MA in Garden and Landscape History


Students will learn how to acquire knowledge from a range of sources: history, horticulture, architecture, garden archaeology and other subjects, to develop an appreciation of the study of garden history as a cultural discipline.

Students will be able to appreciate the differences in garden-making over time and in different countries, from the 16th century to the present day in Britain, Europe and America. Emphasis will be on design and management, ownership, and the culture from which these examples have evolved.

This degree will provide an academically rigorous environment in which students will learn a range of academic research and writing skills. Teaching will be undertaken at the Institute of Historical Research, with a strong emphasis on tutor/student interaction in class. There will be practical sessions at museums and libraries, as well as visits to gardens in London. There will also be an optional field trip to Italy in the spring.

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The course will be run on a full-time basis over one year. Teaching will take place on Thursdays from 10:00 to 17:00 and will be divided between two terms. The third term will be dedicated to dissertation preparation and writing. Please get in touch if you would like to see the full timetable.

Students must complete core module 1, core module 2 (selecting three options from the six provided), and core module 3 - a 15,000 word dissertation in order to be awarded the full MA.

However, there are a range of options available for flexible study:

  • Those wishing to pursue this course on a part-time basis can complete Modules 1 and 2 (the taught elements of the course) in their first year and Module 3, the dissertation, in their second year
  • Module 1 can be undertaken as a standalone unit leading to a PGCert, the credit for which can be banked should the student wish to complete the MA at a later date (within a prescribed time frame) Please enquire for further details.

Module 1: Researching Garden History (60 credits)

The first term will showcase the huge variety of resources available to study garden and landscape history from archaeology, architecture, cartography, horticulture, manuscripts, paintings and other works of art, from the sixteenth century to the present day.

Sessions include:

  • Early maps of gardens (British library)
  • Garden Archaeology (Hampton Court)
  • Gardens and Architecture referencing Drawings Collection at the RIBA and V&A
  • The Italian Renaissance and English Gardens
  • The eighteenth century garden + visit to Chiswick House
  • Gardening and Photographic images


A 5,000 word report on the history of a garden chosen by the student and an accompanying presentation.

Module 2: Culture and Politics of Gardens (60 credits)

This module consists of six optional units of which students must choose three.

These sessions aim to:

  • Develop students’ knowledge and understanding of gardens and landscapes in different countries
  • Develop students’ critical analysis and judgement
  • Demonstrate the importance of context and the relationship of garden and landscape history to other disciplines such as literature, social history, film and visual media and the history of ideas

The module will look at Historiography, theory, the connection between culture and politics in landscape making and the expansion of the skills of term one across regional boundaries.

For instance, the influence in Britain of the Italian Renaissance’s new ideas on garden making, including architecture, sculpture and hydraulic engineering; iconography in gardens and landscapes; formality in garden-making as an indicator of the power of the owner, from the sixteenth century onwards, as in France; different aspects of the ‘natural’ garden from the eighteenth century onwards; conflict between the ‘natural’ and the formal in the nineteenth century between William Robinson and Reginald Blomfield in Britain; gender and garden making; and shifting boundaries between architect, landscape architect and plantsman relating to the status of those designing gardens and landscapes in the 21st century.

Students will choose one unit from each group:

Students will choose one unit from each group:

Group A
French gardens of the seventeenth century
The evolution of the English garden in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries

Group B
The eighteenth-century garden
The American garden

Group C
The Suburban Garden in England between the wars
Twentieth- and twenty-first-century gardens

Please note: Optional units are subject to change. Please consider this a guide only.

Two 5,000 word assessed essays on two of the three options taken, and an assessed student presentation on the outline of the intended dissertation.

Module 3: Dissertation (60 credits), 15,000 words

Mode of study

12 months full-time or 24 months part-time (from 2015).

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Why study at IHR

The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) provides an excellent space for teaching and research. Students study alongside two resident research centres – the Centre for Metropolitan History and the Victoria County History. It has a growing range of dedicated historical research training courses ranging from Oral History, Introductory Latin to Historical Mapping and Material Culture. It runs the largest programme of history seminars in the UK, houses an outstanding open access library of primary printed sources, hosts conferences and workshops, and maintains a wide range of digital history resources. The Institute also runs a fortnightly History of Gardens and Landscapes seminar, attendance at which is integrated into the course. The IHR library collections focus on published primary sources, and guides aimed at finding and using the sources. We have a range of material covering garden history, which complement the specialist archives and libraries visited during the course.

More information about the degree


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