Undergraduate Certificate in the History of Art

Course details

Images shape our lives: they shock and soothe, educate and stimulate. We are bombarded by imagery of all kinds but rarely take the time to stop and think about what makes a picture meaningful or impactful.

Our two-year part-time Certificate in the History of Art, taught at first-year undergraduate level, teaches you how to look at art with a critical and informed eye. The history of art isn’t always what you think. It isn’t just galleries and oil paintings; it is the way humans design the material and visual world around them.

During this course, we will explore the function and significance of art in its historical context as well as considering how its uses and meanings have changed over time. What role has art played in our histories? How does it reflect the world in which it was made – and how does it change it? As well as considering themes of skill and beauty, students will reflect on the politics of representation in images that confront issues of power and identity.

Tutors will lead visits to museums and art galleries throughout the course, with trips to current exhibitions whenever possible. Oxford has a wealth of museums and gallery spaces, and we will take every opportunity to introduce these to you.

Please note that 2024 entry is the last chance to study the Certificate in the History of Art in its current format. If you would like to know more about the changes for 2025 entry, please get in touch: undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk.

Quick links

Who is this course for?

You will need enthusiasm, commitment and a high degree of motivation if you are to enjoy and complete this course. You do not need any formal qualification or previous study of the history of art. We will judge all applicants by the same criteria: evidence of interest in art history and ideas; openness towards studying a range of historical art forms and grappling with critical debates about meaning; the necessary language skills (see below for English language requirements), a determination to succeed; and sufficient time available to devote to class time and private study.

How you will study

The course is taught through weekly sessions, usually held on Wednesday mornings from 10am - 12pm at Ewert House, Ewert Place, Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7DD. The classes are lively, structured and informative with plenty of time for discussion. Each class will usually be illustrated with slides and video material.

There will also be study visits to museums and galleries, which we will make every effort to arrange at convenient times.

You will need to spend about 8–10 hours in home study per week in term time.

Teaching delivery

This course is expected to be taught in person at Ewert House, Ewert Place, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7DD. Should circumstances dictate, the teaching can be moved online (either fully or partly).

The course in detail

Course structure

Year 1

In the first year, students will learn how to look carefully at various art forms and interpret their historical and cultural significance. Students will explore a wide range of artistic materials and their meanings and develop the critical vocabulary and analytical tools necessary to gain a deeper understanding of art and material culture. Each term students will engage closely with different forms of artistic media, including painting, sculpture and other types of visual and material culture.

Michaelmas term 2024: Unit 1

  • Ways of Seeing Part 1
  • Materials and Meaning Part 1

Hilary term 2025: Unit 2

  • Ways of Seeing Part 2
  • Materials and Meaning Part 2

Trinity term 2025: Unit 3

  • Ways of Seeing Part 3
  • Material and Meaning Part 3

Year 2

The second year provides a survey of Western art history in its global contexts, considering the fine arts in relation to wider forms of visual and material culture, from Renaissance altarpieces to documentary photography and from medieval artefacts to abstract art. While the year follows a broad chronological sweep, each unit addresses themes that cut across geography and time. 

Michaelmas term 2025: Unit 1

  • Medieval Art and Material Culture

Hilary term 2026: Unit 2

  • Renaissance Art and Material Culture

Trinity term 2026: Unit 3

  • Modern Art and Material Culture

Guidance will be given about reading and detailed book lists will accompany each module.

Completing this course will prepare you well for further study, for example, the Department’s Undergraduate Diploma in the History of Art.


For Year 1, you must complete five assignments of not more than 1,500 words, and a research project of not more than 3,000 words.

For Year 2, you must complete three assignments of not more than 2,000 words, and a research project of not more than 5,000 words.

There is no formal examination at the end of the Certificate course.

IT requirements

To study at this level you are expected to have some IT skills, access to a computer and the Internet. Your course requires you to engage with the Virtual Learning Environment for course materials and uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. Students need to have regular access to a computer and the internet, and some level of experience and skill including the use of Microsoft Word or similar word-processing package, email and internet browser such as Firefox or Google Chrome.

The computer you use should meet our recommended minimum computer specification.

Teaching staff

The Course Director is Dr Sean Willcock.  Along with Dr Willcock, the teaching panel includes:

  • Mary Acton
  • Catherine McCormack
  • Patrick Doorly
  • Oliver Gosling
  • Bryony Leighton
  • Kristine MacMichael
  • Manya Pagiavla

  • Hubert Pragnell
  • Gillian White

All our tutors are very experienced, not only in their subjects but in teaching adult students. They understand the learning needs of students returning to education and will be able to advise you on subject-based study skills throughout the course.

If you are returning to learning after a period of time the Department has a number of Study Skills workshops to help you with study techniques or to write essays. You can obtain information about the Department’s Study Skills programme by contacting +44 (0)1865 280728.

Contact information

If you would like an informal discussion on academic matters before applying you may contact the Course Director, Dr Sean Willcock: sean.willcock@conted.ox.ac.uk

Applications and admissions: +44 (0)1865 270312 undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk

For general guidance and advice, credit transfer, special needs provision and sources of funding: +44 (0)1865 280355 student.support@conted.ox.ac.uk

For information about Study Skills courses: +44 (0)1865 280892 studyskills@conted.ox.ac.uk

How to apply

Please click on the ‘Apply’ button which will automatically notify us that you want a link to the online application form. We will email you that link together with a code to waive the application fee, and guidance on completing and submitting your application.

You will need to upload the following documents as part of your application:

  • a statement of 300 words outlining your previous experience of the subject (if any) and your reasons for wishing to enrol on the course. No need to submit any written work.
  • contact details for one referee 
  • proof of English language ability if a non-native English speaker. Further information on English language requirements can be found here. Please note that candidates are required to have the higher-level score.

If possible, your referee should be someone who can comment on your academic ability and background, but where this is not appropriate, please choose a referee who can vouch for your motivation, commitment and potential. A reference from a family member is not acceptable.

Admissions decisions will be based on an assessment of knowledge, relevant experience, academic ability, potential and suitability for a course of study. We welcome applicants without traditional qualifications, including those with relevant career or life skills.

Selection criteria

Even if a course has no specific academic entry requirements then: (a) assessment of an applicant’s academic ability and suitability for the course of study will still take place and (b) since applications for many courses often significantly exceed places available, each application will be judged against the gathered field of applicants for each course each year.

The University is committed to promoting diversity, equality, inclusion, and widening access, including during the admissions process. We fully endorse the Equality Policy and our admissions procedures are kept under regular review to ensure compliance with this policy.

Short-listed applicants will be invited for interview.

The final decision on admission to the course rests with the Department.

Award and credit transfer

An Undergraduate Certificate will be awarded on completion of the course. You will be invited to receive your Certificate at the annual Awards Ceremony of the Department for Continuing Education, held at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

The syllabus and teaching of the course are aimed at first-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 4). Students who successfully complete this two-year course will be awarded an Oxford University Undergraduate Certificate in the History of Art, equivalent to 120 CATS points at first-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 4) in the Department’s Qualifications and Credit Framework. Outstanding performance will qualify for a Distinction. These credit points are widely recognised in terms of credit for transfer to other higher education institutions, including the Open University and modular universities such as Oxford Brookes University. 

Opportunities vary for the transfer of credit, so students who are considering taking this course in order to transfer credit are advised to discuss the possibilities with the Course Administrator on undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk or student.support@conted.ox.ac.uk

Learn more about the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS points).


The fee in 2024-25 is £3,295 (Home, Islands, and Republic of Ireland students) or £6,210 (Overseas students). An option to pay the fee in instalments may be available.

Please be aware that fees will usually increase annually.

Information for applicants from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

On 11 May 2021 the UK Council for International Student Affairs published new regulations and guidance to be used in assessing the fee status of students commencing courses in August 2021 and later. We will be using this guidance to carry out fee status assessments for students commencing courses in 2021/22 and later, including students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland. 

If you are an EU national and do not live in the UK then you are likely to be charged Overseas fees. Students with settled and pre-settled status in the UK and some other categories of students who work in the UK can qualify for Home fee status as long as they meet the residence criteria.

Students from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland

If you are from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland, you will be classed either as an ‘Overseas’ or 'Islands' student.

Information on financial support can be found on our website here.

Overseas students

This course is not suitable for overseas students who do not already live in the UK before the course begins. For information, refer to www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration.

English language requirements

Please check the information on the specific English language requirements for this course. Applicants are required to have the higher-level scores.


The Department for Continuing Education offers day and weekend courses, weekly learning programmes and summer schools in the History of Art.

In the undergraduate programme, as well as the Certificate in the History of Art, we also offer the Certificate of Higher Education and the Diploma in the History of Art. At postgraduate level we offer the Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History, the MSt in the History of Design, the MSt in Literature and Arts, the DPhil in Architectural History and DPhil in Literature and Arts.

You may also be interested in studying History.

If you are planning on embarking on a new career as a result of your studies, or hope to progress in your current field, you can access help and advice through the University Careers Service.

Top image: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons.


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