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A unique learning environment

Key details

Programme details

  • 240 credits
  • 15 or 18 month programme
  • Full-time study with part-time option

Application deadline

  • 20 Nov 2019
  • Still accepting applications

Committed to practice-based, public-facing history.

Offered jointly by the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the MA creates critical histories through artefacts and our interactions with them, whether in design, performance, photography or material culture more broadly. We see the history of design and material culture as interdisciplinary, and offer teaching and research expertise from the fifteenth century to the contemporary, exploring areas such as geography, performance studies and design research.

V&A/RCA History of Design MA embraces history that is public-facing, experimental and committed to academic excellence, connected to communities in public museums and art schools. We see history as practice-based and bring a distinctly global outlook to historical questions, placing local histories in comparative context and tracing diverse, global networks through material culture.


When applying for this programme, you select one of these specialist pathways.

Design & Material Culture

Design and material culture perspectives into history.


New insights into the culture, economics and politics of performance.


Understanding photographs as artistic, scientific, technological and social artefacts.

Visit the Curriculum tab for more information.


  • Alexandra Constantine_ The Promotional Material of Club 18-30 and Its Reflection of Youth Culture From 1966 to 1996.original.jpg

    The Promotional Material of Club 18-30 and Its Reflection of Youth Culture From 1966 to 1996

    Alexandra Constantine

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    Seventeenth Century Domestic Manual

    Hollie Jane Lloyd

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    Hoarding for Aashiq (2001) displayed outside the Alfred Talkies Cinema, Mumbai

    Gurnesha Bola

  • Katie_Irani. The only properly dressed troops in India_ an exploration of design intention and subaltern agency in First World War sepoy service uniforms.jpg

    ‘The only properly dressed troops in India’: an exploration of design intention and subaltern agency in First World War sepoy service uniforms

    Katie (Dean) Irani


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Dr Sarah Teasley

Head of Programme (RCA)

Sarah is a social historian who works at the interface of history and design research.

View full profile
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Dr James Ryan

Head of Programme (V&A)

Based in the Research Department of the V&A, James’ research interests lie in the historical and cultural geography of modernity.

View full profile
View more programme staff


The V&A/RCA History of Design MA is located primarily in Kensington, in RCA Kensington and the V&A, with teaching on other RCA campuses.

View all facilities

Students on the V&A/RCA History of Design MA programme have access to a dedicated library in the V&A as well as shared student spaces at the RCA.

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    V&A/RCA History of Design programme library in the V&A

  • Object handling at the V&A

    Students working with Spike Bucklow and V&A metalwork curators

  • Students working with Guido Beltramini on a Palladio workshop

    Students working with Guido Beltramini on a Palladio workshop

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    History of Design lecture

  • Library Kensington

    RCA Kensington Library

  • Artefact close inspection session, V&A Museum

    Artefact close inspection session, V&A Museum


More details on what you'll study.

Find out what you'll cover in this programme.


When applying for this programme, you select one of these specialist pathways.

The Design & Material Culture pathway generates new perspectives on large historical questions. We use artefact analysis – of services, interactions, policies, institutions and legal and technical systems, as well as physical objects and spaces – alongside more conventional historical methods.

Specialist areas for teaching and research include fashion and textile history, architecture, science and technology, the material culture of politics and the everyday, making/craft, practice-based history and global history through material culture.

Our tutors' research and teaching expertise range from the early modern to the contemporary, with particular area expertise in the UK/Europe, North and South America and Asia.

By engaging with a wide range of materials from the National Collection of Performing Arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum, on the Performance pathway you’ll explore how the material remains of performance inform our understanding of the performing arts, historically and today.

Jointly offered with the V&A's groundbreaking Theatre and Performance Department, the pathway will give you collections-based teaching with the world's most diverse collection of material documenting current practice and the history of performance.

We draw on curatorial, industry and academic expertise and experience to provide new insights into the culture, economics and politics of performance.

The Photography Pathway uses collections-based teaching with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) extensive photography collection to investigate photography as a set of material practices, processes and artefacts.

Jointly offered with the V&A Photography Centre, the pathway emphasises diverse methods for understanding photographs as variously artistic, scientific, technological and social artefacts, and for exploring historical and contemporary issues – including questions of global history and empire – through photography as material culture.

What you'll cover

V&A/RCA History of Design MA offers you groundbreaking tools and approaches for studying the history and material culture of design, performance and photography in everyday life, across a global geography from the fifteenth century to the present.

Units include:

  • HoD1 (Programme): Artefacts in Context 40 credits
  • HoD2 (Pathway): Research in Context 40 credits
  • HoD3 (Programme): History as Public Practice 40 credits
  • HoD4 (Pathway): Research Methods 20 credits
  • HoD5 (Programme): Independent Research Project (Dissertation) 60 credits
  • School of Arts & Humanities School Unit: 20 credits
  • College-wide Unit: 20 credits


What you need to know before you apply

Candidates are selected entirely on merit and applications are welcomed from all over the world. The selection process will consider creativity, imagination and innovation as demonstrated in your application, as well as your potential to benefit from the programme and to achieve high MA standards overall.

You should have a good first degree in an arts and humanities or an art, design, photography or performance practice background. If you have a different background, for example in the social sciences or professions, we encourage you to apply. We welcome applications from students of all ages, and view both prior academic and professional experience as valuable.

What's needed from you

Your portfolio is a showcase of your work as an artist or designer and can be made up of images, videos or writing examples. Your portfolio helps us to better understand your application and allows you to show evidence of your ability and motivation to undertake a given programme.

Generally, we’re looking for you to demonstrate your:

  • Creativity, imagination and innovation
  • Ability to articulate the intentions of the work
  • Intellectual engagement in areas relevant to the work
  • Technical skills appropriate to the work
  • Potential to benefit from the programme

Each programme is looking for different things in a portfolio. Each Head of Programme provides specific advice on portfolio requirements in the online application system. We advise you to consider these requirements carefully before submitting your application.

Visit our application portal to view more portfolio requirements

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic score of 6.5 with a 6.0 in the Test of Written English (TWE). Students achieving a grade of at least 6.0, with a grade of 5.5 in the Test of Written English, may be eligible to take the College’s English for Academic Purposes course to enable them to reach the required standard.

You are exempt from this requirement if you have received a 2.1 degree or above from a university in a majority English-speaking nation within the last two years.

If you need a Tier 4 visa to study at the RCA, you will also need to meet the Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance.

Find out more about English-language requirements

Fees & funding

For this programme

Fees for new students

You'll find tuition fees for 2019/20 entry below. These are likely to go up roughly in line with inflation for 2020/21 entry. Fees will be confirmed by 1 December 2019.

Home and EU
£14,500 total cost*
£34,000 total cost*


New entrants to the College for MA, MRes, MPhil and PhD degrees will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees for the first year of study.

Home and EU

* Total cost is based on the assumption that the programme is completed in the timeframe stated in the programme details. Additional study time may incur additional charges.



Scholarships are awarded for a specific programme and entry point and cannot be deferred without consent from the academic Programme and scholarships panel.

More information

External funding

There are many funding sources, with some students securing scholarships and others saving money from working. It is impossible to list all the potential funding sources; however, the following information could be useful.


Tuition fees are due on the first day of the academic year and students are sent an invoice prior to beginning their studies. Payments can be made in advance, on registration or in two instalments.

Start your application

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Change your life and be here in 2020

The Royal College of Art welcomes applicants from all over the world.

Before you begin

Make sure you've read and understood the entrance requirements
More information about entrance requirements
Check you have all the information you need to apply.
Read our application process guide
Visit our application portal to get started

Ask a question

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more or have any questions.

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