About the degree

This MA is offered full-time or part-time.

The Warburg Institute MA in Cultural, Intellectual and Visual History introduces students to the Warburgian view of the central value of the study of human civilisations, worldwide and throughout history. 

Degree overview

The MA programme aims to:

  • Give students a deep and systematic understanding of the current methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding the cultural, intellectual, and visual history of Western Europe
  • Display mastery over the key elements of the history of philosophy, science, literature, the arts and visual culture, rooted in the Renaissance and the early modern period but embracing material from the middle ages to the advent of modernity
  • Provide the advanced methodological skills required to enable the reading, understanding and critical analysis of primary source materials.
  • Develop the language and palaeographic skills necessary to conduct research in these areas, particularly skills in Renaissance Latin.
  • Prepare students to undertake a piece of sustained academic research including: designing research questions, selecting appropriate advanced methodological approaches while critically evaluating their effectiveness, and undertaking their own analysis of the evidence and generating their own arguments.

The MA is a qualification in its own right but it also serves as preparation for further research. Many students have progressed to PhD study at the Warburg and elsewhere and many are pursuing successful academic careers in institutions across the globe including at the Universities of Cambridge, Copenhagen, Notre Dame (US), Padua, UCL, Birkbeck, La Sapienza (Rome), Warwick, York and Yeshiva (New York).  For further details on the research interests of teaching staff please visit our Research and Teaching page.

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"The Warburg has inspired my curiosity to no end and the course gives me such freedom to explore my own interests."

Lauren Steele, 2020 MA student

Why study with us?

As a student at the Warburg Institute, you will have access to the best resources for the study of cultural, intellectual and visual history in London. Unparalleled staff contact hours are combined with access to the Institute's collections, including the Warburg Library, with its unique cataloguing system specifically designed to aid research, and which is classified as one of the '20 Libraries that Changed the World'. 

Through the Institute’s research projects, fellowship programmes and events, and its informal collegiate atmosphere, students have extensive opportunities for networking with an international community of scholars, which significantly enriches the learning experience and can provide ideal connections for the future careers.

Studying in Bloomsbury at the centre of an academic and cultural hub, students also benefit from visits and training sessions at neighbouring institutions including the British Museum, the Government Art Collection, the Wellcome Trust and the British Library, and further afield the V&A, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Courtauld Gallery.  

The Warburg Institute has a range of full fee bursaries available to both home/EU and international students. The Institute also has an excellent record in securing external funding, and is happy to work with prospective students on funding applications.

Many Warburg alumni have gone on to pursue PhD study at the Institute or other Universities and cultural institutions across the globe including the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Bayerische Akademie, the National Library, Argentina and Universities of Cambridge, Copenhagen, Notre Dame (US), Padua, UCL, La Sapienza (Rome), Warwick, York and Yeshiva (New York). Discover what some Warburg alumni have gone on to do on our blog. 

I was very pleasantly surprised to find a degree of support and encouragement that I had never experienced before in academic studying; There is a unique blend of academic rigour and conviviality that has made my experience of studying at the Warburg Institute very rewarding.

Aldo Miceli, former MA student

Teaching and Learning

Modules are taught by academics at The Warburg Institute. While the temporal and conceptual anchor of the MA is the Renaissance, its overall scope stretches from the medieval era to modernity. It emphasises the history of philosophy, ethics, religion and politics along with the cultural, intellectual, and visual dimensions of civilisations, both drawing on and foregrounding the interdisciplinary strengths of the Institute.

All students take three core modules and two option modules. The core module on Language and Palaeographical Studies includes training at all levels in Latin and palaeographical studies in either English or Italian. Finally, students have the opportunity to conduct an independent research project through the dissertation, which is completed in the summer term under the guidance of a supervisor from The Warburg. 

The programme is supported by an unassessed Methods and Techniques of Scholarship module that will introduce you to the nuts and bolts of the historiography and methods of scholarly work in early modern cultural history. It will prepare you, through a term of workshops, to choose, develop, and research the topic that forms the subject of your dissertation.

The course is examined as follows:

  1. Reviving the Past – 4,000 word essay
  2. Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action – 4,000 word essay
  3. Language and Palaeographic Studies - examinations in palaeography and languages
  4. Two optional modules – 4,000 word essays
  5. Dissertation - 20,000 words

Core modules 

Core modules explore European early modern social and religious life, intellectual ideas and visual culture. Students develop skills in the analysis of primary texts, images and key secondary material in the field of cultural and intellectual history. An introduction to central debates on the writing of cultural and intellectual history involves students with methods of engaging with the historical record.

The programme is supported by an unassessed Methods and Techniques of Scholarship module which aims to introduce students to the nuts and bolts of scholarly work in late medieval and early modern cultural history (broadly conceived), and to prepare them to undertake original research in this field. 

  • Reviving the Past: Introductions to Cultural and Intellectual History
  • Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action
  • Language and Palaeographical Studies
  • Methods and Techniques of Scholarship (unassessed)

Option modules (two to be chosen)

  • Classical Disorders: Architecture, Painting and the Afterlives of the Renaissance
  • Cosmological Images: Representing the Universe
  • Renaissance Political Thought from Erasmus to Campanella
  • Religion and Society in Italy
  • The World of the Book in the European Renaissance
  • Renaissance Sculpture in the Expanded Field 
  • Islamic Authorities

Option modules are subject to change. Additional modules may be offered, depending on both student numbers (a minimum of three students required per option) and teaching staff availability.

Module Descriptions

Art History and Renaissance Culture - Image to Action (Core Module)

This course offers an introduction to the iconological study of Renaissance art. It focuses on figures, themes and narratives depicted in paintings, sculptures, prints and other visual media, and will unpack what these subjects tell us about social, political, cultural and religious attitudes from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries. Classes are devoted to religious art, including the critical analysis of the lives of the saints and the cult of the saints, and secular art, with topics including portraiture, mythology, allegory and literature. Italy is the main storehouse of imagery but our paths of investigation will extend well beyond to the rest of Europe.      

Language and Palaeographical Studies (Core Module)

The core module on Language and Palaeography Studies includes training at all levels in a range of languages, which will include Latin (compulsory) and either French or Italian, as well as palaeography training in one chosen language.

Methods and Techniques of Scholarship: Reading and Writing History (Core Module)


During term one, (“Reading History”) students are introduced to a range of historiographical classics that are exemplary of different approaches to late medieval and early modern European cultures. They will read selections from works by prominent cultural and intellectual historians, and are encouraged to examine the ways in which these historians framed their research questions, selected and handled their evidence (be it textual, material, or visual), organised their arguments, and constructed their narratives. Students are gradually introduced to a number of theoretical questions involved in historical research, such as periodisation, scale, evidence, interpretation, generalisation, commensurability, translatability, canonicity, agency, and teleology. Students will also develop an overview of important trends in 20th- and 21st-century cultural and intellectual history-writing. Finally, students will develop critical-analytical skills that will allow them to become more careful readers of historical scholarship, and thus also more prepared to carry out their own historical research and writing when they begin working on their final dissertation in the second term. 

During term two, “Writing History”, takes the form of a workshop guiding the students in choosing, developing, and researching a topic that will form the subject of their final dissertation. The workshop covers topics such as: “Tips for good academic writing”, “Identifying a research question”, “Identifying an ‘archive’”, “Compiling a bibliography” and “Writing an abstract & dissertation plan”.  

Reviving the Past: Introductions to Cultural and Intellectual History (Core Module)

This course will provide students with foundational knowledge and research skills for the study of the cultural and intellectual history of Europe. Its temporal and conceptual anchor will be the Renaissance, while its overall scope stretches from the medieval era to modernity. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries scholars began to uncover and translate texts from ancient Rome and Greece with the aim of bringing those distant ages to life. Comparable projects of retrieving, reviving, and renewing past traditions have occurred in many times and places, updating and transforming the past to suit present intentions and goals. In this course, students will become familiar with specific historical moments and the various aims and means of their retrieval, making use of primary and secondary texts in the Warburg Library and other collections in London and beyond.

Cosmological Images: Representing the Universe (Option Module)

Taught by Professor John Tresch

This course will study cosmograms: concrete objects which represent the universe as a whole. It will explore connections between art and science, including the intellectual function of images and the aesthetics of representing the cosmos and knowledge about it, in science, religion, and folk traditions. Students will be provided methods for studying such objects in action, as part of ritual practices and political programs. 

One aim of the course will be to trace the changing form and content of cosmograms from the medieval through modern period, especially with regard to scientific images. The course will trace the gradual emergence of a cosmology said to be mechanical, materialist, and objective, and its interactions and oppositions with other views of the cosmos. The study of conflicts and controversies focused on cosmograms will ground these longstanding issues of intellectual history in concrete contexts and the making of objects and images. 

Renaissance Political Thought from Erasmus to Campanella (Option Module)

Taught by Dr Sara Miglietti

This module will explore and discuss a wide range of aspects of Renaissance philosophy and intellectual history through the prism of one key area of cultural production, i.e., political thought. Renaissance political thinkers were both the heirs of a longstanding tradition (represented by classical and medieval works such as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, and Thomas Aquinas’ De regimine principum) and innovators who deeply transformed this tradition, partly in response to specific historical circumstances (e.g. movements of religious reform, the rise of nation-states, the ‘discovery’ of America and the beginnings of the colonial race) and partly as a result of new theoretical choices. While covering such major examples of sixteenth-century political thought as Machiavelli’s Principe, More’s Utopia, and Jean Bodin’s République, we shall also hunt for less familiar sources (both textual and visual) that can reveal unexpected forms and arenas of early modern political debate. Questions for discussion will vary on a weekly basis, but they will include issues such as: How do these texts embody the broader worldview of their authors? How do they reflect the historical and social contexts from which they originate? What impact did they have in their own time, and in what forms did they circulate?  How did they appropriate and transform the classical tradition, and how (and why) have some of them been transformed into ‘classics’ in their own right?

Classical Disorders: Architecture, Painting and the Afterlives of the Renaissance (Option Module)

This module examines Italian Renaissance architecture and urbanism, focusing particularly on ideas about the built environment and the city. Approaching themes such as conflict, beauty, giganticism, exile, and power, the module considers how Renaissance architects, artists and writers responded to the complex problems posed by the urban societies in which they lived. It begins by considering the writing and architecture of Leon Battista Alberti, a theorist and practitioner who conducted a lifelong investigation into society, art, and architecture, which he developed across technical treatises, dialogues, works of fiction, and an array of largely incomplete buildings in Rimini, Florence, and Mantua. It then examines the works of other thinkers and practitioners of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, touching on written works such as Filarete’s Libro architettonico, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and Palladio’s Quattro libri, as well as a range of buildings including the Villa Farnesina, the Palazzo Te and the Laurentian Library. Alongside this, the module from time to time examines historiography, taking in nineteenth- and twentieth-century debates about, and responses to, Renaissance architecture. Throughout, we will consider how buildings, texts and works of art might be related to debates regarding pictorial and tectonic qualities, order and disorder, measure and measureless, and history and oblivion.  

Religion and Society in Renaissance Italy (Option Module)

Taught by Dr Alessandro Scafi

The aim of this module is to identify and explain the significance of religious culture in late medieval, Renaissance and early modern Italy, providing a basic understanding of the interactions between politics, social life, cultural expression and religion. From the late Middle Ages to the early modern period politics and religion were inextricably bound together, the Church was involved in temporal matters and religious beliefs and practices were powerful motivating factors in contemporary policy making; religion was expressed both in rituals and in texts and works of art, and formed a significant dimension of Italian culture and scholarship. Students are encouraged to develop a sound knowledge and critical understanding of Italian cultural history through the discussion of specific themes: the relation between pagan philosophy and Christian faith, Church and Empire, Church and Papacy, faith and space, sex and sanctity, Islam and Christianity, Jews and Christians, Church Councils and spiritual renewal, secular and religious utopias. Religion and Society in Renaissance Italy aims to critically assess the development of religious thought and practice by looking at texts and works of art, reaching – beyond factual information – a critical and unbiased assessment of the past and its complexities.

The world of the book in the European Renaissance (Option Module)

Taught by Professor Bill Sherman, Dr Raphaële Mouren and Dr Elizabeth Savage

The aim of the module is to provide an understanding of the culture of the book in Renaissance Europe—a time and place that saw the invention of printing, the growth of both private and public libraries, the development of bibliographical protocols, the advent of the humanist printer and new techniques for active reading. It also saw the beginnings of colonialism and conquest, cultural revolutions, religious reformations, and profound social upheavals. What role did the book play in these changes—or did it? How can it help us to understand the changing world of the European Renaissance? Through seminars, collection visits, and practical training at a historically appropriate printing press, this module will offer an overview of the history and the historiography of the book, with a special focus on the material aspects of production, dissemination and use. It is jointly offered by the Warburg Institute and Institute of English Studies.

Islamic Authorities (Option Module)

Taught by Professor Charles Burnett

This course aims to accustom students to using a wide range of primary materials to assess how one culture can understanding (or misunderstand) another. The student should gain a wider knowledge of Islam, a basic understanding of the Arabic alphabet and the structure of the Arabic language, an acquaintance with the texts in philosophy, religion, medicine, mathematics and magic that were translated from Arabic into Latin, and a view on the reaction of Latin translators, theologians, philosophers, doctors and scientists to Arabic learning. The student will learn how a period in which Latin culture assimilated much Arabic material into mainstream learning was followed by a period in which Latin readers started to appreciate Arabic culture in its own right, and to explore its poetry, music and architecture. Above all the course shows how one culture can enrich another and how ideas and techniques can spread irrespective of religious and ethnic differences.

Renaissance Sculpture in the Expanded Field (Option Module)

Taught by Dr Thalia Allington Wood

With a title that borrows from Rosalind Krauss’s seminal 1979 article ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, this module examines Renaissance sculpture according to broad parameters to think about how images and other media (such as drawing, print, architecture, paint) were fundamental to the creation and reception of sculptural objects. Together we will explore drawing and modelling in the artist workshop; the adaption and migration of sculpture into painting; the role of sculpture in the rituals of religious life – from mobile, polychromed crucifixes to immersive pilgrimage sites such as the Sacro Monte at Varallo; as well as sculpture within the framework of society and culture: large scale public work, portrait busts, installations within the villa garden and, finally, ephemeral sculptures made for festivities and banquets. 

In doing so, we will encounter the famous, at times monumental, artworks by sculptors such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Giambologna, but we will also consider more unfamiliar objects and materials: life-size holy dolls, votive wax figures, sculptures made from food and the colossal monsters of the Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo. We will examine how sculpture was discussed in a range of primary sources, from artistic treatise to the fictional Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, alongside recent scholarship that engages with materiality and Renaissance making practices. It will become apparent that sculpture was a varied, experimental artform, which played a key role in the embodied practices of Renaissance life. 

Course summary

Degree structure

Full time (one year)

Three core modules  (one unassessed), Latin, your chosen European language (Italian or French) and palaeography, and two option modules chosen from a range of topics, plus a dissertation of 20,000 words.

Part time (two years)

Year 1: two core modules (one unassessed), one option module, and Latin and Paleography;

Year 2: one core module and one option module, and your chosen European language (Italian or French).

You will work on your dissertation over both summers, with one-to-one supervision during each summer.

Part time plus (three years)

Year 1: one core module, one option module and your chosen languages. Part one of the unassessed Techniques of Scholarship core module;

Year 2: one core module, palaeography and techniques of scholarship part two. You will be allocated your dissertation supervisor and begin work on it;

Year 3: one option module and your dissertation. Students will work on the dissertation over the summers of Years 1 and 2, with one-to-one supervision during each summer.

Mode of study

12 months full-time | 24 months part-time | 36 months part-time plus

Contact hours

For every taught contact hour you should allow 2.5 hours of independent study

Full-time is 10-11 taught hours a week, with independent study this would come to 35 hours per week

Part-time is 6-7 taught hours a week, with independent study this would come to 21-24.5 hours per week

Part-time plus is 4 taught hours a week. with independent study this would come to 18 hours per week


Full-time: £7680 | Part-time: £4610 | Part-time plus: £3070

Full-time: £16335 | Part-time: N/A | Part-time plus: n/a

For further information on when and how to pay tuition fees please read the SAS tuition fee policy.

Alumni Discount 

If you graduated from SAS you will be eligible for an alumni discount. If you progress directly without a break, you will receive a 15% discount, otherwise you will receive a 10% discount. More details are available in the SAS Tuition Fee Policy


The Warburg Institute has a range of full fee bursaries available to both home/EU and international students. The Institute also has an excellent record in securing external funding, and is happy to work with prospective students on funding applications. Find out more on our MA Funding page

Entry requirements

The normal minimum entry requirement is an upper second-class honours degree from a British university, or an equivalent qualification from a foreign institution, in any discipline in the humanities which is related to the course. All students whose first language is not English must provide recent evidence that their written and spoken English is adequate for postgraduate study. Applications open on 1 November 2021.

Find out how to apply

Register your interest

Learn more

For details of entry requirements, tuition fees, funding opportunities, English language requirements, disability support, accommodation and how to apply, please consult the School graduate study webpages. Detailed course descriptions and information about assessment are available on the Institute’s graduate study webpages and School graduate study webpages.

Please note the information available here is correct as at November 2018, but the School of Advanced Study, University of London reserves the right to alter or withdraw courses and amend other details without prior notice as required.

The Warburg Institute is renowned across the world for the interdisciplinary study of cultural and intellectual history, particularly the role of images in culture. It is dedicated to research on the history of ideas, the dissemination and transformations of texts, ideas and images in society, and the relationship between images, art and their texts and subtexts. Its work is historical, philological and anthropological. The Institute houses a research Library of international importance, a photographic collection organised according to a unique iconographic classification system, and the archive of Aby Warburg, which also holds the papers of other major thinkers of the 20th century who were connected to the Institute. Situated in the heart of Bloomsbury, the Institute is a stone’s throw from the British Library, the British Museum, the Wellcome Institute and the National Gallery, providing students with access to a wealth of academic and cultural resources.

The School of Advanced Study at the University of London is the only institution of its kind in the UK nationally funded to promote and facilitate research in the humanities. The School brings together the specialised scholarship and resources of nine prestigious research institutes at the centre of the University of London to provide a unique environment for the support, evaluation and pursuit of research which is accessible to all higher education institutions in the UK and the rest of the world.

The course gave me the opportunity to consolidate my research skills, attend interesting classes and meet a wide range of academics in an inspiring multicultural environment at the Warburg Institute.

Valentina Cacopardo, 2017 MA Student