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 take place in St James’s, at the Reform Club, 104 Pall Mall, in central London (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 the design and planning of houses since the Tudor period, through to the fortunes of the country house during the twentieth century. A current owner, Earl Spencer, discusses what is involved in managing, living in, and presenting to the public a major country house, Althorp in Northamptonshire, in the present day.
Seminar dates 2021-22
12 October 2021 Professor Simon Thurley ‘The Country Houses of the Early Stuart Kings’
26 October 2021 Jeremy Musson ‘The Country House Plan’
9 November 2021 John Goodall ‘The Country Houses of the Long Middle Ages: 1480-1640’
23 November 2021 Mark Purcell ‘The Country House Library’
11 January 2022 Dr Adriano Aymonino ‘Paper Architecture: the Iconography of the Georgian Country House’
25 January 2022 Rosemary Hill ‘The Earl and the Architect: Pugin and Lord Shrewsbury’
8 February 2022 Earl Spencer ‘Althorp’
22 February 2022 Ben Cowell ‘Saving Country Houses’
8 March 2022 Lucy Worsley ‘Artisan Mannerism and the Great Household’
22 March 2022 Adrian Tinniswood ‘Noble Ambitions: The Fall and Rise of the Post-War Country House’
Study visits to country houses in 2021-22
Ightham Mote, Kent, begun in the 1340s, and acquired in 1591 by Sir William Selby, whose family resided in the house for the next three centuries.
The programme includes two full-day field trips to country houses during the spring term. In 2022, the first of these visits, on Tuesday 5 April 2022, is to Knole and Ightham Mote in Kent: a study in contrasts between the vast and palatial mansion of the Sackvilles, Earls of Dorset, and the romantic but perfectly formed Ightham, often described as the most complete small medieval manor house in the south of England.
The entrance hall, evoking an ancient Roman basilica, at Syon House, Middlesex, by Robert Adam, created in the 1760s for the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland
A second visit, on Tuesday 10 May 2022, takes in Syon House and Osterley Park, both located in what was formerly Middlesex: two of Robert Adam’s most magnificent creations.
A further Research Day in the Spring Term, on Tuesday 7 June 2022, to be held at the Humanities Research Institute in Buckingham, is combined with a visit to Stowe House, the magnificent eighteenth-century palace of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, with its park adorned by Classical temples, located just two miles from the centre of the University. (Dates are firm at the time of writing, but subject to confirmation in the light of future government rules.)
Seminars and Dinners
Seminars and dinners take place at the Reform Club (above), 104 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5EW.
View the location on Google Maps. Nearest Tube Stations: Green Park and Piccadilly.
Tutorials usually take place at the University’s offices in Bloomsbury (51 Gower St, London, WC1E 6HJ) or can take place online if the student prefers.
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.
Badminton, Gloucestershire. 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
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, 1918-1939 (2016), which became a New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller. A sequel, Noble Ambitions: The Fall and Rise of the English Country House After World War II, is published in September 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 Senior Research Fellow in History at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham.
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, on the 1st Duke of Northumberland’s patronage of Robert Adam and others, will be published by Yale University Press in 2021. He is currently working on a revised edition of Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny’s Taste and the Antique, to be published in 2022; 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.
** 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. The tuition fees quoted are for the degree (e.g. if you start a degree at Buckingham in January 2018, you will pay the same termly fee for the duration of your degree – you will not be affected by the price increase in September 2018). 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.
Postgraduate loan scheme
A new system of postgraduate loans for Masters degrees in the UK was introduced in August 2016 with support from the UK Government. The loan will provide up to £10,609 for taught and research Masters courses in all subject areas. The loans can be used for tuition fees, living expenses or both. Find out more >>
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.
You can apply directly using our online application form – all you need to do is click the ‘apply’ button at the bottom of this page.
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