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University of Oxford: History of Design

Institution University of Oxford
Department University of Oxford Department For Continuing Education
Telephone +44 (0)1865 270059
Study type Taught


The information provided on this page was correct at the time of publication (October/November 2022). For complete and up-to-date information about this course, please visit the relevant University of Oxford course page via

The MSt in the History of Design is a master's degree offered part-time over two years, taught through synchronous virtual and face-to-face teaching. The programme focuses upon design produced worldwide since 1851. Students progress from a grounding in material and historical analysis to dissertation research.

This course explores the fascinating histories of objects and environments created amidst the advent of modernity. The syllabus examines a variety of forms of design and craft: graphic design, decorative arts, industrial design, fashion, design for performance and display, the designed space of interiors, the built environment and landscape.

Core themes of the course include the rivalries between historicism and modernity; local and transnational identities; handicraft and industrial and digital processes; consumption, politics and sustainability; critical debates about manufacturers, mediators, and audiences in advice literature, advertising and film writing.

The development of a framework of interdisciplinary interpretative skills useful to understanding the history of design is a core aim. By providing grounding in the analysis of the techniques and materials deployed in creating things or places, the programme enables you to grapple with material evidence which enriches this distinctive field of historical research. The analysis of the historiography of political and aesthetic debates articulated by makers, critics and historians about design, its forms and purposes locates how these objects and sites embody historical memory, identity and ideology.

Teaching and learning Teaching and learning takes a variety of forms in this programme. Three face-to-face site visits to the University of Oxford's unique museums and libraries and to collections nearby are blended with synchronous virtual seminars and workshops timed to be accessible worldwide outside conventional working hours. In keeping with the Oxford ethos, individual tutorials with the Course Director and independent research are fundamental.


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