MA in Historical Research

View module information for this course.

Historical photograph

Teaching and learning changes for 2020-21

Due to the coronavirus pandemic we have made some changes to teaching and learning for some courses in the 2020-21 academic year.

Find out about teaching and learning changes

These pages will be updated regularly, so please check back for the latest information about your course.


The taught component of the MA is designed to develop your understanding of key historiographical and methodological approaches. You will take a core module, which examines the essential workings of your chosen area of expertise and develops your skills in using relevant sources.

Option modules allow you to undertake the technical training best suited to your research needs and study major historical themes in closer detail.

The dissertation provides you with the opportunity to further develop the skills and methods that you learn during your taught modules and to apply this historical knowledge to your independent investigation.

Tailor your degree

Our MA degrees are carefully designed to allow you to build a programme that suits your needs: supporting your progression to PhD research, as well as allowing you to aid your career development and expand your knowledge in your chosen area of history.

Choose full-time or part-time study. All of our degrees for you to study full-time over one year, or part-time over two years. 

Masters programme of study


You will take two core modules and one approaches module

Assessment: approaches modules will ask you to complete a 4000 word written assessment - worth 80% of your final mark - on a topic agreed with the tutor. To complement the blended learning approach planned for semester one, these modules will include a digital engagement mark - worth 20% - that ensures recognition of your engagement in the learning activities and environment for each module.

Core modules

Dissertation

60 credits, semesters 1 and 2

Provides you with the opportunity to further develop the skills and methods that you learn during your taught modules and to apply this historical knowledge to your investigation. You will work under the supervision of an expert member of staff to complete an original 15,000 word piece of independent research.

Research Presentation

15 credits, semester 2

Designed to equip you with the skills and experience that you need to present and communicate a defined historical research project to an academic audience. Assessment is by a presentation connected to your dissertation topic. 


Approaches modules 

Approaching the Middle Ages

30 credits, semester 1

Will provide you with a grounding in key themes and debates in current medieval research. Seminars will focus on historiographical developments and new methodological approaches to familiar problems. You will also be introduced to technical and methodological problems associated with the effective use and interpretation of pre-modern sources.

Early Modernities

30 credits, semester 1

Will focus on critical analysis of the many ways in which assumptions about 'pre-modern' and 'modern' cultures and societies have shaped historians' approaches to the early modern period. Seminars will focus on ideas of individuality and self-hood in the early modern period. You will also be introduced to technical and methodological problems associated with the effective use and interpretation of pre-modern sources.

Modernity & Power: Individuals & The State In The Modern World

30 credits, semester 1

Introduces you to the challenges of study modern history at an advanced level and the particular questions about perspective and interpretation that are raised. Seminars will focus on key themes and developments in recent historiography including an engagement with the use of interdisciplinary approaches.

Approaches to the American Past

30 credits, semester 1

Explores key themes in American history from the colonial period through to the modern era, introducing you to important debates and giving you an awareness of principal historiographical schools and the critical interrelationship between historical trends, events and scholarly interpretations of the past. Seminars will cover topics such as Native American history, consumption, gender, slavery, ethnicity, the Cold War and the New Left.

The World in Connection: Themes in Global History

30 credits, semester 1

Introduces you to some of the most important and innovative themes, debates and controversies relating to global history and its linked fields of imperial, international, transnational, transregional and world history. Seminars will focus on understanding of global forces, structures and processes that have shaped and reshaped our world, including empires, trade, technology, religion, decolonisation, migration, war, diplomacy, humanitarianism, disease and the environment.  

You will choose 75 credits of option modules

This 75 credit selection can include up to 30 credits from the guided list of non-history modules (see guided modules tab).

The information and modules listed below relate to the 2020-21 academic year. 

Please note that module availability may still change at this stage i.e. due to staff changes or student uptake at registration.


Semester one

Assessment: unless otherwise indicated, option modules will ask you to complete a 4000 word written assessment - worth 80% of your final mark - on a topic agreed with the tutor. To complement the blended learning approach planned for semester one, 30 credit modules will include a digital engagement mark - worth 20% - that ensures recognition of your engagement in the learning activities and environment for each module.

Credits: part-time students will normally take 15 credits of options in semester one. Full-time students will normally take 30. This ensures an even spread of taught credits.

For this reason, 15 credit versions of the 30 credit modules will be available to part-time students. Full-time students wishing to take Directed Reading, Palaeography or a 15 credit non-history module (including languages) will also be permitted to take a 15 credit version to allow an even spread of credits. Assessment: the 15 credit versions of these modules will ask you to complete a 2500 word essay worth 100% of your final mark. You will be expected to engage fully in the teaching, learning activities and environment for the module.

Students in this position who prefer to take the 30 credit version are able to do so with an awareness that it will mean an uneven spread of credits.

Doing Digital Humanities: Wikipedia & the Middle Ages

30 credits

This course explores the intersection between the study of the Middle Ages and the fast-growing field of Digital Humanities. As well as discussing critical and theoretical perspectives, the course gives you practical experience in what has been called the world’s biggest Digital Humanities project, Wikipedia, whose pages on medieval historical topics are read by many thousands of people every day, and which is at the heart of contemporary debates about the medieval.

Language and Society in Early Modern England

30 credits

This module investigates what words meant in early modern England – not merely to social and intellectual elites (though they are certainly part of the mix) but also ordinary men and women. In doing so, it encourages you to reflect on the implications of these meanings – and their changes and continuities over time – for social attitudes, relationships, and practices. Working at the intersection of social, literary and intellectual history, you’ll explore diverse primary material - including diaries, court records, and printed texts - as you delve into different techniques for analysing language and meaning.

Medical Humanity? Medicine and Identity

30 credits

Medicine is centrally concerned with human identity. Medical ideas, medical practices and medical professionals are fundamental to how humans in the twenty-first century think of themselves. Public health informs ideas of responsible citizenship, workplace initiatives on mental health promote mindfulness, assessments of ‘risk’ in psychiatry are highly racially charged. Modern sexuality is highly medical, and our very notions of what humans are has been shaped by disciplines as diverse as neuroscience and medical anthropology. Figures from history are routinely diagnosed with modern diseases, for a variety of ends, and health activism and consumerism has been part of political calculations for decades. This course will familiarize you with some of the major ways humans have been managed and modified in modern medicine.

Public History and Policy: Theory and Practice

30 credits

This module explores ways that the best findings of specialist, academic history can be used to engage a wide audience to influence its understanding of and views on policy. Seminars and readings employ case studies (from ancient to modern history and around the globe) and engagements with practitioners in order to glean insights about how and why historians have (more or less) successfully engaged with policy and policy makers.

The written assessment for this module invites you to write a policy paper (or similar piece aimed at non-specialists) on a topic selected in collaboration with the module leader.

Research Skills for Historians

30 credits

This module is designed to equip you with the research skills necessary for independent investigation and further study in History. You will discuss the changing nature of the historical discipline as it has adapted to interdisciplinary impulses, and the skills needed for a more refined analysis of both textual and visual primary sources. In Masterclasses taught by specialists, you will familiarise yourself with the possibilities associated with different types of primary sources (e.g. legal documents, press, oral history). Additional classes will help you work more effectively with library collections and develop subject-specific as well as generic IT skills (locating information in databases, using web-based resources, advanced bibliographical management).

Worlds of Labour: Working Class Lives in Colonial South Asia

30 credits

Together with the image of India as an emerging economic 'powerhouse', there is another image that receives a huge amount of international attention - that of over-crowded slums, pavement-dwellers, grinding poverty, filth and squalor. Behind such generalised depictions, though, lie rich and varied lives of working class Individuals. This module intends to examine these lives in some detail, and will situate them within a wide range of contexts (e.g. e.g. within mills, factories, plantations, the White Sahib's bungalow etc). In doing this, it will focus on the long nineteenth century – a period when urbanisation had gathered pace, and factories, mills and plantations became more numerous.

The United States and the Global Cold War

30 credits

For two decades, historians have extended the geographic boundaries of the Cold War, thrusting the Global South to the fore of a field usually focused on superpower rivalries. Yet while this scholarship has deliberately decentred the United States, it has also shed new light on American history, illuminating – among other things – the international legacy of the New Deal, the anti-colonial cosmopolitanism of civil rights activists, and the potent force of American soft power. Drawing on a rich recent historiography, this module explores the interplay between the domestic and the foreign in a global conflict.

Palaeography

15 credits

In this module, you are introduced to the different forms of law hand and secretary hand current in the early modern period, noting transitional styles and the emergence of italic script. A range of transcription conventions are also explained. For each session, you will be required to prepare transcriptions of a representative selection of manuscript materials.

The written assessment - worth 100% of the final mark - is a portfolio of transcriptions of three documents. The documents are chosen to test your command of a range of different hands. The submitted work is marked for accuracy of transcription, and also for the appropriateness and consistency of use of transcription conventions.

Directed Reading

15 credits. This module can only be taken once in semester one or two, and may depend on staff availability.

This module allows you to pursue individual study at an advanced level in the area in which you intend to specialise in future PhD research. It allows you the opportunity to work with a member of staff (usually your prospective PhD supervisor) in developing relevant skills or your familiarity with a particular body of material, historiography, or theoretical literature.

The written assessment - worth 100% of the final mark - will be 4000 words.

Directed Reading for Historical Language Skills

15 credits. Co-requisite: this module is only offered alongside language modules (see guided modules tab).

This module offers you the opportunity to work with a designated member of staff (subject to availability) to develop specific skills in a foreign (non-English) language linked to your ongoing or future research plans (e.g. your MA dissertation, doctoral research proposal, or your PhD research). By agreement with your tutor, you will read texts in the specified target language, which may include a mixture of primary and secondary texts, followed up by reflective discussion in tutorials.

The written assessment - worth 100% of the final mark - will be 3000 words.


Semester two

Assessment: unless otherwise indicated, option modules will ask you to complete a 3000 word written assessment worth 100% of your final mark - on a topic agreed with the tutor.

Burying the White Gods: Indigenous People in the Early Modern Colonial World

15 credits

Since the rise of postcolonialism, scholars have fought to reconstruct the complexity and significance of indigenous communities and to remove them from an imperial framework which casts them as passive victims of historical events. In the early American world, this greater sensitivity to indigenous agendas and actions has led increasingly to meetings between indigenous Americans and Europeans being explained in terms of encounter, negotiation and accommodation, rather than simple conquest. Focusing on Central and South America, - but also drawing on other imperial contexts, this module seeks to illuminate the places and perspectives of indigenous people in colonial history and historiography.

Church, Life, and Law in the Central Middle Ages

15 credits

This module introduces you to the key sources and concepts that underpinned medieval canon law, both the Decretum and its predecessors and successors, and their use – and abuse – by lawyers, popes, kings, clerics, and scholars during the period. Covering topics from marriage to politics, and using contemporary cases, treatises and manuscripts, this module asks how church law established itself, developed, and was employed at a time of change and ‘Reform’, and looks to the influence that that law exerted over Christian Europe.

Cold War Histories

15 credits

The module will explore the key approaches and debates that are redefining our understanding of the Cold War today, with a particular focus on themes for which the historiography is especially rich and highly developed: technology, weapons and the arms race; human rights revolution; propaganda and culture; debates on the endings of the legacy of the Cold War.

Directed Reading

15 credits. This module can only be taken once in semester one or two, and may depend on staff availability.

This module allows you to pursue individual study at an advanced level in the area in which you intend to specialise in future PhD research. It allows you the opportunity to work with a member of staff (usually your prospective PhD supervisor) in developing relevant skills or your familiarity with a particular body of material, historiography, or theoretical literature.

The written assessment - worth 100% of the final mark - will be 4000 words.

Debating Cultural Imperialism in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire

15 credits

The nineteenth-century British Empire was ruled through a complex colonial bureaucracy, violent conquest, and exploitative economic relationships. But, arguably the most controversial element of British colonialism was its cultural projects. Missionaries, humanitarians, educationalists and doctors all had their own aspirations for indigenous people and came bearing 'western' and ostensibly very different ways of understanding the mind and the body. This module will introduce you to debates around cultural imperialism in the nineteenth-century British Empire.

Imagining the Republic: Irish Republicanism, 1798-1998

15 credits

Irish republican politics are associated with violence. There is a long lineage of organisations that have waged armed campaigns against the British state in Ireland, from the United Irishmen of the 1790s to the Provisional Irish Republican Army of the modern 'Troubles'. While the violent, anti-state activism is Irish republicanism’s most obvious feature, this has obscured the nature of republican ideas in Ireland. What was distinctly 'Irish' or 'republican about Irish republicanism? How was the 'Republic' imagined? Which political languages did Irish republicans deploy to articulate their worldview? This module offers an intellectual history of Irish republicanism to examine various republican thinkers and organisations in context, and question the extent to which we can speak of a singular and unbroken 'tradition' of Irish republicanism across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

International Order in the Twentieth Century

15 credits

How should international relations be organised? This was a central question in the international history of the twentieth century. This module explores the ideas of international organisation that emerged, and how they were realised in practice in bodies like the League of Nations and the United Nations, as well as subaltern internationalist projects like the Afro-Asian and Non-Aligned movements. Why did governments and non-governmental actors create and participate in international organisations? What was the significance and impact of those organisations? And why should historians study these past internationalist projects today? Much of the most exciting recent work by international and global historians has grappled with these questions.

Media and Political Culture in Modern Britain

15 credits

This module explores the ways in which the media have shaped and reflected political culture in Britain since 1945. You will examine and assess the different political traditions of the press and the broadcast media which led to the former producing unapologetically partisan coverage and the latter striving for impartiality and balance. Themes to be studied include: political communication during general election campaigns; the reporting of industrial relations; the coverage of war and political violence; the increased scrutiny of the private lives of politicians; and the supposed decline of political reporting in favour of celebrity and entertainment content.

Microhistory and the History of Everyday Life

15 credits

The choice of scale is of fundamental importance in determining the kind of history that is produced. It influences the choice of source materials, the way these are handled, and the sorts of conclusions that can be reached. In this module we critically examine the theory, method and practice of two related historiographical approaches: microhistory and the history of everyday life, both of which emphasized the intensive study of the small scale and were influenced by anthropology. You will develop an appreciation of the theoretical issues and practical experience in applying this to their own research.

Presenting the Past: Making History Public

15 credits

The primary focus of this module is the interpretation and creation of 'public history'. The module will enable you to reflect on the issues involved in disseminating history outside academia and develop communication and presentation skills for audiences outside higher education. You will be required to analyse examples of public history and create an example of public history.

The assessment for this module has two elements worth 50% each. A group project, which takes the form of an example of public history, and an individual essay reflecting on the role of historical knowledge in non-academic environments, and situating your group work in the context of critical writing on public history.

Possible group work formats include: a webpage, a design for an exhibition, an historic house booklet, a script for a radio programme, a proposal for a TV series.

Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century

15 credits

The major conflicts of the twentieth century saw millions of servicemen taken prisoner. Many succumbed to ill-treatment and starvation and many others were held in captivity often for many years after hostilities were over. This module provides a methodological and contextual introduction to the topic by comparing the internal economic, political and social factors that determined the belligerent powers' treatment of prisoners, as well as reflecting on prisoners' experiences through memoir material. It will also draw on the cognate discipline of international law in examining the role of international conventions in protecting prisoners, both in Europe and the wider world.

Revolutionary England, 1640-1660: Politics, Culture and Society

15 credits

This module will introduce you to the study of English politics and society between 1640 and 1660. You will use primary and secondary sources in seminars to analyse both contemporary writings and historiographical debates on the causes and significance of the civil war, defined broadly to include not just formal political debate but also popular movements (including witch hunts, clubman associations and forms of economic and social protest) and other forms of intellectual creativity (astrology and natural science for example). The aim is to understand both the conflict, and the social and cultural values through which it was experienced and resolutions were sought. 

Sex and Power: The Politics of Women's Liberation in Modern Britain

15 credits

This module examines the integration of women and the evolving themes and demands of the women's movement in the political sphere in Britain from the heyday of the suffrage movement up to the reign of Britain's first female PM, Margaret Thatcher. We will focus on both women's wide-ranging attempts and their more limited achievements to gain entry into the political establishment, at the local, national and international levels. Topics will include women's suffrage agitation; the aftermath of suffrage; inter-war feminism; feminist internationalism; studies of women politicians; Second Wave Feminism; and gendered readings of British political history.

The Dawn of Modernity in the Late Middle Ages

15 credits

This module seeks to reassess the picture of the late Middle Ages as an age of crisis and decay to be replaced by the Renaissance and modernity. It aims to show how groups of innovative people invented a new world characterised by international capitalism, man-centred subjectivity and claims of communal participation, and why their new world(s) became the dominant framework of European history for the centuries to follow. The first modern European colonies in the near Atlantic Ocean were both a laboratory for, and a crucial step to, the successful establishment of a new world within and without Europe.

The Japanese Empire in East Asia, 1895-1945

15 credits

Between 1895 and 1945 Japan joined the ranks of imperial powers in East Asia, acquiring Taiwan, Korea, and ever greater portions of China. This module examines how the Japanese empire was built, run, and resisted. We will ask whether approaches to colonialism honed by historians of Western imperialism work in the Japanese context, and will consider too how Japan’s rapid modernisation, political development, and diplomatic and ideological engagement with rival great powers shaped its colonial policy. No prior knowledge of East Asian history is required to take the course.

The United States and the Global 1970s

15 credits

The 1970s were a time of crisis for the United States. At home, as the postwar economic boom ended, demands for women’s, black and gay equality coincided with social conservatism and free market ideologies. Abroad, in the wake of the Vietnam debacle, the United States faced new challenges to its global supremacy from a resurgent Soviet Union, rising powers, and the “Third World”. Was the 1970s a transformative decade? How did domestic and global events interact? We will address such questions and examine events which have shaped the contemporary United States and its relationship with the world.

Under Attack: The Home Front during the Cold War

15 credits

Competition and conflict between two the superpowers, the US and the USSR, not only defined the course of international relations across the globe, but also shaped key aspects of domestic life and popular culture. For the USA, USSR, and their near neighbours in Europe, it was a deferred conflict: direct military confrontation gave way to surrogate and covert warfare often far from home. With the long-awaited peace now seemingly secured, the rival political doctrines of the two blocs promised the world could be transformed, be that through the triumph of the ‘free world’ or of socialism. And yet with the escalation of the arms race and the proliferation of ever more deadly nuclear weapons, terrifying images of global and environmental devastation also shaped visions of the future. Excitement about the possibility of social and political transformation, and the export of these new visions to the rest of the world, co-existed with angst about the humankind’s new capacity for self-destruction.

Women and Slavery in the Antebellum American South

15 credits

The intersections of race, gender, and class rendered black women’s enslavement distinct, shaping their identities, their roles, and their relationships with other enslaved people and their enslavers, as well as the forms of exploitation they experienced as women, workers, and mothers. This module explores how historians have located, detailed, and conceptualised the lives of enslaved women; the methods and sources they have used; and the influences of black feminist theory on the history of enslaved women.

Work Placement

15 credits

This module aims to give you an insight into the day to day workings of a museum, school or research institute, in order to develop history-specific vocational skills and promote reflection on the issues involved in disseminating history outside academia. You will apply for a placement from those offered at the start of the academic year and then negotiate a role within that placement relevant to your area of study. Following a placement of approximately 100 hours with an employer, your written work will reflect on the work you undertook.

Please note this module will have an introductory session in semester one.

Writing Late Antique Lives

15 credits

Recent years have seen publication of several biographies examining the lives of prominent figures experiencing the end of the Roman empire. This attention to the individual is remarkable for a period usually studied from the perspective of large historical transformations. This module will explore the possibilities and challenges of life-writing as a form of late antique historiography. It will discuss methods to deal with fragmentary late antique sources and with the conventions of late antique biographical genres themselves. The module will also invite students to reflect on the potentially exclusionary nature of the biographical genre for the study of late antiquity.

Your 75 credit option module selection can include up to 30 credits from this guided module list.

Please note that teaching and assessment methods may vary for non-History modules.

Please note that module availability may still change at this stage i.e. due to staff changes or student uptake at registration. The owning department has final approval for acceptance onto their modules and, if space becomes limited, priority may be given to students registered in that department.

Archaeology modules

Heritage, Place and Community
15 credits, semester 2

Heritage, History and Identity
15 credits, semester 1

Roman Italy and its Hinterland
15 credits, semester TBC

Society and Culture in the Later Middle Ages
15 credits, semester 1

Digital Cultural Heritage: Theory and Practice
15 credits, semester 2

Archaeology in the Classical Mediterranean
15 credits, semester 2

Archaeology module information

English modules

Murderers and Degenerates: Contextualising the fin de siecle Gothic
30 credits, semester 2

Post-war British Theatre, Film and Television
30 credits, semester 2

Confession
30 credits, semester 2

Love, Death, and Destiny: The Ancient Novel
30 credits, semester 1

Renaissance Transformations
30 credits, semester 1

Mid-century Modernism
30 credits, semester 2

Reimagining the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
30 credits, semester 1

New African Cultures
30 credits, semester 2

Humans, Animals, Monsters & Machines: From Gulliver's Travels to King Kong
30 credits, semester 1

Early Modern Books
15 credits, semester 1

Romantic Gothic
30 credits, semester 1

Memory and Narrative in Contemporary Literature
30 credits, semester 2

'Tales of the City' - The Living Space in Contemporary American Fiction
30 credits, semester 1

English module information

Languages modules

Latin Beginners 1 & Enhanced Languages Project
15 credits, semester 1

Latin Beginners 2 & Enhanced Languages Project
15 credits, semester 2. Pre-requisite: you must have taken Latin Beginners above

Latin Post-Beginners 1 & Enhanced Languages Project
15 credits, semester 1. Pre-requisite: you must have a previous Latin qualification such as Beginners Latin 1 & 2

Latin Post-Beginners 2 & Enhanced Languages Project
15 credits, semester 2. Pre-requisite: you must have taken Latin Post-Beginners above

Students are permitted to take another language relevant to your research
15 credits. Co-requisite: Enhanced Languages Project

Languages module information


Teaching

The majority of our teaching comprises seminars and tutorials, with some lecture-style information sessions for modules such as the Dissertation.

We’ll still be using these formats in 2020-21, complemented by engagement with additional teaching resources and activities. For our interactive classes, we'll be using a combination of face-to-face and digital teaching, and you’ll have regular, timetabled sessions of each form.

Face-to-face sessions will take place in small groups, so that we can use our larger teaching rooms and still maintain social distancing. Digital sessions will be live and fully interactive via the University's online learning systems, where students can speak, use text and share video.

Our academic staff are available for tutorials, and other one-to-one meetings, and hold regular office hours. It may not be possible for these sessions to take place in person, but if not you’ll be able to make an audio or video call, which works well for this type of interaction.


The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it is up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research, funding changes, professional accreditation requirements, student or employer feedback, outcomes of reviews, and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

Information last updated: 5 September 2020


Explore all postgraduate courses

A masters from Sheffield means in-depth knowledge, advanced skills and the confidence to achieve your ambitions.