MA in Cultural and Intellectual History 1300–1650


MA in Cultural and Intellectual History

The Warburg Institute MA in Cultural and Intellectual History aims to equip students for interdisciplinary research in Medieval and Renaissance studies and in the reception of the classical tradition. Students will become part of an international community of scholars, working in a world-famous library. They will broaden their range of knowledge to include the historically informed interpretation of images and texts, art history, philosophy, history of science, literature, and the impact of religion on society. Students will improve their knowledge of Latin, French and Italian and will acquire the library and archival skills essential for research on primary texts.

This twelve-month, full-time course is intended as an introduction to the principal elements of the classical tradition and to interdisciplinary research in cultural and intellectual history from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period. Although it is a qualification in its own right, the MA is also designed to provide training for further research at doctoral level. It is taught through classes and supervision by members of the academic staff of the Institute and by outside teachers. The teaching staff are leading professors and academics in their field who have published widely. Research strengths include: the transmission of Arabic science and philosophy to Western Europe; the later influence of classical philosophy (Aristotelianism, Platonism, Epicureanism and Stoicism); and religious nonconformism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. For further details on the research interests of teaching staff please visit the Warburg website.

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Core courses (courses may vary from year to year)

  • Iconology: Mythological painting, allegorical figures, historical subjects, altarpiece - Dr Paul Taylor
  • Religion and Society - Dr Alessandro Scafi

Optional Courses (courses may vary from year to year)

  • Artistic Intentions 1400 - 1700 - Dr Paul Taylor
  • Islamic Authorities and Arabic Elements in the Renaissance – Professor Charles Burnett
  • Music in the Later Middle Ages and the Renaissance - Professor Charles Burnett
  • New Worlds, Ancient Texts: Renaissance Intellectual History and the Discovery of the Americas - Dr Philipp Nothaft
  • Renaissance Philosophy – Dr Guido Giglioni
  • Renaissance Art Literature – Dr François Quiviger
  • Renaissance Material Culture – Dr Rembrandt Duits and Dr François Quiviger
  • Sin and Sanctity in the Reformation – Professor Alastair Hamilton

All students take two compulsory core courses and two optional subjects. The core courses are taught in the first term and the optional subjects in the second term and the options available vary from year to year. In addition, there is a regular series of classes throughout the three terms on Techniques of Scholarship. Subjects dealt with include: description of manuscripts; palaeography; printing in the 15th and 16th centuries; editing a text; preparation of dissertations and photographic images. Some of these classes are held outside the Institute in locations such as the British Library or the Wellcome Library.
Reading classes in Latin, Italian and French are provided and are offered to all students. Students are also encouraged to attend the Director’s weekly seminar on Work in Progress and any of the other regular seminars held in the Institute that may be of interest to them. These at present include History of Art and Maps and Society. The third term and summer are spent in researching and writing a dissertation, under the guidance of a supervisor from the academic staff.


The normal format for classes is a small weekly seminar, in which students usually discuss texts in their original languages. In most courses, students also give short presentations of their own research, which are not assessed. The emphasis is on helping students to acquire the skills necessary to interpret philosophical, literary and historical documents as well as works of art. Each compulsory or optional module will be assessed by means of a 4,000 word essay to be submitted on the first day of the term following that in which the module was taught. A dissertation of 18,000 – 20,000 words, on a topic agreed by the student and supervisor, has to be submitted by 30 September. The course is examined on these five pieces of written work, and on a written translation examination paper in the third term. Students are allocated a course tutor and, in addition, are encouraged to discuss their work with other members of the academic staff. Because of our relatively small cohort, students have unusually frequent contact, formal and informal, with their teachers.

Mode of study

12 months full-time only.

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The majority of students studying for the MA in Cultural and Intellectual History aim to progress to study at PhD level and to pursue a career in academia. The MA Programme provides outstanding training in research skills and methodologies and equips students with the intellectual framework and language proficiency to undertake independent research with confidence and success. Former students have progressed to PhD study at the Warburg Institute and elsewhere and many are pursuing successful and well established academic careers in institutions across the globe including at the Universities of Cambridge, Copenhagen, Notre Dame (US), Padua, Royal Holloway, UCL,  Birkbeck, La Sapienza (Rome), Warwick and Yeshiva (New York). Former students have also established successful and high profile careers in related fields including academic librarianship, museum curatorship, publishing, art, print and antiquarian book dealership .

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What our students say

I came to study at the Warburg Institute with a modicum of trepidation, mainly due to the overwhelming reputation that precedes and surrounds it. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a degree of support and encouragement that I had never experienced before in academic studying; neither in Italy nor in the UK.
The fact that learning takes place in a single, contained but relatively large building allows an unusual frequency of contact and exchange with tutors and fellow students. All this creates a unique blend of academic rigour and conviviality that has made my experience of studying at the Warburg Institute very rewarding.
Thanks to the unique system by which the Warburg library is organised, I often find a book shelved among other texts on the same subject matter that I did not know existed. This has consistently prompted me to expand my researches far beyond the plan I had initially envisaged.”

Aldo Miceli (Italy)

“I am very happy to have chosen this MA and have enjoyed studying at the exceptional library and benefitted from the taught programme and its stimulating interdisciplinary approach. The students, who came not only from countries all over the world but also from very different study backgrounds, have created an inspiring atmosphere, which has allowed me to get to know fields of history that I would never have considered before. The extensive language and palaeography classes have given me the skills needed to conduct research that follows my own interests, whilst the core courses on cultural and intellectual history helped to contextualise and connect the topics I was working on with the most important ideas and concepts of that time. In addition the supervision by the staff always focuses on what the students need and is so supportive that I feel I’ve been helped to fully reach my potential during the year.”

Finn Schulze-Feldmann (Germany)

"I chose the Warburg Institute to study for my Master’s degree because of its interdisciplinary approach to the content of the study of the Renaissance and the focus on the research skills needed to realise this. My background in Biology and Medieval Studies had already led me in the direction of the History of Science, and at the Warburg Institute I was able to study this alongside the intellectual and cultural background of the period. The many language and palaeography classes provided me with the essential skills to study the main topics of the course. The teaching and supervision by the staff was very much geared towards the interests of the students, a great luxury and the enthusiasm of both students and staff made the MA course a very inspiring experience.
The scholarly environment of the Institute, with many conferences and public lectures a year, attracts distinguished scholars from all over the world and offers students an insight into the realities of academia. Apart from the important aspects of personal interaction I have to mention the library, photographic collection and archives of the Warburg Institute, which form a very rich environment for studying the topics of the course. The combination of research skills, content and individual supervision provides an excellent basis for pursuing the next steps into academia, and many of my fellow students (including myself) continued on to do a PhD at the Warburg."

Sietske Fransen (The Netherlands)

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