Taught master's pathways

As a postgraduate student, you'll follow specialist pathways under the generic MA History degree programme.

The specialist pathways offered are:

Cultural History

Over the past two decades the so-called ‘cultural turn’ has provided a radical challenge to many established approaches shaping the discipline of history, and the History Department at Manchester has pioneered this project via its own founding MA in Cultural History and in the work of a number of its staff and past students.

Our approach

With a challenging, creative and forward looking approach, this pathway will introduce students to a critical examination of key methodological approaches to the study of cultural history.

Topics will range across the modern and early modern periods and all cases the aim will be to provide students with cutting edge tools to investigate culture as it is produced, circulated and experienced by distinctive social groups in relationships of intellectual and social power.

Each week our programme will spend time examining the significance of a major of group of theories and theorists, but we will also assess how their methods can be applied to particular case studies.

Our 'hands-on' approach to theory will cover:

  • textual and visual forms of culture,
  • the role of agency and authorship,
  • space, place and environment,
  • emotional and affective life,
  • micro histories,
  • histories ‘from below’ and subaltern studies,
  • the construction of gender and sexuality.

Our aim is to provide students with an intellectual map to set out on their own journey through cultural history, which will equip them methodologically for a number of their other modules on the MA History.


Examples of the work we cover are included below:

  • Agency and Authorship
  • Culture as Text
  • Discourse and Power: Foucault and Foucauldians
  • Place, Environment and Setting
  • Visual Optics/ Visual Iconography
  • Towards a History of the Emotions
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Micro Histories and Imaginative Worlds
  • History from Below and the Subaltern School
  • Bruno Latour and the History and Sociology of Knowledge

Early Modern History

Lead staff

This pathway offers you an advanced introduction to the dynamics of recent research into the history of the 15th to the 18th centuries, where the artificial frontier between the ‘medieval’ and ‘early-modern’ periods appears most permeable, while original and powerful approaches that integrate British and European history are explored and tested.

By exploiting our considerable staff resources in this area, this course aims to bring together the study of economic, social, religious and political history, and explore them both in ‘national’ and comparative contexts. The consequences of European expansion overseas can form an important part of this comparison.

The John Rylands Library Deansgate is an internationally renowned archive for early modern manuscripts and its early printed books collection is unique, offering important opportunities for you to work with often much under-used primary sources on your doorstep.

Course units

The historiographical course unit – History of the Book – will use the magnificent collection of manuscripts and early print books housed at the John Rylands Library to investigate the history of the book throughout the medieval and early modern periods, including its classical and late antique antecedents, and the late medieval and early modern transformation into print.

Sessions will concentrate on core skills in codicology – the study of books (codices) as physical objects, including aspects such as binding, construction, composite manuscripts, and illumination in order to understand different kinds of contemporary codices.

In addition, we will consider key historical questions including: the cultural history of the book; changes in book production and use over time; the rise of print; the nature of medieval literacy, with reference to purpose, status and gender. There will also be a visit to Chetham’s Library, home to a sixteenth-century library collection, to see at firsthand Manchester’s only surviving medieval buildings and a printing press in action.

We are also offering a course unit in Palaeography – reading and understanding the handwriting used in manuscripts. This unit will take place in the second semester and also make use of the resources of the John Rylands Library including its rich archives.

Option choices include: 

  • Club Med? How Mediterranean Empires went Global
  • The Secret Life of Objects
  • Wonders, Miracles and Supernatural Landscapes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Dissertation examples

Recent dissertation topics include: ‘Purgatory and Henry VIII: Thomas More’s criticisms of the Catholic Church’, ‘The king’s privy council, 1509-1530: governmental agency or royal adornment?’, and ‘Antichrist: Before John Foxe’.

Modern British History

Manchester provides the ideal location for the study of Modern British History:

  • the shock city of the industrial revolution,
  • centre of new radical movements,
  • hotbed of innovations in music and popular culture, 
  • home to some of the leading figures in the national story from the Pankhursts to Marie Stopes, Friedrich Engels to Alan Turing.

Taught by a range of leading experts and supported by outstanding resources, Modern British History remains one of the most popular MA pathways.

Key debates

The core course, ‘Remaking Modern Britain’, introduces students to key debates which continue to provoke fierce argument:

  • How did the working classes imagine their world in the age of Queen Victoria?
  • When and why did religious faith decline in modern Britain?
  • How far did the World Wars radicalise the nation?
  • In what ways did the fall of empire and rise of immigration transform British society?
  • Did the sixties really ‘swing’?

Students have access to a superb range of libraries and archives, including the world-famous John Rylands and the newly refurbished Central Reference library, supported by local study centres around greater Manchester with extensive holdings of previously unused sources, ideal for student dissertations.

Modern European History

History Beyond the Nation State

In recent decades, historians of both Europe and the wider world have engaged in a concerted effort to decentre history from the national frameworks which have traditionally dominated it. But what does it mean to write history beyond the nation state, what challenges does this pose, and what insights does it allow?

In this course, students will engage with the dialogue between European and world history which has spurred these developments, and use transnational and postcolonial approaches to examine key themes cutting across the modern period.

Interrogating core concepts of modernity, the state, knowledge, identity and power in a variety of contexts, students will gain a deep and critical understanding of crucial forces driving the history of the modern world, and a range of methods of studying them.

Course units

The historiographical unit, Beyond the NationState: Debates and Dialogues in Modern History, teaches you methodologies of international, transnational and comparative history writing, andexplores a set of key concepts through coupled theoretical and case study sessions that have informed recent scholarly work on European and world history, and its entanglements with the wider world.

These concepts include: citizenship and the state; nation, memory and identity politics; modernity and modernisation; and the body as an object of political control. One of the great strengths of postgraduate study at Manchester is the tremendous range of MA course units we offer in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, or the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

Popular options in European History include: Boundaries of the Political; Public History; History of Humanitarian Aid.

Dissertation examples

Recent dissertations include:

  • 'German-Jewish immigrants in Britain in the Second World War',
  • 'Sheltering the self: psychological strategies for surviving the Stalinist gulag',
  • 'The Italian Communist Party, the Third International and the United Front, 1921-1930',
  • 'Making the New Man: The Settlement Movement in Red Vienna, 1918-1920'.

Social and Economic History

The Social and Economic History pathway within the Manchester History MA enables students to:

  1. explore the interactions between dynamic disciplinary approaches to the study of history, and
  2. develop key transferable research and employment skills relevant for undertaking independent historical research and a range of careers including journalism, heritage, teaching and academia.

Core elements

A core element of this pathway is the course unit Power and Plenty, a module that introduces students to the key concepts, themes and approaches of social and economic history. This module draws upon the Department of History’s nucleus of social and economic historians, and is built around topics including citizenship and consumption, inequality and unequal societies, the impact of cultural influences on markets, and histories of economic life

A second element of the Social and Economic History pathway, built around the module From Cottonopolis to Metropolis, focuses on the communities and institutions that contributed to the emergence of Manchester as a global city. This module provides students with a unique opportunity to study the history of Manchester whilst studying history at Manchester.

Facilities and resources

Previous students on the Manchester MA who have followed the Social and Economic pathway have benefited from using the extensive archival resources available within the University libraries as well as other key repositories in the region (e.g. Chetham’s Library, People’s History Museum, Museum of Science and Industry) to develop focused projects either for their MA Dissertations or for further post-graduate research.

War, Conflict and Culture

Aims of the course

This course focuses on the memory, commemoration, representation and experience of war and conflict, with a special focus on modern war though some attention is also paid to earlier conflicts.

It is concerned with the impact of violent conflict on people and culture, and how the ‘cultural memory’ of war is shaped through rituals, practices, discourses and the media.

For instance, we examine:

  • rituals of commemoration and objects of memorialisation;
  • experience and personal testimony;
  • population displacement and confinement;
  • masculinity and militarism,
  • women in wartime.

We will discuss some very hot issues, such as rape as a weapon of war, and the heated debates about the impact of bombing on civilians that ensued following the Allied bombing of Germany and the atomic destruction of Japanese cities in WW2. We discuss ethical issues and cover a wide range of historical and contemporary conflicts.

There is also a special interest in the role of museums in representing war through visual culture and objects. We will visit the Imperial War Museum North with whom we have a close relationship, and we also work with other museums (such as the Manchester Art Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery).


A source analysis

This will be a discussion of the provenance, purpose, implications and impact of a primary source relating to any of the themes of the course, to be identified by the student and agreed with the CUD. Each week primary source examples are also offered for discussion.


2000 words, worth 35% of total assessment.

A research-based essay

This will be an essay addressing a research question relating to any of the themes of the course devised by the student and agreed with the relevant tutor and CUD. It will use relevant primary and secondary sources identified by the student through independent research (archival and library searches). 4000 words, 65% of total assessment.

Teaching and learning methods

Three-hourly seminars every week (apart from Reading Week) in Semester 1. Essential reading for each class, both primary and secondary sources, are set and made available on Blackboard. Questions are provided to guide your preparation. These will provide the starting point for discussion in class.

World History

The World history pathway offers both study of particular regions of the world, such as Africa and Asia, and ways of considering historical subjects in a global context.

Courses cover important themes and debates specific to particular area studies as well as the methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding complex historical problems in diverse and varied contexts.

The pathway requires no background in non-Western history, just an intellectual desire to engage with perhaps unfamiliar concepts and cultures and the capacity to question conventional categories of analysis and understanding.

Dissertation examples

Examples of dissertations include:

  • race and gender seen through prostitution in colonial Bombay,
  • Victorian perceptions of Chinese women,
  • missionary medicine in Nigeria,
  • the biographies of artefacts from the British Empire stored in the Manchester Museum.

Sexuality, Gender and the Body

Many of our most taken-for-granted categories are in fact recent constructions that have their own, frequently surprising, histories.

Gender, sexuality, and embodiment, among the most intimate aspects of human experience, are no exception.

Emerging from the women's movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, a new cohort of historians insisted on the equal importance of women's history, founding a dynamic new field of history that has since moved to historicise gender categories themselves along with the most intimate domains of sexual practice and interiority.

Source material

Find more about the course unit Sexuality, Gender and the Body. Check out some of the source material used in this course unit:


Pornography 1958 London striptease

Soho - All's Fair! (1957)

Filming History

Making Documentary Films for Research

The second semester option, HIST61132 'Filming History: Making Documentary Films for Research' is one of the highlights of our MA modules: you will learn all aspects of film making, pre and post production, as well as editing in state of the art edit suites in the Media Centre, and with the use of newly acquired digital camera and sound kits.

Graduates from this course have gone on to work in radio, TV and digital media, and related cultural industries, and some have gone on to do PhD study using film as a research method. Students have also won prizes at film festivals. This course is unique in the UK in its focus on teaching historians how to make films.

Featured videos

Terror and the Painted City

A film by Tina Nelis, Gareth Crabtree, Marten During

Harry's War, Dan Harrison

The People's Taxis, from East to West

Machine Gunners

Katherine Reed

Section 44

Kyhe Alexander, Kathryn Megan Butler, Sophie Wing

Remembrance at the Southern Cemetery

Rebecca Ball, Lowry Half Andrews, Rebecca Howarth 2014

Dear Professor Tout

Ryand Yung 2014

The Manchester Free Trade Hall

Francesco Leoni and Tom Cook 2014.

There is also an interdisciplinary postgraduate degree offered across the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures:

Course structure

The History MA follows a common pattern combining advanced coursework, research training and research experience.

Half of the 180 credits required for the degree derive from taught course units, one-sixth from research training and one-third from the dissertation.

Our courses are interactive, and the small seminar is the rule. Students and staff present papers to form the basis of lively discussion.