MA/MRes in the History of the Book


MA / MRes History of the Book

The MA in the History of the Book at the Institute of English Studies provides an unrivalled base for the study of a subject that has been the focus of increasing scholarly attention over the past 30 years. Originally considering mainly physical aspects of the book and the details of its manufacture and trade, scholars have come to see the study of the book as an aid to understanding literary texts and as a focus for insight into social, cultural and intellectual processes in history. This interdisciplinary programme aims to provide a stimulating range of courses in this new but rapidly growing subject, encompassing the history of literate western culture and focusing not only on books, but also newspapers, magazines, chapbooks, and broadsides. This course will also consider the manuscript of the period before print and enable students to ask what form the book takes in different periods, and how that form develops over time. As a man-made object, the course will further investigate the processes by which it is made. By considering conditions of manufacture, students are lead not only into discussion of the book as physical object, but also the social, economic and cultural relations entailed in a book's production.

Building on the success of the established MA in the History of the book, the Institute introduced a Master of Research. One third coursework, two-thirds research, this distinguished degree will permit an even greater degree of specialism for those who already drawn to a particular period or topic, and assist them in acquiring research skills suitable for progression to MPhil/PhD study.

The opportunities provided for the study of the History of the Book in London under the aegis of the School of Advanced Study and with the participation of so many of London's major institutions are without parallel. By bringing together the expertise which exists in the University of London and the staff of The British Library, the British Museum, The Public Record Office, Lambeth Palace Library, St Bride Printing Library, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the University of Reading and Stationers' Hall, students will enjoy benefits difficult to achieve anywhere else.

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Credit value: 180

Required courses:

  • The Medieval Book
  • Printed Texts 1450-2010
  • Research Methodology

Optional courses:

  • Digital Publishing and Book Studies
  • The Book in the Ancient World
  • The Book in Renaissance Italy
  • Textual Scholarship and Contemporary Editorial Theory
  • The Historical Reader: The Practice and Representation of Reading 1400–1900
  • The Serial and the Book
  • Western Book Structures
  • The Look of the Book

Structure (MA): Six taught courses (the Medieval Book and Pinted Texts 1450-2010 and four option courses) plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.
Structure (MRes): Three taught courses selected from those available on the MA or the London Rare Books School programmes under the guidance of the Course Director and Course Tutor, plus a dissertation of 30,000 words.


Each required course is examined by one essay of c.5,000 words. In addition, all students will complete a mandatory diagnostic essay of c.1,500 due at the end of October in the first term, which will be marked but does not constitute part of the assessment. Each option course is examined by one essay of c.5,000 words, or a coursework project of a similar scale. The dissertation is between 10,000 and 15,000 words and is due at the end of September.

Mode of study

1 year full-time and 2 years part-time. Part-time students normally complete the two Required courses and two Option courses in the first year, the third and fourth Option courses and the dissertation being taken in the second year. However, it is assumed that some preliminary work on the dissertation will be undertaken during the first year. In order to accommodate part-time study for students on day-release we try to arrange for most courses to be taught on one day in the week (usually Wednesday).

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The MA and the MRes in the History of the Book attract students from a wide variety of backgrounds and different countries. The programme gives students a broad understanding and experience of the chronological range of book history from c.3000 BCE to 2000 CE and introduces students to a range of disciplines that make up the subject including bibliography, palaeography, codicology, history of printing, bibliometrics, history of publishing, history of reading and library history. Many of our alumni go on to establish successful careers in related fields, including academic librarianship, museum curatorship, publishing, art, and the print and antiquarian book trade. Some students aim to progress to study at PhD level for a career in academia. Our programmes provide outstanding training in research skills and equip 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 Institute and elsewhere.

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What our students say

"I work as a freelance indexer and proof-reader and found out about the MA in the History of the Book from a client. I decided to take the course because I have always been interested in the book as an artefact as well as the history of information transmission.

The course has encouraged me to make more use of electronic resources and I have become more self-reliant in my research techniques. The course covers the history of the book from the time of clay tablets and papyrus scrolls to the present day with electronic documents. It gives an overview of various technological and stylistic changes through the centuries.

As an indexer I am interested in the development of indexing as a profession within the book trade and my master’s project is on the history and development of indexing, covering manuscripts, printed books and the development of professional bodies for indexers.

After I graduate, I intend to return to full time indexing and to expand my business to a full-time venture. As a result of my further study, I could go into several areas of work including information management, indexing, public sector administration and anywhere that requires an enquiring mind and a can-do attitude.”

Janet Reed (UK)

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