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Department of History

MA in Modern History

Brief Overview

Durham's MA in Modern History is a broad-ranging Master's programme which seeks to equip students with historical research techniques and approaches, advanced skills in critical analysis and independent study, as well as strong and effective communication skills. The MA programme is designed to enable students with different career ambitions to succeed in their chosen area, and it caters for students of different backgrounds, previous training, and areas of specialisation. The breadth of research interests of the modern historians at Durham allows the department to offer supervision in topics about modern history from the nineteenth century through to contemporary history. The programme seeks to enable students to build an awareness of the contemporary boundaries of modern scholarship, to master advanced understanding of historical concepts and methods, and ultimately to make their own contributions to the field.

Durham's History Department is an international centre for the study of the Modern period, and is situated in the historic setting of the World Heritage Site, which includes Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle, and the surrounding area. Students of modern history at Durham benefit from the rich archival and manuscript resources in the collections of the University (at Palace Green Library - especially the Sudan Archive - and Ushaw College) and in the Cathedral Library, while the wider regional resources for study of the period are also highly significant: the landscape of industrial revolution and of post-industrial response, of globalisation and regional identity. Modern History at Durham is comprehensive and international in its reach, with specialists in the cultural and political history, visual culture and media studies, sports history, regional and international histories. Area specialisms include the British Isles, Continental Europe, Africa, North America, China and the Steppe regions.

For more information on academic staff engaged in research into modern history at Durham, please see individual staff pages and our research projects.

Course Structure

The MA in Modern History is a one-year full-time programme (or two-years part-time). All students are allocated a supervisor at the beginning of the first term, and s/he guides each student through the year. The programme is structured as follows:

Michaelmas Term (October-December)

  • Archives and Sources (15 credits)

This module is designed to introduce you to advanced interpretation and analysis of primary sources, and has two elements. The first is based on archives, and will be led by specialist staff in the Library's Special Collections, as well as by members of the department. The second element is commentary on particular sources, chosen by you in consultation with your supervisor and the module convenors.

  • Issues in Modern History (30 credits)

This module introduces students to some of the major major problems, issues and debates in Modern History. It focuses on the period from the French Revolution to the present, and is taught comparatively, with particular stress on Britain, Europe and America, though students will be able to specialise on a particular area/approach in their assessed work. The range of topics studied will be chosen from a selection including: the state; nationalism and ethnicity; revolution; industrialization; gender; class; religion; democracy; war and environmentalism.

  • *Skill module (30 credits) - taken over Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms

Students may choose to take a skills module: these are mainly medieval/ancient languages (e.g. Old English, Old Norse, Latin, Greek), modern languages for reading (e.g. Academic French, Academic German), or research skills (e.g. palaeography). Students who take a skills module write a 60-credit dissertation instead of a 90-credit dissertation.

Epiphany Term (January-March)

  • Critical Practice (15 credits)

This module will develop and test your ability to offer a critical intellectual argument in an oral presentation, and your ability to participate effectively in critical discussions arising out of oral presentations. The training for this module involves lectures, seminars, one-to-one sessions with your supervisor, and a drama workshop. This module will encourage you to think critically about questions of structure and balance of content, timing and delivery in presentations through observing the work of others, and developing your own presentation.

  • Option module (30 credits)

Option modules allow students the opportunity to learn about a particular topic or issue in modern history in depth, and to consider different historical approaches to this topic over a full term's study. Current options for modern history include The Wealth of Nations; Race in Modern America; 'Tribe' and Nation in Africa since 1800; Interpretations of Terror and Genocide in Modern Europe; Tradition, Change and Political Culture in Modern Britain; Gender, Nationalism and Modernity in East Asia; History, Knowledge and Visual Culture (a full list of MA option modules is available here). Option modules are taught in weekly two-hour seminars for a full term's study.

Easter Term (April-June), and the summer vacation (until early September)

  • Dissertation (90 credits, or 60 credits if taking a *Skill module)

Students meet with their supervisors on an individual basis and will discuss the topic, direction and content of their dissertation, as well as the relevant modern evidence and scholarship which they should explore. The dissertation is a substantial, independent piece of research: the 90-credit dissertation is 20,000 words, while the 60-credit dissertation is 15,000 words. You are not required to write your dissertation on a topic which is in the same period and area as your optional modules, but it is recommended that students discuss their individual programmes of work with their supervisors and/or with the Director of Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

The formal requirements and structure of the programme can be found here; a full list of optional modules is available here.

The MA can be taken part-time, over two years. In the first year the module combination consists of Archives and Sources, Critical Practice, Issues and in addition a Skills module OR Optional module. In the second year your work will consist of either a 90 credit, 20,000 word dissertation (if you took an Optional module in the first year) OR a 60 credit, 15,000 word dissertation, AND an Optional module (if you took a Skills module in the first year).

Additional courses can be taken on an audit-basis (not for credit), and can include language modules as well as optional modules. You will need to ask and receive the permission of the module leader before auditing a class. If the class is outside the department you will also need to inform the Director of Taught Postgraduates.

Teaching and Learning

The programme is delivered primarily through small group seminar teaching with some larger classes, and lecture-style sessions. Termly division of contact hours between terms depends on student choice. Issues in Early Modern History has 16 contact hours, all classroom-based; this module is team-taught and exposes students to a wide variety of staff support and expertise. Archives and Sources has 8 contact hours, split between lectures, classes and seminars. Skills modules are taught through seminars or classes and are usually more contact-hour-intensive. Optional modules are taught in seminars and provide a total of 16 contact hours. Critical Practice involves lectures, a drama workshop, and oral presentation to a group (at a 'mini-conference'). Dissertation supervision involves 8 hours of directed supervision, individually with a dedicated supervisor.


The MA incorporates a variety of assessment methods including source commentaries, essays, oral presentations, and examinations (usually only for Skill modules).

  • Archives and Sources is assessed through an extended commentary of 2,500 words on a source of your choice (textual, visual, material etc).
  • Issues and Option modules are assessed through a 5,000-word essay, and you can design your own question with help from the module leader.
  • Critical Practice is assessed through an oral presentation (which is followed by questions).
  • The Dissertation is an independent piece of research, either 20,000 words long (for the 90-credit dissertation) or 15,000 words long (for the 60-credit dissertation).

See also here for more information about teaching, learning and assessment.

Entry requirements

The requirements for entry into the programme are a good 2.1 or GPA of 3.5, or equivalent. A first degree in History or a related subject is required.

For international students whose first language is not English: we require IELTS of 7.0 (with no element under 6.5) or equivalent.

More information on entry requirements can be found on the University's postgraduate courses page.

MA Funding

The University postgraduate pages have up-to-date information about fees; information about sources of funding for studying History at Durham can be found on the Department's funding page.

Academic Staff

For information on academic staff engaged in research into modern history at Durham, please see individual staff pages and our research projects.


We are delighted to be contacted with further questions on any aspect of MA study in History at Durham; please feel free to contact either the departmental postgraduate secretary, or the Director of Taught Postgraduates, Dr Julian Wright.

Please send all postgraduate enquiries to this email address: