Taught course

Naval History (Distance Learning)

University of Portsmouth · School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature

Entry requirements

A good honours degree or equivalent in History or a related subject, or equivalent professional experience in a relevant field such as heritage or the navy and armed forces. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Months of entry


Course content

Why take this course?

What was the Royal Navy’s role in British history, and that of its empire? Why did Nelson become such a hero and how was he depicted? Through unique collaborations with the National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Warrior, this programme explores these questions in the context of 400 years of naval history. You will examine the importance of the Royal Navy to British and global history, while engaging with the life of the ordinary sailor in peace and war, the cult of the naval hero, and the navy – and its sailors – in popular culture. To do so, you will draw on a range of naval experts, curators, and primary sources, including the rich collections of Portsmouth’s naval museums. The flexible distance format allows you to learn from leading naval experts as well as the latest scholarship and debates in the field.

What will I experience?

On this course you will:

  • Access the rich archives and expertise of the National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Warrior to support your study.
  • Undertake study through flexible distance learning techniques, with the option to blend this with study days in Portsmouth.
  • Take advantage of unique connections with both Portsmouth and international maritime museums, with opportunities to go on field trips and experience behind the scenes tours.
  • Train in historical research and the interpretation of multi-archive sources.


This course is an excellent opportunity for students with an interest in British and Naval History to learn from experts in the field and develop a real grounding in this subject area. Offering specific real-life learning experience working with archives and museums, this course offers you the opportunity to develop key transferable skills, such as independent learning, written communication, textual analysis and time management. This course also assists you with refining key research skills appropriate for progression to PhD level research.

Possible career opportunities include:

  • Journalism
  • Law
  • Teaching
  • Administration
  • Archive and museum work

Module Details

You will study the following core units:

  • The Wooden Walls – The Royal Navy under Sail, 1509-1815
    The navy changed immensely from that of Henry VIII, and his Mary Rose, to that of Nelson and Victory. Britain went from being a second rate European power to the sole world superpower by 1815. This module explores the changes which both navy and nation experienced in the early modern period. To do so, it looks at key events, including battles such as the Armada and Trafalgar, but also assesses how the navy was supplied and manned, and how the experience of the sailor changed in this period. Using the collections of the museums on the University’s doorstep, as well as the historic ships in Portsmouth, the course will look to understand what it was like to serve aboard a wooden sailing ship, and how the navy, and its heroes and ordinary sailors, were portrayed to the nation at large.
  • Rise and Fall – Naval Hegemony and Decline, 1815-1960
    Emerging from the Napoleonic Wars as the dominant naval power, the Royal Navy assumed a role of imperial protector and global policeman. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, Britain began to be challenged globally, and found itself at war twice in the twentieth century. The rise of the USA, and the decline of its empire meant that, although victorious in both World Wars, Britain’s global power had disappeared soon after 1945. This module looks to understand how the navy fits into these wider trends, and the role it played in both peace and war. Using the collections of the naval museums, and those historic ships on our doorstep, including the first British ironclad, HMS Warrior, the course also looks at how technological change influenced its role, and how it changed the lives of those aboard.

Programme Assessment

The course can be studied entirely by distance learning through access to high quality interactive resources online, including unique primary sources, secondary literature, and video clips of world renowned experts. Dr Steven Gray, Lecturer in the History of the Royal Navy, will also be on hand to guide you through the course, as well as provide regular feedback and opportunities to discuss your work. Students will also be welcome to join optional campus based elements in Portsmouth, which will allow students to meet others on the course, participate in seminars, and access the resources, archives, historical artefacts and expertise of the naval museums in Portsmouth. There will also be optional field trips further afield, including abroad, that will further students’ understanding of the Royal Navy, and its role in the world. The MA is taught by university specialists in naval history, alongside staff from the National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Warrior, expertise, archives and galleries will offered to students at an unprecedented level. This flexible programme of delivery enables participation from students all over the UK and beyond.

The course offers opportunities for regular informal feedback on assignments based on each block’s topics, which will include using primary documents, objects, and artworks to explore key questions. Formal assessment will comprise essays, document analysis, and book reviews. Students will be able to utilise the university’s unique access to the collections of Britain’s premier Naval Museum and HMS Warrior in order to complete these assessments. The course also requires a 15,000 word dissertation based on original research, offering students opportunity to explore firsthand the history of the Royal Navy.

Student Destinations

The degree will embed a range of highly desirable transferable skills such a communication, research and writing skills. In addition, the MA affords the student the opportunity to gain invaluable employability skills through internships arranged with the NMRN. Students who hold an MA in Naval History will be equipped for a variety of occupations such as teaching, the civil services, the armed forces, research for strategic studies bodies, and more general post-graduate employment. The MA also provides an ideal foundation for those who would like to embark on a PhD in naval history.

Fees and funding

UK students
Distance learning full time: £4,500 Distance learning part time: £2,250 p/a * *Tuition fee is subject to annual increase.
International students
Distance learning full time: £4,500 Distance learning part time: £2,250 p/a * *Tuition fee is subject to annual increase.

Qualification and course duration


distance learning
12/24 months

Course contact details

Admissions Team
023 9284 5566