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Aditi Khare, Resist printed cotton quilt


A unique learning environment

Key details

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

School or Centre

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, environments 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. Our tutors' research and teaching expertise range from the early modern to the contemporary, with particular area expertise in the UK/Europe, North America and Asia, and in transnational and global connections. As a programme we are committed to inclusivity, decoloniality and social engagement.

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.

Explore further

Visit 2020.rca.ac.uk to view graduate work from the class of 2020

Catch the replays from our March 2021 Virtual Day.


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.



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.

  • History of Design Programme Library, V&A

    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

  • History of Design lecture

    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 ground-breaking 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:

  • Research in Context, comprising: Theory, Skills and Methods; and two different option courses (choices during academic year 2020-21 focused on: the 18th century country house; design in the Anthropocene; design and the pluriverse; experiences of the city; photography and material culture; and theatre and performance and material culture).
  • Artefacts in Context, comprising: Theory, Skills and Methods; Introduction to the V&A collections, and one option course (choices during academic year 2020-21 focused on: global bodies and decolonial fashion; the material culture of knowledge; and material histories of Asia)
  • History as Public Practice, comprising: The Project Portfolio, and Professional Development
  • Research methods
  • Independent Research Project (the dissertation)
  • The V&A/RCA History of Design MA programme is made up of the above Units provided by the programme (200 credits), plus the School of Arts and Humanities Unit (20 credits), and the College Unit (20 credits).

As mentioned at the Open day on 6 March 2021,  a number of collections from the V&A’s Departments of Asia; Furniture, Textiles and Fashion; Theatre and Performance; and Word and Image (the Archive of Art and Design) will be unavailable for consultation from 2020-2023 as they are moved  from the V&A’s stores at Blythe House in Olympia to a new purpose-built Collections and Research Centre in Stratford's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.  The V&A’s institutional Archive is being moved to V&A’s South Kensington site and will remain available for consultation. In addition, as part of this project, thousands of objects currently stored at Blythe House are being digitised and are accessible online via V&A’s new search facility Explore the Collections. The MA History of Design programme will also be able to access collections already housed at South Kensington. V&A Senior Curator in Theatre and Performance, Simon Sladen, who leads the History of Design’s Performance Pathway, has put together a special teaching collection for the MA Programme, which will be stored at South Kensington.


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

For your application portfolio to the V&A/RCA MA History of Design please supply two pieces of recent writing, for example an academic assignment, which displays your preparedness and appropriateness for the programme.

Here is what we would like to see in the writing you provide:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 1000 and 6000 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.

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 Student 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

Fees for September 2021 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.

£14,850 total cost*
Channel Islands and Isle of Man
£17,425 total cost*
Overseas and EU
£34,850 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.

Overseas 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

RCA students at work (photo: Richard Haughton)

Change your life and be here in 2021

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 applications portal to get started

Ask a question

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

Email us at
[email protected]
RCA Kensington cafe