This cutting-edge Master’s in Biography was founded in 1996, originally as a Taught MA programme, and remains unique to Buckingham. The course is consistently rated ‘excellent’ by external examiners and inspectors. Study can be on either a full-time (one year) or a part-time (two year) basis, with the latter generally recommended so that students can devote the second year entirely to writing on a biographical subject of their choice.
During the past 25 years, students have researched subjects ranging from Queen Victoria to the Bengali film-maker Ritwik Ghatak, or from Bernard Levin to the gardening author Jane Loudon; they have sometimes written on their own eminent ancestors, or on figures they knew personally. The team has expertise in a broad range of historical periods, from the Early Modern period to the present day, and the course places particular emphasis on understanding individual subjects within their historical, social and political context. We also encourage those looking to work on Life Writing or Literary Biography to join us, and to benefit from the experience of academics working across the faculties (including Dr Pete Orford who has published a biography of Charles Dickens, and Dr Peter Sloane who works on refugee life writing and memoir).
In their first year of study, students attend weekly seminars for three of four terms (the Summer Term being for independent research). These seminars provide the critical awareness of different approaches to the discipline which are essential prerequisites for Dissertation work, and they are one of the most distinctive and valuable elements of the MA. They take place as follows:
- Autobiography (September to December)
- Biography (January to June)
- Research Methods (January to June)
Applications for entry in either January or September can be considered, depending on the size of the cohort.
All seminar teaching currently takes place at the University’s central London campus on Tuesdays, though supervisions can also take place online and at other mutually convenient times.
The modules on Biography and Autobiography are designed to combine the study of classic biographies and memoirs with analysis of contemporary writing in the auto/biography genres. The Research Methods module meanwhile provides an invaluable training for biographers, introducing them to essential skills and resources, including the location and use of archives as sources in their Dissertations.
Students are expected to produce, as a preliminary to their own research project, written coursework for the Research Methods module (an annotated bibliography and a short biography, with supporting material, produced according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry format), and students will also be asked to produce a short essay of 3-5,000 words that reflects on the Autobiography or Biography module content, though such essays do not count towards the final grade. During the early part of the course, students are guided to refine their topic and research proposal. Once the research proposal has been accepted by the University’s Research Officer, students then work with their tutor on individual research and the preparation of the Dissertation.
Guest biographers, memoirists, critics, publishers, and agents are regularly invited to lead seminars during the teaching terms. Past teachers and speakers on the course have included Andrew Motion, Kathryn Hughes, Frances Wilson, Frances Spalding, Jeremy Lewis, Rupert Shortt, Caroline Dawnay, Andrew Lownie, Miranda Seymour, John Cornwell, Simon Heffer and Craig Brown.
The Programme Director, Ophelia Field, is the author of a critically acclaimed life of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744) titled The Favourite, first published in 2002 and in revised edition in 2018. In 2008, she produced a group biography, again set in the early eighteenth century, titled The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation, which was one of the Financial Times’ History Books of the Year. Ophelia has also worked for over 25 years as a policy analyst and communications consultant for a range of human rights and refugee organisations including ECRE, Human Rights Watch, UNHCR, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the Council of Europe. She has been teaching on the University of Buckingham’s Biography Programme since 2019, and previously taught at the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL).
Dr Christina Dykes is a Lecturer on the Programme. She is a historian whose PhD, taken under the Biography Programme in 2021, was titled Bendor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, 1879-1953: A Reappraisal. Her wider professional experience includes 35 years working in public affairs, which has given her a deep awareness and knowledge of political processes. Together with Prof. Jo Silvester she has published ‘Selecting Political Candidates: A longitudinal study of assessment centre performance and political success in the 2005 UK election’ in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, 25 March 2007. She headed the Development Department at CCHQ, was instrumental in the creation of the Conservative Muslim Forum, advised the Leadership Centre for Local Government and has provided leadership coaching. She is a Deputy Chairman of the London Recruitment Advisory Board concerned with the appointment of London’s Justices of the Peace.
The Biography Programme was designed and founded by Professor Jane Ridley, an Oxford-trained historian and biographer. Her extensive and award-winning biographical publications include The Young Disraeli (1995); The Architect and his Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens (2002); Bertie: A Life of Edward VII (2012); and George V: Never a Dull Moment (2021). She has contributed widely to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and to publications such as the Spectator, the Literary Review and the Times Literary Supplement. She remains closely associated with the Programme as a Professor Emerita, and regularly speaks to our students.
Teaching takes place at the University’s London premises:
51 Gower Street
The recommended period of study for achieving this research degree is two years part-time. A few students are capable of completing it within one year full-time and, if that is their preference, should discuss this with the Programme Director upon application.
A system of preliminary registration for all research degrees is in operation to allow students to prepare a formal proposal during the early part of their course. Admission to research degrees is normally on a provisional basis while the candidate, with the help of the supervisor, refines the proposal for the research, including developing a work plan and identifying the requirements for support and resources and how these will be met.
All research students must also subject their work to an annual progress review.