De la Haye, Dr Emma Ferry, Dr Marjan Groot, Dr Clare Hickman, Dr Steven Knott, Dr Patricia Lara-Betancourt, Dr Yunah Lee, Professor Paul Micklethwaite, Professor Jane Pavitt, Professor Alan Powers, Dr Megha Rajguru, Dr Neal Shasore, Professor Penny Sparke, Professor Deborah Suggs-Ryan, Dr Geoffrey Tyack, Dr Jane Tynan, Professor Greg Votolato, Dr Verity Wilson, Dr Gillian White, Dr Ghislaine Wood and Ms Michaela Young.

Contact information

All queries should be addressed to

The Course Director will be available to meet and to respond to any and all potential applicants at the virtual open events. However, to ensure absolute parity across the admissions period, she does not correspond or interact individually with any applicant prior to the formal interview process. Administrators seek her advice on queries on your behalf.

IT requirements

This course uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. In order to prepare and submit your course assignments you will need access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification. Students of this course may use the student computing facilities provided in Departmental buildings.

Course fees and how to apply

For information about entry requirements, fees, selection criteria and how to apply, please visit the MSt in the History of Design page on the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website.

Early application is advised. Late applications may be considered if places remain; please contact the course administrator on

If you have any questions about the progress of your application, please contact the Postgraduate Taught Programme Administrator, tel: 01865 286945; email:
or the Graduate Admissions Office, tel: 01865 270059; email:

Scholarships and sources of funding

You will be automatically considered for a Clarendon Scholarship if you apply by the January deadline. You do not need to submit a separate application. Clarendon scholars are selected for their outstanding academic merit and potential.

Details of funding opportunities, including grants, bursaries, loans, scholarships and benefit information are available on our Sources of Funding page.

Further details can also be found on the University's Fees and Funding page.


Accommodation for the three required residencies in Oxford is included in the course fees. This accommodation is at Rewley House, Wellington Square, Oxford. 

All bedrooms are en suite and decorated to a high standard and there is a self-contained bedroom suite on the ground floor, equipped for use by people with mobility problems with an adjoining room for carers.

Rewley House accommodation has been rated as 4-Star Campus Accommodation under Visit England

> Accommodation details