Birkbeck, University of London

Birkbeck, University of London

Public Histories

History is practised everywhere: by governments, private corporations, universities, museums and galleries, in the tourism and heritage industries, on television programmes and in newspaper columns, and through local history societies, community development projects, and genealogical associations. History and historians play important roles at the level of the both the nation and the neighbourhood, contributing to public debates, policy decisions and popular education and entertainment. Public history is concerned with the practice of history outside of academia in all its myriad forms and public historians come in all shapes and sizes: they are consultants, museum professionals, archivists, preservationists and curators, cultural resource managers, policy specialists, and community activists, among many other roles. What they share is a commitment to making history relevant, beneficial, informative and instructive within the public sphere. The practice and significance of 'public history' has grown significantly in recent years, as historians become more aware of audiences beyond the academy, of the role of history in politics, of the need for their research and analysis to have an impact in the real world, and of the growing public and media interest in popular history and heritage. This MA will introduce you to key aspects and issues of the practice of public history. It will provide you with the necessary theoretical and practical skills to undertake critical assessments of public history projects and interventions - as well as to create your own. Its focus on public history in practice will provide you with a wide range of examples of different types and methods of public history, from museums and material culture, to public history in the media, to the role of history in policy making. This MA aims to give you a sense of the wide range of public history, the variety of roles played by historians in public, and the importance and impact of public history in politics, culture, and society.

Entry requirements

The usual requirement is a second-class honours degree in a humanities subject, as well as references.

We may request writing samples or ask you to attend an interview, if you don't meet the entry criteria but have non-traditional educational or professional qualification/experience. If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, our usual requirement is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests.

Course modules

You take 2 compulsory modules, choose 2 option modules and complete a dissertation.

You choose 1 option module that is public history focused, which includes modules offered in Birkbeck's Department of History, Classics and Archaeology and the Department of History of Art, as well as an option in Digital Histories offered in conjunction with the University of East London.

You also choose 1 'free choice' option module from an extensive range of modules offered within the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology.

Full-time students take all of their modules in 1 year.

Part-time students take 1 compulsory module and choose 1 option module in Year 1 and take 1 compulsory module, choose 1 option module and complete their dissertation in Year 2.
Compulsory modules:

Mastering Historical Research: Birkbeck Approaches;
Public Histories in Practice .

Indicative public histories option modules:

Athens: Material Culture Approaches to the Classical City;
Creating a Public. Museums and their audiences;
Cultural History of War in Britain and America between the First World War and the Conflict in Vietnam;
Histories in Transition: Visual Culture, History and Memory in South Africa and Beyond;
Queer Histories/Queer Cultures;
The Past in the Present: Classical Archaeology in the Modern World (Level 7) .

MA Public Histories dissertation.

Assessment methods

Assessment is via written work, with a different essay for each module, and a substantial dissertation.


Qualification Study mode Start month Fee Course duration
MA Full-time October 2017 - 1 years
MA Part-time October 2017 - 2 years

Campus details

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Key information

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Telephone number: 
020 7631 6268