MA in the Archaeology of Buildings

Course Director: Dr Kate Giles


At a glance

Highly respected qualification in buildings archaeology

Why choose this course?

Established more than 15 years ago, this course is one of the longest-established and most respected buildings archaeology and buildings history programmes in the UK. It brings together experts in buildings survey and recording, archive research, legislation and policy, conservation, theoretical interpretation and computer modelling to deliver a dynamic course, which will equip you with the specialist skills and knowledge required for a career in researching, managing and conserving historic buildings.

  • Learn the specialised skills required for researching, analysing and recording historic buildings.
  • Gain experience in rectified photography, photogrammetry and other 3D recording methods, CAD drawing and computer modelling of historic buildings.
  • Develop the knowledge and skills essential for careers in the architectural and archaeological sectors.
  • Study in the cultural heritage capital of the UK – experience buildings archaeology in action.
  • Access state-of-the-art facilities, including survey support, archives and libraries.
  • Receive careers advice from staff with significant experience of recruiting within the sector.

York is one of the best places to study Archaeology, Heritage or Conservation. The Department has an excellent reputation and is one of the largest Archaeology teaching centres in the UK. The historic City of York is rich in architectural and archaeological treasures and resources which you will have easy access to during your studies. 

To find out more see: Why study post-graduate Archaeology in York?

What does the course cover?

The MA in the Archaeology of Buildings is designed to train students in the systematic research, recording, analysis and interpretation of historic buildings.

Through a combination of academic studies, practical training and research projects, the course will:

  • introduce the specialised skills required for the historical research, visual analysis and archaeological recording of buildings.
  • give you a foundational knowledge of the history of architecture in the UK, from c.1000 to the present day.
  • introduce you to current intellectual and professional research priorities in the archaeology of buildings.
  • introduce you to conservation legislation, policy and practice.
  • enable you to develop excellent research and communication skills relating to the research, analysis and interpretation of historic buildings.

Who is it for?

This course is suitable for students of Archaeology, History of Art, Architectural History and related subjects, as well as for mid-career professionals seeking to develop or enhance their professional specialism in buildings archaeology.

What can it lead to?

The discipline of buildings archaeology has grown in confidence, with new theoretical and methodological developments allowing archaeologists to record, date, model and present research in exciting new ways. There is significant demand for buildings archaeology professionals in the commercial sector and in national and local heritage organisations.

Course alumni have successfully launched careers in key roles with organisations across the heritage sector, including English Heritage, National Trust, Historic Scotland and Historic Royal Palaces, as well as with local authorities and conservation bodies, conservation architects, archaeological units and commercial developers. Find out what our alumni have to say about the course.

Former MA students have said...

My MA year was one of the most memorable. Not only did I develop a range of skills that have enabled me to confidently pursue a career in archaeology, but I also made friends for life.”

Charlotte Newman, Curator of Archaeology London and East (National Collections) English Heritage


Specialist training tailored to your interests and aspirations

This one-year MA course is taught via a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials. You will study two core modules, two optional modules and four shorter skills modules of your choice.  Finally, in the summer term you will hone your research and presentation skills by producing a dissertation and giving an assessed lecture.


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

Analysing historic buildings

Understand the archaeology of buildings within the context of heritage and conservation practice. Learn the specialised skills required for the archaeological recording and analysis of historic buildings, and learn to how to visually analyse buildings and assess their significance.  

Interpreting historic buildings

Learn the specialised skills required to discern the historical function and meaning of historic building types, and develop a critical understanding of the ways different building types can be interpreted. Combine knowledge of the archaeology of buildings with other areas of archaeological and historical understanding.

You will study two further 20-credit modules and four shorter 'skills' modules. 

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.                         


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

Former MA students have said...

“The MA at York gave me a great deal of freedom to pursue my own interests but also provided extensive support to develop the skills and knowledge I needed.”

Matt Jenkins, MA Archaeology of Buildings 2009 and PhD, 2013


Experience buildings archaeology at work

Work placements provide a valuable opportunity to gain practical experience of working in the professional buildings sector. Your placement will draw on and contribute to the knowledge and experience you have gained on your taught courses, while enabling you to develop new insights, understanding and expertise in buildings archaeology that will be extremely valuable in future employment.


  • To provide students with experience of buildings archaeology in a professional working environment.
  • To consolidate students’ knowledge and understanding of buildings archaeology procedures and issues gained from the taught modules.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing these placements you should have:

  • gained experience and knowledge of how building recording and research inform conservation and heritage practice, under the guidance of experienced professionals.
  •  developed experience in practical applications, facilitating critical reflection on the theoretical and philosophical issues raised in both core modules.

Placement providers

Although the organisations offering placements change from year to year, according to availability, the following list is a good indication of the choices likely to be available:

  • English Heritage
  • National Trust
  • Council for British Archaeology
  • York Civic Trust
  • West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
  • The Churches Conservation Trust
  • Purcell Architects
  • Quercus Design
  • City of York Council
  • Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
  • York Archaeological Trust
  • Cathedral and Church Buildings Division 

Take a look at Buildings Archaeology students putting their experience into practice on a landmark survey and conservation project at York Minster (YouTube video).


Support from world leaders in buildings archaeology

On this course you will benefit from a well-established departmental research community who are in the vanguard of theoretical and methodological developments in buildings archaeology. Departmental teaching is supplemented by lectures and seminars from visiting archaeology practitioners, as well as extra-curricular seminars by guest speakers. The following staff with expertise in the archaeology of historic buildings provide leadership, guidance and support for this course:

Dr Kate Giles

Director of Studies, MA in the Archaeology of Buildings. Senior Lecturer and York Minster Archaeology Research Fellow. Kate is a buildings archaeologist, specialising in the recording and theoretical interpretation of historic buildings.

Dr Gill Chitty

Director of Centre for Conservation Studies. Gill’s research interests include the evolution of heritage protection policy and its interaction with environmental conservation and sustainability policies. Gill was appointed to York in 2011, following a career that included roles with English Heritage, local authorities, the Council for British Archaeology (where she was Director of Conservation) and in consultancy.

Dr John Schofield

Head of Department of Archaeology and Director of the Cultural Heritage Management MA programme. Prior to his appointment in 2010, John worked for English Heritage for 21 years, in heritage protection and landscape characterisation.

Dr Anthony Masinton

Christianity and Culture Research Fellow. Anthony specialises in buildings survey, CAD and 3D modelling, with research interests in a range of building types, particularly medieval churches.

Dr Aleks McClain

Lecturer. Aleks specialises in the archaeology of churches and the buildings of late-Saxon and Norman England. Particular interests include medieval buildings within their wider landscape contexts.

Sophie Norton

Hamlyn Feilden Fellow and Regional Heritage Skills Coordinator. Sophie’s research interests include traditional craft skills and training.

Dr Jane Grenville

Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Senior Lecturer. Jane set up the course 15 years ago. Her interests are wide ranging, but focus particularly on buildings of the medieval period and archaeological contributions to the conservation process.


“As course director, it is very rewarding for me to be able to support students in developing a specialism in buildings archaeology and to help them progress to a wide range of careers in the profession and academia. The level of encouragement, excitement and support that both full- and part-time buildings archaeologists offer to each other is another of the benefits of the York experience; a camaraderie that extends beyond the course and into their professional lives as successful York alumni.”

Dr Kate Giles, Director of Studies, MA Archaeology of Buildings


Careers in managing and conserving historic buildings

The MA in the Archaeology of Buildings offers practical skills and research training that provide excellent preparation for a range of careers. By the end of the course you will be able to

  • record and analyse structures of all types, selecting a level of record appropriate to the end use.
  • execute hand, metric and photographic surveys and present the results in hand drawings, photographs and CAD.
  • recognise and apply the principles of structural analysis to elucidate a building’s history.
  • draw on a sound knowledge of British architectural history and, where appropriate, that of other countries.
  • carry out research using a wide range of archival sources on buildings in the UK and integrate these critically and effectively into the interpretation of buildings.
  • discuss and debate current research agendas in buildings archaeology.
  • direct your own independent work, and also interact with others as a member of a recording or conservation team.
  • communicate the results of research effectively through oral, written and graphic forms of presentation.                                                                                                             

Alumni from the course have been employed in a range of commercial and heritage organisations across the UK, including:

  • Field Archaeology Specialists (FAS Heritage)
  • Oxford Archaeology
  • URS Corporation
  • Purcell Architects
  • AOC Archaeology Group
  • Pre-Construct Archaeology
  • Headland Archaeology
  • Arc Heritage
  • York Archaeological trust
  • English Heritage
  • National Trust
  • Historic Scotland
  • Historic Royal Palaces
  • West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
  • MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology)

Others have been employed as freelance building archaeologists, local authority conservation officers and museum professionals.

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

Former MA students have said...

“The grounding I received on the course in the recording and interpretation of buildings helped me develop the skills needed to become an adviser for Shakespeare’s Globe and the Rose Theatre Trust.”

Ollie Jones, Lecturer in Theatre at University of York, Research Associate at Shakespeare’s Globe, 2009


Where next? A word from our alumni

Alumni of the MA in the Archaeology of Buildings have gone on to take up varied careers across archaeological, architectural and related sectors, many of them securing their dream jobs thanks to the skills and knowledge gained during their studies at York.

Here’s what some recent graduates have said about the course:

Charlotte Newman (2011), currently Curator of Archaeology London and East (National Collections) English Heritage


“For me, my MA year was one of the most memorable. Not only did I develop a range of skills that have enabled me to confidently pursue a career in archaeology, but I also made friends for life. I now have an amazing job with English Heritage and I still regularly work with my fellow students.” 

Dr Matt Jenkins (2009), currently Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Humanities Research Centre, York


“Since completing the MA in the Archaeology of Buildings, followed by a PhD, I have been commissioned to write a research framework for English Heritage’s Architectural Studies Collection and am currently pursuing postdoctoral funding to undertake further research in England and America. The MA at York gave me a great deal of freedom to pursue my own interests but also provided extensive support to develop the skills and knowledge I needed to do this. I heartily recommend the course.”

Katie Carmichael (2008), currently Historic buildings investigator English Heritage


“A few days after handing in my MA dissertation I had a field test and interview for my role as an investigator in English Heritage’s assessment team. The topics covered by the course, reinforced by site visits, prepared me very well for this test. My work involves using a wide variety of documentary and cartographic evidence alongside fabric analysis, and my ability to identify, critique and summarise sources rather than passively accept them has been invaluable.”

Ollie Jones (2009), currently Lecturer in Theatre at University of York, Research Associate at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre


“The grounding I received on the course in the recording and interpretation of buildings has been formative for my research and career. Not only has it allowed me to work on the Stratford-upon-Avon Guildhall Research Project during my doctoral research, but it helped me develop the skills needed to become an adviser for Shakespeare’s Globe and the Rose Theatre Trust.”

Dr Alexander Holton (MA Archaeology of Buildings, 2005, PhD 2011), Heritage Consultant at Purcell

rhc Alexander Holton

‘‘The quality of teaching I experienced and the opportunity to develop while at York allowed me to pursue my own ideas. Having contact with external speakers also provided an excellent balance between the academic and practical, so that I could develop skills that were relevant to the professional workplace, such as building survey and practical conservation.’’

Matthew Jenkins (2001) currently Site Manager, Berwick Barracks, English Heritage

 “I currently work for English Heritage as Site Manager at Berwick Barracks – a trio of military and social history museums. The MA Archaeology of Buildings course gave a fantastic grounding from which I have developed in my career thus far. The whole Masters experience was invaluable and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a career in the heritage sector.”

Mark Service (2012) currently Heritage Consultant, URS Infrastructure & Environment UK Limited 

“The Archaeology of Buildings MA course was an excellent grounding for my job with URS. I work in the company’s heritage team alongside other heritage specialists, archaeologists and individuals from other disciplines such as planning, engineering, architecture and the environment. The ability to assess the significance of historic buildings and their settings and the effects of development proposals on that significance is central to my job, and the course’s modules provided me with a number of the necessary specialist skills needed to carry out this work. Not only does the course provide a great start for anyone wanting to work in the built heritage sector it is also great fun and I would recommend it unreservedly.”



How to apply

To apply for this course, you will need:

  • A good honours degree (upper second or first class) or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution in Archaeology, History of Art, Architectural History or in a related field. If you are uncertain whether your first degree is appropriate, please contact the Course Director for more information. 


  • Relevant professional experience or qualifications. The course is suitable for students and mid-career professionals seeking to develop or enhance an academic or professional specialism in buildings archaeology. To find out if your professional experience or qualifications are appropriate, please contact the Course Director.

We interview most applicants, unless you are living or working overseas. 

 apply now button

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






Kate Giles

Historic buildings are increasingly recognised as among our most significant assets, and buildings archaeology plays a central role in informing their conservation.The historic buildings of York provide an outstanding resource for this course, while the region’s many heritage organisations provide unrivalled opportunities for networking and work experience. Graduates from the course now play a leading role in the sector, in the UK and overseas.

Dr Kate Giles