This cutting-edge programme is unique to Buckingham. A course with wide appeal, it is aimed at anyone who has an interest in biography or in researching and writing a biography for themselves. The varied mix of backgrounds and interests that students bring to the course, the experience and commitment of the programme director and the friendly small-group setting allow a lively, enjoyable and intellectually rigorous exchange of ideas. Graduates have gone on to publish their own books, and to win prizes. Some have embarked on further research for the PhD in Biography.
When it was founded in 1996, the Biography MA was the first of its kind. Since then Life Writing has become part of the postgraduate menu, but the Buckingham course has kept its distinctive edge. Unlike most Life Writing degrees, it is not linked to Creative Writing, and there is a strong emphasis on research and historical biography. The programme is consistently rated ‘excellent’ by external examiners and inspectors.
Students have a choice between following the taught MA or opting for the MA by Research. The taught MA gives an opportunity to produce written term papers on a variety of topics as well as a dissertation of up to 20,000 words. Students accepted for the MA by Research are required to produce written work which includes an extended dissertation of up to 40,000 words. All students produce 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 format.
Guest seminars on the course are led by leading biographers, critics, publishers and agents. Teachers and speakers on the course have included Andrew Motion, Kathryn Hughes, Frances Wilson, Frances Spalding, Caroline Dawnay, Andrew Lownie, Miranda Seymour, Anne Wroe, Angela Thirlwell, David Lough and Ophelia Field.
One of the distinctive features of the programme is the value attached to the supervision which is provided for students working on dissertations. One-on-one supervisions are held every two or three weeks during a term. While the dissertation must be the candidate’s 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 dissertation. Regular group discussions between research students at all degree levels (MA and PhD) allow the exchange of research experiences and mutual support.
Professor Jane Ridley founded the Buckingham Biography MA in 1996. She is an Oxford-trained historian and biographer, and her publications include Queen Victoria in the Penguin Monarchs Series (2015); The Young Disraeli (1995); The Architect and his Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens (2002), which won the Duff Cooper Prize; and Bertie: A Life of Edward VII (2012), for which she was awarded a research fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust. She has contributed widely to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and she is a regular reviewer for publications such as the Spectator, the Literary Review and the Times Literary Supplement.
Watch a lecture by Professor Ridley on “The Thrills and Spills of Writing Biography”, given to the Swan and Pen Literary Society in June 2013.
Modules available on this course
All students on the MA Programme – both taught and research – are required to attend the weekly seminars, as are PhD students in their first year. These classes are one of the most distinctive and valuable elements of the MA and take place as follows:
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.
- Research Methods
- Special Paper in Biography
Full details in the Curriculum Handbook
Teaching takes place on Tuesdays at 11.30 – 3.00 over three nine-week terms. In the Autumn term we will be studying Autobiography and Memoir, and Research Methods. If face-to face teaching at 51 Gower Street is not possible, these modules will be given via MA Teams. Teaching online has worked well since April, and the student reaction has been positive.
For further details contact:
Humanities Research Admissions on +44 (0)1280 827514