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‌MA in English Building History

Module Descriptions

The MA in English Building History is a collaborative programme delivered by Lifelong Learning and the Department of Archaeology.

Over the course of study, we broadly cover England’s architectural history from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day. A range of significant buildings and sites from vernacular dwellings to the Country House are considered, and thus the difference between vernacular and polite styles of building. As well as engaging with key themes and debates, students will be trained in the practical skills of analysis. You will learn how to recognise archetypal styles, and how these were shaped by technological, social, economic, geographic and cultural forces; different methods of investigation; and the relevance of such buildings today, drawing on examples from across the country.‌

An Introduction to the Historic Built Environment

The aim of the module is to provide an understanding of the evolution of England's architectural landscape and wider historic environment, and of different approaches to the history of buildings. It will provide an overview of the differences between polite and vernacular architecture, regional identities, styles, typologies, materials, and how buildings may be studied, i.e. how to read a building via the evolution of design, plan form and construction phase analyses.

The Medieval Era

This module will provide an introduction to the evolution of the architectural landscape and the major elements of built history in England from the Anglo-Saxon/medieval period to the early 16th century. The aim of the module is to provide a sound understanding of the basic development of medieval/Gothic buildings and their context, and of the need for such understanding in the decision-making processes of historic conservation (i.e. style and interpretation).

The Early Modern Period

The module will continue and build upon the content and themes introduced in Module 2 in order to analyse the major architectural developments of the early 16th century to the beginning of the 18th century. It will highlight the great transition from medieval architecture to a period of extraordinary enterprise and the rise of the middling sort. As a result, the architecture of England, from Court to farmhouse, was independent of artistic trends on the continent for the first time, thus developing her own indigenous language and style. The impact of the key events of the period, particularly the Reformation, will be a significant focus in order to show how its accommodation resulted in the need for adaptation and evolution in the built environment. The birth of the ‘architect’, the inception of the great ‘Prodigy’ houses, and the impact of the Renaissance will all be covered.

The Neo-Classical Tradition

This module will be centred around detailing the importance of the Grand Tour on the development of architecture at this time. It will draw on much illustrative material in order to teach students how to identify and characterise the many different styles within this very short architectural period. Weekly topics will be largely chronological and will focus around significant case sites, patrons and architects but will begin with an explanation as to the basis of the Greek and Italian influence and will culminate by looking at wider architectural development in industrial, public and farm buildings (e.g. John Carr’s model farms). Many case sites featured will derive from York and the surrounding area. Weeks will include :

  • The ‘Georgian’ ideal and the art of domestic life and space
  • The classical language of architecture and the revival of classical antiquity
  • The birth of the country house and its ‘surveyor’
  • Baroque and Rococo
  • Palladianism and the Villa
  • The new church
  • Capability Brown and the designed landscape
  • The Urban Renaissance; the ‘Modern West’
  • Industry, institution and agriculture
  • The Regency era

The “Modern" Movement   

This module will examine the development in the theory and practice of architecture from c.1800 to 1950, covering topics such as 19th-century Eclecticism, the Victorian City, and the Arts and Crafts era. It touches on technical and stylistic developments, dramatic changes in design theories, on the impact of the introduction of new building materials, on the rise of new building types, and on the impact of explosive urban growth. Emphasis will be on how this era changed the way we experience the built environment via the work of individual architects, designers, and movements. Consideration will largely be on how, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, vernacular revival idioms became fashionable and had a lasting impact on the identity of town and country, both here and abroad.  

Approaches to Historic Buildings Research

This is a skills-based module designed to develop the more practical aspects of research and application. It will provide expertise in understanding, locating, and identifying the key sources for researching historic buildings, e.g. documentary sources, grey literature, cartographic regression, visual material, secondary scholarship, conservation and heritage protection/legislation and reports, and further associative literature, in addition to developing an understanding of the methods, theories, and research principles used in archaeological and architectural investigation in order to allow various approaches, interpretations, and methodologies to be employed.

Independent Study Module

The purpose of the MA Independent Study Module or Dissertation is to enable students to design, execute, and report on an in-depth self-directed piece of research in an area of English Building History, or related subject, up to 12,000 words.

The dissertation gives students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills acquired throughout the first two years of the programme, and execute a major piece of research. The dissertation requires students to choose a subject within the field of English Building History, and produce a piece of work written in the style of, and to the standard of, an article for submission to an academic journal. 

The dissertation is an independent piece of empirical research, which is led by the student. However, it is expected that throughout the entire process the student will work under close supervision with a member of staff assigned to each student for this purpose. Supervisors will work with students at all stages of the dissertation process, and give advice on important areas such as:

  1. Planning the study and formulating a research question
  2. Carrying out a literature review
  3. Designing an appropriate methodology
  4. Undertaking analysis
  5. Organising the structure of the written work 



Amanda Pauw: 
Postgraduate Administrator 
Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 8482 

Dr Emma Wells 
Associate Lecturer