Study at the World's number one ranked art and design university for five consecutive years (2015-2019) in the QS World University Subject Rankings.

About the Programme

The V&A/RCA History of Design programme is internationally recognised as the leading centre for the postgraduate study of the history of design and material culture. As jointly offered by two world-leading centres for scholarship and creativity, the RCA and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), we teach and research cultural, social, economic, political and technological history through artefacts and our interactions with them. Projects and expertise range across global geographies, from the early fifteenth century to the present day.

For 2018/9, we are offering three pathways within the MA: design and material culture; performance and photography.

V&A/RCA History of Design is based on the principle that researching, analysing and communicating history through artefacts is a practice-based discipline and can play an important public role. We embrace the history that is public-facing, experimental and committed to scholarly excellence, as befits our location in the public museum and the art school. We bring a distinctly global outlook to historical questions, whether this means placing local histories in comparative context or tracing global networks through material culture.

The Design and Material Culture pathway uses artefact analysis – of services, interactions, policies, institutions and legal and technical systems as well as physical objects and spaces – alongside more conventional historical methods to generate new perspectives on large historical questions. Specialist areas of teaching and research include fashion and textile history, architecture, science and technology, the material culture of politics and every day, making/craft, practice-based history and global history through material culture. 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, students on the Performance pathway explores 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 offers collections-based teaching with the world’s most diverse collection of material documenting current practice and the history of performance. It draws on curatorial, industry and academic expertise and experience to provide new insights into the culture, economics and politics of performance.

The Photography pathway will employs collections-based teaching with the V&A’s extensive photography collection to consider photography as a set of material practices, processes and artefacts. Jointly offered with the V&A Photography Department, the pathway will emphasise 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.

Some History of Design graduates continue to teaching and research careers in universities worldwide; recent graduates have gone on to doctoral study at the University of Cambridge, the University of Warwick, the University of Paris Sorbonne and Aalto University in Finland. Others work as curators in museums, galleries and special collections including the Design Museum, the Houses of Parliament and M+ (Hong Kong), in cultural policy and administration, in design practice and management at design firms and as writers, journalists and researchers.

The programme will be co-located with dedicated study and teaching space in the RCA's newest facilities in White City and in the V&A. Journey time between the two sites is c. 30 minutes. Students also make use of facilities and learning spaces across the RCA's Kensington and Battersea sites.

The programme offers

  • Tutors, visiting lecturers and guests at the forefront of their fields internationally
  • Training in the history of design and material culture methods and perspectives for research, argumentation and communication, including methods from cognate fields such as anthropology, the history of technology, performance studies and design practice.
  • A core, high-level methodological and theoretical training in history through material culture combined with subject specialist expertise in the history of design and the history of performance.
  • A unique learning environment within the RCA and the V&A, offering associations with V&A curators and other museum-based researchers and with the community of designers, artists, architects, writers and thinkers across the RCA
  • Access to the unrivalled collections of the V&A, and to design and making facilities at the RCA
  • Opportunities for collaboration and projects within the V&A and the RCA, and with external partners
  • A teaching structure that incorporates seminars, workshops, lectures and individual tutorials for independent work
  • Assignments that combine traditional historical writing and live, self-directed public projects
  • Dedicated space for study, writing and projects at both the RCA and V&A
  • Flagship research seminar series with opportunities for students to participate in organisation
  • An international network of academic partners including the Bard Graduate Center, New York and the University of Paris VII Diderot.
  • A vibrant and international alumni network of universities, museums and design organisations worldwide

MA Entrance Requirements

Candidates for all MA programmes are assessed on their existing qualities as demonstrated in their work and in their interview, as well as on their potential to benefit from the programme and to achieve MA standards overall. The assessment will consider creativity, imagination and innovation evident in the work; ability to articulate the intentions of the work; intellectual engagement in relevant areas; appropriate technical skills; overall interview performance, including the oral use of English.

Students should have a good undergraduate degree in an arts or humanities subject. Students with a strong degree in other undergraduate fields will also be considered if the student can demonstrate their suitability to the study of the history of design at application and interview. We encourage the diversity that different academic backgrounds can bring to the programme. Students with a background in art or design practice are also encouraged to apply. We welcome applications from students of all ages and view both prior academic and professional experience as valuable.

Most RCA courses request portfolios as part of the application process, however, we do not need a portfolio as such in History of Design. We ask that applicants send us a sample of academic writing, for example, an essay from your previous studies or chapter of your undergraduate dissertation. This can be attached to the online application form and does not have to be on a design history subject.

If you are interested in the material cultures of performance specialism, please indicate this on your application.

We welcome informal enquiries from anyone interested in the History of Design programme. Students can find out more about the programme at Open Days or by contacting the administrator via

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Last updated March 12, 2019
This course is Campus based
Start Date
15 months
14,500 GBP
Tuition fees in 2018/19 are: UK/EU: £14,500; Overseas: £34,000
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