MA in Medieval Archaeology

Course director: Aleksandra McClain

At a glance

Study in the European heartland of medieval archaeology

Why choose this course?

The buildings, material culture and landscapes of York and the north of England offer unrivalled opportunities for the study and research of medieval archaeology. The Archaeology department in York was established as the first in the UK to specialise in medieval archaeology, and that legacy is evident today in the department’s concentration of medieval archaeologists. Their specialisms cover the entire medieval period, from the post-Roman era to early modern times. 

  • Study in the heartland of medieval archaeology in Europe
  • Learn from leading archaeologists, specialising in every aspect of the Middle Ages
  • Immerse yourself in the medieval community at the Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Gain volunteering and work experience in the heritage sector
  • Access state-of-the-art facilities, including laboratories, archives and libraries
  • Use the latest techniques and equipment to build key practical skills
  • Receive careers advice from knowledgeable staff with valuable contacts in the academic and heritage sectors 

What does the course cover?

The course focuses on the artefacts, landscapes, buildings and social, cultural and environmental contexts of medieval Britain and Western Europe. It covers the period from the end of the Roman Empire to the Reformation, and explores themes such settlement, trade and economy, religion, buildings and artefacts, social structure, ethnicity and identity, conquest and cultural contact, and methodological and theoretical approaches.

The flexible modular structure of the course means you can tailor your MA to suit your interests and goals. There is an opportunity to learn valuable practical skills, which are essential for a wide range of archaeological and associated careers.

Who is it for?

This degree is for anyone interested in studying the medieval period from a material perspective. It is primarily for students with previous experience in archaeology, history, art history or anthropology, but our students do come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds.

What can it lead to?

The course provides a solid foundation for a wide range of careers and further studies. Our students have gone on to research degrees, academic or teaching careers, museum positions and archaeology posts at local councils, regional authorities, field units, and heritage bodies such as English Heritage and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. You can find out more about what our students have gone on to do in the alumni section.

“My MA year widened my view of the field of archaeology and prepared me with skills useful in archaeology as well as other heritage fields.”

Heather Garside (2010), Historic Site Manager and Curator, Passaic County Historical Society

“I had a brilliant experience during my MA, and the knowledge and support I have received has made it one of the best achievements of my life!”

Emma “Bruni” Boast (2012), Owner and Manager, Nidavellnir

Course content

Examine every facet of medieval material culture

This one-year MA course is taught through a combination of lectures, seminars and field work. You will study two core modules, two optional modules and four shorter skills modules of your choice. Finally, you will hone your research skills by producing a dissertation and presenting an assessed lecture on your chosen topic.

AUTUMN AND SPRING TERMS

During the autumn and spring terms, you will study two core modules, each worth 20 credits. These are:

The Vikings***
Understand the impact of Scandinavian activity in the early medieval world. Explore new facets of the Viking Age through artefacts, buildings, landscapes and environmental remains. Consider diverse sources of evidence, and the challenges of interdisciplinary research. Engage with key debates in Viking studies using leading-edge methodologies and theories.

***For the 2016-17 year, due to staff research leave, 'The Vikings' will be replaced by the module Excavating early England, led by Prof Martin Carver, focusing on exploring various facets of Anglo-Saxon England through evidence generated in the field.

Medieval settlement and communities
Investigate the inhabitation of medieval England; the places in which medieval communities lived, worked, played and worshipped. Understand the settlements, landscapes, buildings and artefacts of the later medieval period, and how they shaped social structures and everyday life. Explore the relationships between medieval people and things, and learn to think critically about identity, status, belief and power in medieval life.

You will study two further 20-credit modules and four shorter 'skills' modules from this table

We always try to give everyone their first choice of modules, although this cannot be guaranteed. Some skills modules required by particular programmes may be over-subscribed. Take a look at the full modules list for scheduling information, as some modules run concurrently.

 

SUMMER TERM

In your final term of study, you will carry out research for your dissertation and give an assessed lecture on your dissertation topic.

Some examples of past dissertation topics include:

  • Sites of kingship and their meanings in early medieval Ireland
  • An exploration of the landscape of Hadrian’s Wall in the post-Roman period
  • The effects of the Reformation on brass commemoration
  • An analysis and reinterpretation of settlement sites in the Crusader kingdoms
  • An archaeological assessment of the Danelaw boundary and its landscape
  • The creation of new typologies and interpretations of Cistercian metalwork
  • A theoretical assessment of Anglo-Saxon female saints’ cults
  • An analysis of the osteological material from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery

This programme is also available for study as a Postgraduate Diploma or Certificate in Medieval Archaeology.

“The Medieval Archaeology course at York provided me with countless opportunities and experiences, both inside and outside the classroom.”

Heather Garside (2010), Historic Site Manager and Curator, Passaic County Historical Society

“I am extremely happy with my degree and the options that it has given me, since now I will not only be leading crew in the field, but also co-authoring reports.”

Jose Vilahomat (2012), Field Officer, Flat Earth Archaeology LLC

 

Staff

One of the UK’s greatest concentrations of medieval archaeologists

Teaching for this course is conducted in small groups by experienced and respected academics who specialise in every aspect of medieval archaeology. Seminars feature student-focused discussion, while practical training is used to teach critical skills.

Dr Aleks McClain (Course Director) and Dr Steve Ashby provide the principal teaching, guidance and leadership for this course:

  • Aleks specialises in the archaeology of churches and commemoration and the archaeology of late-Saxon and Norman England. Her wider interests include buildings and material culture in landscape contexts and social and cultural transitions.
  • Steve specialises in artefacts and small finds, with a particular interest in the Viking Age in Scotland, England and Scandinavia. He is interested in the use of dress accessories in constructing identity, and the biographies of artefacts.

Additional teaching and support is provided by other specialists with medieval interests who lead various optional modules on the course. These include Dr Jonathan Finch, Dr Kate Giles, Prof. Julian Richards, Steve Roskams, Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Dr Michelle Alexander.

“The Medieval Archaeology MA provided me with an excellent grounding in the archaeology and history of Europe c. 500-1500, and was instrumental in my decision to pursue a PhD.”

Rob Collins (2001), Finds Liaison Officer for North East England, Portable Antiquities Scheme

Careers

Preparation for diverse archaeological careers and study

The MA in Medieval Archaeology enables you to: 

  • study a broad range of issues in medieval archaeology at a general level
  • explore selected topics in detail, which may be drawn from both the early and later medieval periods
  • relate general research principles and skills to your studies of medieval archaeology in particular
  • develop an ability to gather and organise information and arguments in a critical and independent manner
  • undertake a piece of independent research on a topic within the field of medieval archaeology
  • develop written communication skills through essays and your dissertation
  • develop presentation skills through the delivery of seminar papers and a short lecture on your dissertation topic 

The skills and knowledge gained on the course are applicable to wide range of archaeological careers, as well as further study and research.

Course postgraduates have gone on to pursue research degrees, academic or teaching careers, museum positions and archaeology posts at local councils, regional authorities, field units and heritage bodies. Some of the organisations our students now work for include:

Find out what some of our alumni have said about the course and how it improved their career prospects.

“Since finishing my MA, I have had so many wonderful opportunities within the heritage industry, which have been based on the strong archaeological foundations I gained at York.”

Emma “Bruni” Boast (2012), Owner and Manager, Nidavellnir

Alumni

Where next? A word from our alumni

Alumni of the MA in Medieval Archaeology have gone on to further studies and into varied careers in archaeology and a range of associated fields.

Here’s what some recent graduates had to say about the course:

Emma “Bruni” Boast (2012), currently Owner and Manager of Nidavellnir, a small business based in York, which creates Viking period clothing and knitted items such as hats, socks and gloves made from the Viking craft of nalbinding:

Emma Boast

“Since finishing my MA, I have had so many wonderful opportunities within the heritage industry, which have been based on the strong archaeological foundations I gained at York. It has enabled me to develop the confidence to start my own business, as well as implement Viking Age projects with leading individuals in the field, both locally and internationally. I still stay in touch with fellow students, as well as lecturers at King’s Manor and look forward to pursuing a PhD with the department in the near future. I had a brilliant experience during my MA, and the knowledge and support I have received has made it one of the best achievements of my life!”

Jose Vilahomat (2012), currently Field Officer, Flat Earth Archaeology LLC, Arkansas, US:

Jose Vilahomat

“Since graduating from the MA, I have been working with Flat Earth Archaeology in my home state of Arkansas, a professional unit doing survey in advance of major building and infrastructure projects. This is a small but growing company and now I have a great permanent job where I find amazing sites every day, and where my Masters has given me the opportunity to succeed and even get a promotion. Needless to say, I am extremely happy with my degree and the options that it has given me, since now I will not only be leading crew in the field, but also co-authoring reports with the PI.”

Heather Garside (2010), currently Historic Site Manager and Curator, Passaic County Historical Society, NJ, USA:

Heather Garside

“The Medieval Archaeology course at York provided me with countless opportunities and experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. The connections and friendships I made with my fellow students, including some students pursuing other degrees, exposed me to new and different ideas. My MA year widened my view of the field of archaeology and prepared me with skills useful in archaeology as well as other heritage fields. Today, I find myself referencing information and experiences I had at York in my position as a historic site manager and curator.”

Rob Collins (2001), currently Finds Liaison Officer for North East England, Portable Antiquities Scheme:

Rob Collins

“The Medieval Archaeology MA provided me with an excellent grounding in the archaeology and history of Europe c. 500-1500, and was instrumental in my decision to pursue a PhD. I’ve been able to apply the skills and knowledge gained during my time at York in working for the Portable Antiquities Scheme and as a Research Associate at Newcastle University.”

Entry

How to apply

To apply for this course, you will need:

  • A good honours degree (upper second or first class) in a relevant subject, or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution. Relevant subjects include archaeology, anthropology, Classics, history, art history, geography and medieval/Renaissance studies. From North American universities, we generally ask for a GPA of 3.2 or higher. If you are uncertain whether your first degree is appropriate, please contact the Course Director for more information. 

If you don’t have conventional qualifications, but do have appropriate, relevant experience, you are encouraged to apply. We carefully consider each application on its merits. 

apply now button

First, check our How to apply page, which explains what information the Department needs from you.

 

Course director Aleksandra McClain

“Nowhere else will you find such a wealth and depth of expertise in medieval archaeology. There is simply no better place than York to study medieval material culture, and our course takes full advantage of the region’s abundant artefacts, buildings, landscapes and institutions.”

Dr Aleksandra McClain