The cutting-edge MA in Biography was founded in 1996, and its emphasis on historical biography remains unique to Buckingham. Since then, in response to student demand, the available options have been extended to include our PhD Biography. Study can be on either a full-time or a part-time basis.
The Programme’s 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 critical 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).
For their first year of study students attend the same weekly seminars as students taking the MA by Research in Biography. These provide the critical awareness of the subject that is an essential prerequisite, and take place as follows:
- Autobiography (September to December)
- Special Paper in Biography (January to June)
- Research Methods (January to June)
The modules on Biography and Autobiography are designed to combine the study of classic biographies and memoirs with contemporary writing. In addition, the Research Methods module provides an invaluable and innovative training, especially devised for biographers.
Guest seminars on the course are led by leading biographers, memoirists, critics, publishers and agents. Previous 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, Catherine Taylor, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, and Craig Brown.
During the early part of the course, research students refine their research proposal with their supervisor, for eventual discussion with the Research Officer. Once the research proposal has been accepted, students concentrate on conducting independent research and the preparation of their thesis, with the one-to-one support of the supervisor and the support of their peers in small group classes once or twice a term.
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 Bend’or, 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 Emeritus, and regularly speaks to our students.
Teaching takes place at the University’s London premises:
51 Gower Street
The normal periods of study for achieving this research degree is three years full-time or six years part-time.
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. Students are registered for the degree of PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), although their status is probationary until the first Annual Review has taken place, normally between 12 and 18 months from first registration.
In some cases, students undertaking the MA by Research may move on to doctoral study and count the MA towards the first year of their PhD.
All research students must also subject their work to an annual progress review.
In addition to PhD Biography, we offer a variety of other PhD programmes.