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Durham University


R9T307 Visual Culture MA Postgraduate Taught 2021


Please note: 2021-22 courses may be affected by Covid-19 and are therefore subject to change due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Applicants will be informed of any changes which we are required to make to course entries as a result of Covid-19.

Degree MA
Mode of study Part Time + Full Time
Duration 1 year full-time; 2 years part-time
Start Date 04-10-2021
Location Durham City
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Department(s) Website

Course Summary


The MA in Visual Culture at Durham is a distinctive interdisciplinary course that invites you to develop your knowledge and understanding of the visual arts and of visual culture. To study visual arts and culture is a way of paying attention to phenomena that are everywhere. The concept of ‘visual culture’ acknowledges the pervasive nature of visual phenomena, and signals openness towards both the breadth of objects and images, and the range of theoretical and methodological perspectives needed to understand them adequately.

Drawing upon research strengths across the departments that contribute to the course, the MA in Visual Culture encourages a broad geographical and chronological scope, while allowing you to engage with a wide range of visual phenomena, including fine art, film, photography, architecture, and scientific and medical imaging practices.

The importance of critical visual literacy in the contemporary world cannot be exaggerated. ‘The illiterate of the future’, wrote the Bauhaus artist and theoretician László Moholy-Nagy, ‘will be the person ignorant of the camera as well as of the pen’. This observation was made in the 1920s, when photography was first used in the periodical press and in political propaganda. The rich visual world of the early twentieth century pales in comparison with the visual saturation that now characterises everyday experience throughout the developed societies and much of the developing world. But the study of visual culture is by no means limited to the twentieth century. Turning our attention to past cultures with a particular eye to the significance of visual objects of all kinds yields new forms of knowledge and understanding.

Our course facilitates the development of critical visual literacy in three main ways. First, it attends to the specificity of visual objects, images and events, encouraging you to develop approaches that are sensitive to the individual works they encounter. Second, it investigates the nature of perception, asking how it is that we make meaning out of that which we see. Finally, it investigates how our relationships with other people, and with things, are bound up in the act of looking.

Course structure

The course consists of one core module, two optional modules and a dissertation. The core module sets out the intellectual framework for the course, offering a broad overview of key conceptual debates in the field of visual culture, together with training in analysis of visual objects of different kinds, an advanced introduction to understanding museum practice, and key research skills in visual arts and culture. The optional modules provide further specialised areas of study in related topics of interest to individual students, and the 12,000-15,000 word dissertation involves detailed study of a particular aspect of a topic related to the broad area of visual culture.

Examples of optional modules:

  • Critical Curatorship
  • Visual Modernities
  • Crossing Cultures: Word, Text and Image in Translation
  • Transnational Cinema
  • Things That Matter: Material and Culture in/for the Digital Age
  • German Reading Skills for Research
  • The Anglo-Saxon World Societies and Cultures: interdisciplinary approaches to early medieval England
  • An Exhibitionary Complex: Museums, Collecting and the Historical Imagination 
  • Visualising Revolution: The Image of French Political Culture c.1789-1914
  • Grant-Writing for Master Students
  • Ethics of Cultural Heritage
  • The Classical Tradition: Art, Literature, Thought

Centre for Visual Culture

The Centre brings together scholars from across and beyond Durham University in order to provide a vibrant and dynamic setting for wide-ranging interdisciplinary research and debates about visual culture. The Centre provides a focus for cutting-edge research on visual arts and cultures: it aspires to train new generations of scholars through innovative postgraduate course, it fosters informed debate both nationally and internationally, and it offers an engaging, open environment for researchers at all levels.

CVAC takes a generous view of what constitutes visual culture and it is broad in both geographical and chronological scope, encouraging debate about the range of approaches, methods and theories that are most generative for research on visual phenomena. Durham’s current visual culture research includes the study of word and image, art and religion, medicine and visual representation, film, the history of photography, architecture, urban culture, heritage and philosophical aesthetics. It also includes the development of pioneering visual research methods and the study of vision.

Durham’s location itself provides a rich and inspiring environment for this field of research. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes Durham Cathedral; its acclaimed Oriental Museum is a significant asset which houses three Designated Collections, recognised by the Arts Council as nationally and internationally pre-eminent; alongside an outstanding collection of twentieth-century and contemporary art. CVAC has many established relationships with major national and international cultural organisations, and aims to develop further its links with museums, galleries and heritage sites.

For further information on the Centre see

To view our short film on this course click here 

Course Learning and Teaching

The MA in Visual Culture is designed to allow you maximum scope to explore and develop your own fields of interest, in line with the courses generous understanding of the visual. The core module is based on interactive, student-centred seminars and skills-development workshops, including object handling. The module is thus fully integrated: research skills and subject knowledge are developed in tandem and in dialogue with each other. In advance of seminars, you will follow a programme of guided reading that will acquaint you with some of the most important approaches to visual culture. The module also includes field trips to major museums and galleries, which will give you the chance to think about the ways in which visual culture is displayed, learn about museums and galleries as a research resource, and meet senior curatorial staff.

In your assessments, you have the opportunity to use the approaches explored in the seminars in order to explore an aspect or aspects of visual culture that particularly appeal to you. You can select a book to review for the critical review exercise, an exhibition to analyse for your fieldwork report, and an object on which to write your object commentary. When it comes to the research essay, the scope is wide: possibilities include but are not limited to: a specific image or artefact, a movement or trend, a body of theory, a particular collection, social uses of the visual, a particular medium, or an individual artist. Supervision is available in an extensive range of subject areas.

The optional modules on the course involve diverse modes of teaching and learning, from lectures and seminars to placement learning.

In the dissertation module, you will be paired with a supervisor and will work independently, with supervisory support, to produce an extended piece of research which, once again, can be closely tailored to your own interests.

Admissions Process

Subject requirements, level and grade

  • Students will normally be required to have an Honours Degree, usually at 2:1 level or higher or GPA average of 3.2 from a recognised national or international university in an arts, humanities or social science subject. The course assumes no prior knowledge of visual arts and culture, but previous interest or experience of visual culture would be an advantage.
  • Two positive academic or equivalent professional references.
  • Relevant professional practice in a field of visual arts and culture to be evaluated on an individual basis, may be considered in lieu of formal academic qualifications in some cases.

English Language requirements

Please check requirements for your subject and level of study.

How to apply

Fees and Funding

Full Time Fees

EU Student £21,500.00 per year
Home Student £9,800.00 per year
Island Student £9,800.00 per year
International non-EU Student £21,500.00 per year

Part Time Fees

EU Student £11,900.00 per year
Home Student £5,400.00 per year
Island Student £5,400.00 per year
International non-EU Student £11,900.00 per year

The tuition fees shown are for one complete academic year of study, are set according to the academic year of entry, and remain the same throughout the duration of the programme for that cohort (unless otherwise stated).

Please also check costs for colleges and accommodation.

Scholarships and funding

Career Opportunities

School of Modern Languages and Cultures

For further information on career options and employability, including the results of the Destination of Leavers survey, student and employer testimonials and details of work experience and study abroad opportunities, please visit our employability web pages.

Open days and visits

Pre-application open day

Overseas Visit Schedule

Postgraduate Visits


Department Information

School of Modern Languages and Cultures


The School of Modern Languages and Cultures carries out research into literature, culture and language as well as film and visual studies that is extensive in historical scope and geographically wide ranging. Expertise includes Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hispanic, Italian, Japanese, and Russian Studies. Nearly 50 full-time research-active members of staff supervise and teach around 125 postgraduates (over half of whom are international), comprising 75 students in taught programmes and 50 students pursuing MA and PhD research degrees. As a major partner in a number of University-wide research centres and institutes, we provide an ideal research environment for postgraduate study, with weekly research events and regular postgraduate activities. Our emphasis on comparative, interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches to research gives our research students a broad-ranging and cohesive environment in which to develop a range of skills. This equips them for future careers both within and beyond academia, nationally and internationally. 



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