University of Oxford: History of Design

InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Department Ruskin School Art
Telephone 01865 270059
Study type Taught


**This course is not accepting applications this cycle, but is expected to reopen to applications in September 2020. The information on this page has been retained to provide an indication of the course content in previous years. Fees and costs are only valid for the year which is shown and will usually increase annually. The University is under no obligation to deliver the same course in the future. This page may be updated at any time prior to the course re-opening to applications. 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 on one Saturday a month. The programme focuses upon design and decoration produced 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; internationalist and nationalist tendencies; handicraft and industrial processes; consumption and sustainability; critical debates about makers and audiences in advice literature and aesthetic 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 takes a variety of forms in this programme. Three Saturdays each term are devoted to lectures and seminar group discussion. In keeping with the Oxford ethos, individual tutorials with the Course Director and independent research in the intervening month are also a central element of the course as well as site visits, both to the University of Oxford's unique museum and library collections and to those nearby in London and the regions. Formal assessment is by means of analytical essay and dissertation writing, underpinned by informal assessment methods such as termly oral presentations by yourself to the group about your independent research.


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