- 180 credits
- 1 (FT) / 2 (PT) year programme
- Full-time study with part-time option
School or Centre
- Applications closed. Please check back soon.
- RCA/V&A History of Design alumni are working successfully in a range of positions across universities, museums, cultural organisations, design firms and media outlets, as well as in independent practice.
Committed to practice-based, public-facing history.
Applications of the 2022 intake are now closed. To register for updates on applications for a 2023 start please complete an Enquiry to Study form.
The V&A/RCA MA History of Design draws on the exceptional resources and national and international networks of two world-leading centres of excellence for scholarship and creativity, the RCA and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). With a base at the RCA and dedicated programme rooms and library at the V&A, since its foundation in 1983 this pioneering programme has earned a world-wide reputation as the leading MA programme in the field. Our research-led teaching and experiential methods inspire and train future leaders in the field.
We see the history of design as interdisciplinary and future-facing. We offer ground-breaking tools and approaches for studying the history and material culture of design in everyday life, across a global geography from c. 1400 to the present. Our research and teaching ranges from the early modern to the contemporary, with particular expertise in the UK/Europe, North America and Asia, and in transnational and global connections. Our programme is strongly committed to inclusivity, decoloniality and social and environmental engagement.
We combine scholarly excellence with risk-taking to forge histories of design and material culture that are public-facing, and experimental, as befits our location in the public museum and the art school. We use artefact analysis – of physical objects, digital matter, and spaces as well as services, interactions, policies, institutions and legal and technical systems – to reshape historical narratives and ask ambitious and relevant questions. We draw on our strong and distinctive track record of employing a global outlook, whether this means placing local histories in comparative context or tracing global networks through material culture.
Visit 2022.rca.ac.uk to view graduate work by our students
Dr Sarah Cheang
Head of Programme
Sarah's research and teaching focuses on East Asian material culture, gender and the body, with a special interest in fashion exchanges between China and Britain, and on fashion, race and cultural expression.
Dr Marta Ajmar
Head of Programme (V&A)
Based in the Research Department of the V&A, Dr Marta Ajmar is Head of Programme (V&A) for the MA History of Design.
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.
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.
Our alumni form an international network of creative individuals who have shaped and continue to shape the world.
- Professor Chris Breward
- Dr Alison Clarke
- Emma Dent Coad MP
- Jacqueline Durran
- Professor Deborah Nadoolman
- Dr Susan Weber
More details on what you'll study.
Find out what you'll cover in this programme.
What you'll cover
How you'll learn
Students develop advanced knowledge, skills and approaches from the perspective of design history. Teaching is organised to support students in fostering their own self-directed intellectual journey and professional development and identity. The syllabus incorporates unique opportunities for active interactions, learning experiences and tangible outcomes across the Arts & Humanities as taught and experienced at the RCA and the V&A. In addition to more conventional historical methods, our students produce innovative understandings of the cultural, societal and economic impacts of design through engagements and exchanges with emerging practitioners from across the RCA and leading museum professionals within the V&A.
Programme structure: Full-time study
The programme is delivered across three terms and includes a combination of programme, School and College units.
The Artefacts in History unit develops your fundamental skills for undertaking historical research through artefact analysis, and your wider understanding of the purpose and significance of object-led research. It explores analysis of different object types using core theoretical approaches and archival/primary resources, and connects this to current debates and institutional frames for object-led research.
Across Terms 1 and 2, you will participate in AcrossRCA, the College-wide unit. See below for more details.
In the Research in the History of Design and Material Culture you will learn about approaches and methods for writing design histories, conceive an original and viable research project and locate it in relation to existing fields. You will explore how histories are written, engage with current debates and new directions in design history and material culture research, and produce your own dissertation research proposal, ready to move on to unit 3.
In term 2 all School of Arts & Humanities students will participate in the Urgency of the Arts, School-wide unit. Through this unit we ask: what does arts and humanities research and practice have to offer in our current socio-political climate? The unit introduces you to a diverse range of perspectives, approaches and practices relevant to contemporary practice and thought in the Arts & Humanities. The delivery is devised to help you identify and query your own practices and disciplinary assumptions through encounters with others and within the various practices you undertake in the School, and to raise awareness around contemporary concerns. You will be supported in understanding the ramifications of your own work and practice within a broad cultural context, and to recognise its many potentially unintended readings and consequences.
The Independent Research Project develops and extends your independent research practice, culminating in a dissertation as well as an oral presentation, research poster display andstatement of practice.
Programme structure: Part-time study
The programme is delivered across six terms and includes a combination of programme, School and College units.
The Artefacts in History: Doing Object-led History This unit develops your fundamental skills for undertaking historical research through artefact analysis, and your wider understanding of the purpose and significance of object-led research. In this term you'll explore analysis of different object types using core theoretical approaches and archival/primary resources.
In the unit Research in the History of Design and Material Culture you will learn about approaches and methods for writing design histories, conceive an original and viable research project and locate it in relation to existing fields. You will explore how histories are written, engage with current debates and new directions in design history and material culture research, and produce your own dissertation research proposal, ready to move on to the Independent Research Project.
The Independent Research Project develops and extends your independent research practice. In term 3, you conduct research and begin to draft a 12,000-word Dissertation, giving a work-in-progress oral presentation on one of your draft chapters. In term 6, you complete the Dissertation, participate in a Research Poster display and create a Statement of Practice.
Artefacts of History: Communities of Practice further develops your fundamental skills for undertaking historical research through artefact analysis, and your wider understanding of the purpose and significance of object-led research. This unit connects object analysis to current debates and institutional frames for object-led research.
You will participate in AcrossRCA, the College-wide unit. See below for more details.
In term 5 you will participate in the Urgency of the Arts, School-wide unit. Through this unit we ask: what does arts and humanities research and practice have to offer in our current socio-political climate? The unit introduces students to a diverse range of perspectives, approaches and practices relevant to contemporary practice and thought in the Arts & Humanities. The delivery is devised to help you identify and query your own practices and disciplinary assumptions through encounters with others and within the various practices undertaken by students in the School of Arts and Humanities, and to raise awareness around contemporary concerns. You will be supported in understanding the ramifications of your own work and practice within a broad cultural context, and to recognise its many potentially unintended readings and consequences.
In term 6, you complete the Dissertation for your Independent Research Project, participate in a Research Poster display and create a Statement of Practice.
Situated at the core of your RCA student experience, this ambitious interdisciplinary College- wide AcrossRCA unit supports how you respond to the challenges of complex, uncertain and changing physical and digital worlds by engaging you in a global creative network that draws on expertise within and beyond the institution. It provides an extraordinary opportunity for you to:
- make connections across disciplines
- think critically about your creative practice
- develop creative networks within and beyond the College
- generate innovative responses to complex problems
- reflect on how to propose ideas for positive change in local and/or global contexts.
AcrossRCA launches with a series of presentations from internationally acclaimed speakers that will encourage you to think beyond the discourses of art, architecture, communication, and design, and extend into other territories such as economics, ethics, science, engineering, medicine or astrophysics.
In interdisciplinary teams you will be challenged to use your intellect and imagination to respond to urgent contemporary themes, providing you with an opportunity to develop innovative and disruptive thinking, critically reflect on your responsibilities as a creative practitioner and demonstrate the contribution that the creative arts can make to our understanding and experience of the world. This engagement with interdisciplinary perspectives and practices is designed both to complement your disciplinary studies and provide you with a platform to thrive beyond graduation.
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
Please use the first two project spaces to supply two pieces of recent writing, for example an academic assignment, which displays your preparedness and appropriateness for the programme. You may also add any supporting material, such as images or video for example.
Here is what we would like to see in the writing you provide:
- Evidence that you are ready for the programme: that you have the intellectual, academic and professional skills and aptitude required to take full advantage of the opportunities for learning provided to students on the programme.
- Evidence of alignment with the programme direction: that your academic interests and professional direction will be supported by the programme.
Each piece of writing should be between 1,000 and 6,000 words. If you are not a recent graduate and feel that your academic writing assignments do not reflect your thinking and writing now, you are welcome to supply a new piece of writing, such as an exhibition review or book review.
Working from objects as historical evidence is a core part of our programme. We would like to get a sense of how you might do this: what do you think objects can tell us, and what kinds of other evidence would you look at, to get more information about an object.
Please imagine an object that was made before 1900. Tell us what the object is. Then, please tell us what you would like to find out about the object, and where you would look to find that information. This might include the object itself, as well as primary and secondary sources.
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) and at least 5.5 in other skills. 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 Student Visa to study at the RCA, you will also need to meet the Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance.
For this programme
Fees for new students
Fees for September 2023 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.
Overseas and EU (Full-time)
Overseas and EU (Full-time)
New entrants to the College will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees.
Overseas and EU
Fees for the part-time route will be confirmed shortly.
* 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.
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.