MA in Country House Studies by research: Hampton Court to ‘Downton Abbey’
The University of Buckingham’s Master’s programme in Country House Studies offers the opportunity to pursue research at Master’s level in any one of a wide range of country-house-related topics: from explorations of individual houses and their architects and decorators, to studies of their social and political use, and the role of the country house in literature and film.
Individual research topics are closely focused; but the approach of the course is to encourage students to investigate the interconnections between the country house’s multiple facets and roles, rather than to examine it in exclusively architectural-historical terms. Recent dissertations have surveyed, for example, the Baroque mural in country house decoration; the use of music in the country houses during the 1650s; and the professionalisation of the sale of country estates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The choice of subject area is ultimately the student’s own.
The MA is awarded solely on the basis of the dissertation (there are no ‘exams’), and the relationship between you and your supervisor is therefore at the heart of the course. The maximum length for the MA dissertation recommended by the School of Humanities is 25,000 words (or approximately 75 pages at line-spacing of 1.5), excluding notes and references. Student and supervisor meet regularly on a one-to-one basis to discuss, plan, and review the dissertation as it develops through the year.
Defining a subject for research
Some students know from the outset the precise subject on which they intend to work. For most, however, the definition of a research proposal is usually a gradual process, with the student starting with a general area of interest, and then focusing on a more closely defined topic as a result of further reading and consultation, usually with the Course Director. Most students do not arrive at the final title of their dissertation until towards the end of the first Term, just before Christmas.
Private research and supervision are complemented by a rich programme of seminars which give students direct access to some of the United Kingdom’s most distinguished scholars of the country house. These seminars, which are chaired by Professor Tinniswood and by Dr Ben Cowell (Director General, Historic Houses), take place in St James’s, at the Reform Club, 104 Pall Mall, in central London; and at the University’s offices in Bloomsbury, 51 Gower Street (see infra for further details).
The seminars are of course academic events, with a talk by a visiting expert; but they also have a social dimension, bringing research students and senior scholars together to discuss matters of common interest in an informal and congenial atmosphere. Each seminar starts at 6:30 pm, with an illustrated presentation by the visiting speaker and is followed by a 40-minute question-and-answer session. There is a break for drinks and then a seated dinner follows (three courses with wine) during which there is further questioning of the speaker and a general conversation about the topic in hand. (The cost of all dinners is included within the fee.)
This coming year’s seminars explore a broad range of topics, ranging from royal palaces and the country houses of Robert Adam, through to the fortunes of the country house during the twentieth century and contemporary debates about the global country house. A current owner, the Earl of Devon, discusses what is involved in managing, living in, and presenting to the public a major country house in the present day.
Seminar dates 2023-24
4 January 2024 Adrian Tinniswood ‘The Polite Tourist: A Short History of Country House Visiting’ (online via Zoom)
18 January 2024 Terence Dooley ‘Burning the Big House: The Irish Country House in a Time of War and Revolution’ (Reform Club)
1 February 2024 Adriano Aymonino ‘Syon House and Enlightened Eclecticism’ (Reform Club)
15 February 2024 The Earl of Devon ‘Powderham Castle: 600 Years of Social Purpose and Private Ownership’ (Reform Club)
29 February 2024 Sally-Anne Huxtable ‘Colonialism and the Global Country House’ (Reform Club)
14 March 2024 Lucy Worsley ‘Artisan Mannerism and the Great Household’ (Reform Club)
15 April 2024 Jeremy Musson ‘The Country Houses of Robert Adam’ (Reform Club)
30 April 2024 Mark Purcell ‘The Country House Library’ (Reform Club)
Study visits to country houses in 2023-24
The programme includes two field trips to country houses during the spring term. Dates and venues are still to be confirmed. Students are also invited to take part in a series of graduate research days which will take place at Buckingham in 2024.
Seminars and Dinners
Seminars and dinners take place at the Reform Club (above), 104 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5EW; and at the University’s offices in Bloomsbury, 51 Gower St, London, WC1E 6HJ.
In addition to the seminar programmes and students’ one-to-one meetings with their supervisor, the programme also offers specialist classes on thesis-writing, referencing, and on how to use archival and on-line research resources. For those who need to work with manuscripts (from the Tudor period and later), there is also a series of classes on palaeography (the reading of early handwriting) that will enable students to acquire fluency in the reading of manuscript sources.
Engraving by Johannes Kip, first published in 1712.
Opportunities to take the MA research to PhD level
Students who wish to take their research further have the opportunity, at the end of their year of MA studies, to extend their studies to doctoral level. Where the topic and the related evidence is appropriate, students are permitted to treat their year of Master’s research as the first year of the three required for PhD study. If approved for ‘upgrading’ to doctoral study, they may submit their expanded dissertation for the PhD degree after a further two years of writing and research.
Adrian Tinniswood OBE FSA
Professor Adrian Tinniswood OBE FSA is the author of eighteen books on social and architectural history, including The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars (2016), which became a New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller; and its sequel, Noble Ambitions: The Fall and Rise of the Post-war Country House (2021).
He is also the author of an important biography of the architect and polymath, Wren: His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren, and of a social history of a major gentry family, The Verneys: a True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. He has worked with a number of heritage organisations including the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Trust, and is currently Professorial Research Fellow in History at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham, and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Maynooth.
He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2013 for his services to the national heritage.
Dr Adriano Aymonino
Dr Adriano Aymonino, Co-Director of the programme, is one of Britain’s leading historians of the Classical tradition, particularly in the eighteenth century. He has curated several exhibitions, including Drawn from the Antique: Artists and the Classical Ideal, held at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London in 2015. His book Enlightened Eclecticism: The Grand Design of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, won the 2022 William MB Berger Prize for British Art History. He is currently working on a revised edition of Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny’s Taste and the Antique; and on a critical edition of Robert Adam’s Grand Tour correspondence. He is a Lecturer in the Department of History and the History of Art at The University of Buckingham.
What our students say
Matthew Beckett: ‘This course has provided not only intellectually satisfying teaching and discussion but also a chance to interact with recognised leaders in country house research, meet fellow enthusiasts, and profoundly develop my skills and knowledge as part of producing the dissertation.’ Matthew Beckett’s blog, ‘The English Country Seat’
Patrick Newberry: ’I was drawn to Buckingham by its great reputation both for scholarship and for innovation in its development of programmes. Since starting the Country House MA, I have found that my expectations were more than justified; indeed, they have been far exceeded.’
Gwyneth Davis: ‘The seminar speakers were enlightening and informative, and the chance to dine at the Reform Club was not to be missed! I am really glad and proud that I completed the programme. I would recommend it without reservation to anyone ready for an academic challenge.’
Judiyaba: ‘A fantastic programme! The class is not too big and the guest speakers are so knowledgeable that conversation is lively and informative. It is a great opportunity to enjoy both the thrills and the occasional frustrations of research and writing. I would happily do it all again.’
The minimum entry level required for this course is as follows:
a first or upper second-class honours degree from a recognised university or,
a recognised professional qualification with relevant work experience.
In cases where candidates are applying on the basis of work experience, they may be asked to complete a short written assignment and/or attend an interview as part of the applications process.
Age is no barrier to learning and we welcome all applications from suitably qualified students. Due to their flexibility, our London-based MAs by research attract a wide variety of applicants from a range of backgrounds, including people in full-time employment and retirees. Our current students range in age from 21 to 75.
Those who wish to attend the talks and dinners, but who do not wish to take a degree, may join the course as Associate Students (in US usage ‘Audit Students’). This status will enable the student to attend the ten guest seminars and dinners, join the field trips, and to meet the guest lecturers, but does not require the submission of written work. Associate Students are not registered for the MA degree.
Candidates apply online, sending in their supporting documents, and will be assessed on this basis by the Programme Director. The Programme Director or Admissions Assistant will be happy to answer any enquiries, email email@example.com.
Student Contract for prospective students
When you are offered a place at the University you will be notified of the student contract between the University and students on our courses of study. When you accept an offer of a place on the course at the University a legal contract is formed between you and the University on the basis of the student contract in your offer letter. Your offer letter and the student contract contain important information which you should read carefully before accepting an offer. Read the Student Contract.
The MA does not offer systematic instruction in the facts; instead, the emphasis is on independent thought and research.
At the heart of the Buckingham MA is the close working relationship between student and supervisor. While the final thesis must be an independent work, it is the supervisor who offers advice on refining the topic (if necessary), on primary sources, on secondary reading, on research techniques and on writing the final text (which should be not less than 25,000 words). Supervisors and students will meet frequently throughout the year, and not less than twice a term; and the supervisor shall always be the student’s primary contact for academic advice and support.
The University’s Course Directors, students’ supervisors, and the Research Officer and Tutor for Graduate Students are available to discuss students’ post-graduation plans and how they may utilise most effectively the skills acquired during their studies.
The fees for this course are:
Full-time (6 Months)
Full-time (1 Year)
Part-time (2 Years)
The University reserves the right to increase course fees annually in line with inflation linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI). If the University intends to increase your course fees it will notify you via email of this as soon as reasonably practicable.
Course fees do not include additional costs such as books, equipment, writing up fees and other ancillary charges. Where applicable, these additional costs will be made clear.
** Please be aware that the 6 month option relates to the associate course only
Please note that The University of Buckingham has four terms per year. Students will pay the same termly fee for the duration of their studies, unless studies are interrupted and resumed later. The tuition fee quoted is therefore the total cost of the degree.
Details of other scholarships can be found on our main Bursaries and Scholarships page. You should make an application to study at the University and receive an offer letter confirming our acceptance of your application before applying for a scholarship.