Research course

History of Design

Royal College of Art · School of Arts and Humanities

Entry requirements

Applicants must normally have obtained a good relevant undergraduate degree or an equivalent qualification.

Months of entry

January, December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February

Course content

The V&A/RCA History of Design programme is recognised internationally as the leading centre for postgraduate study in the history of design and material culture. Offered jointly by 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 fifteenth century to the contemporary, and draw on cognate areas such as geography, performance studies and design practice.

The MA offers three pathways for 2018: Design & Material Culture, Performance and Photography.

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 the everyday, 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 will 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 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, launching in 2018, will employ 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 Section, 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.

V&A/RCA History of Design embraces history that is public-facing, experimental and committed to scholarly excellence, as befits our location in the public museum and the art school. We see history as practice-based and bring a distinctly global outlook to historical questions, placing local histories in comparative context and tracing global networks through material culture.

The programme offers:

  • methodological and theoretical training in history through material culture, alongside specialist expertise in the history of design, performance and photography
  • a unique learning environment within RCA and V&A communities of expertis
  • collections-based teaching and research
  • opportunities for collaboration within the V&A and the RCA and externally
  • academic assignments alongside live public projects
  • exchanges in New York and Paris

Qualification and course duration


full time
36+ months

Course contact details