Course Guide (MA in Cultural and Intellectual History)

About the degree

The Warburg Institute MA in Cultural and Intellectual History 1300 - 1600 aims to equip students for interdisciplinary research in the late medieval and early modern period, with a particular emphasis on the reception of the classical tradition. Students will become part of an international community of scholars, working in a world-famous library. They will broaden their range of knowledge to include the historically informed interpretation of images and texts, art history, philosophy, history of science, literature and the impact of religion on society. During this twelve-month, full-time course, students will improve their knowledge of Latin, French and Italian and will acquire the library and archival skills essential for research on primary texts.

Although it is a qualification in its own right, the MA is also designed to provide training for further research at doctoral level. It is taught through classes and supervision by members of the academic staff of the Institute and by outside teachers. The teaching staff are leading academics in their field who have published widely. Research strengths include: changes in philosophical trends between the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment; early modern material culture; and forms of religious non-conformism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. 


Degree overview

The MA programme aims to:

Act as an introduction to interdisciplinary research in the cultural and intellectual history of Western Europe from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period, with particular attention on the legacy of classical antiquity.

Cover aspects of cultural and intellectual history seldom studied in any depth in undergraduate courses, for example Renaissance philosophy, iconology, humanism and history. The main emphasis is on Italy, but consideration is also given to the rest of Western Europe.

Provide students with a solid grounding in current scholarship in the areas covered, largely through the study of primary source material in the original languages.

Provide training in reading medieval and Renaissance Latin, Italian and French, in Latin and Italian palaeography, and in the description of manuscripts and early printed books. 

Equip students to undertake research, and to give them experience of such research through the writing of a dissertation. Although a qualification in its own right, the MA also serves as an introduction to 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).


The course begins in early October with a Foundation Week, in which students are introduced to the main topics and themes to be covered over the year. In addition to the core and optional modules offered in the first and second term, there is a regular series of classes throughout the three terms on Techniques of Scholarship, which include description of manuscripts, palaeography, printing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, editing a text, preparation of dissertations and photographic images. Some of these classes are held outside the Institute, in locations such as the British Library or the Wellcome Library. Students are given the opportunity to examine early printed books and manuscripts. Reading classes in Latin, Italian and French are provided to help acquire the necessary familiarity with those languages as written in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Students are also encouraged to attend the weekly research seminar and any of the other regular seminars held in the Institute that may be of interest to them. The third term and summer are spent in researching and writing a dissertation, under the guidance of a supervisor from the academic staff.

All students take two compulsory core courses and two optional subjects. The core courses are taught in the first term and will vary from year to year. The optional subjects are taught in the second term and the options available vary each year. The courses listed below are those from which students may select in 2016-17. Note: The availability of optional modules will be dependent on student option selections.

Core modules

Art History - Image to Action | Dr Joanne Anderson

Religion and Society | Dr Alessandro Scafi


Optional modules (two to be chosen)

The History of the Book in the Renaissance | Dr Raphaële Mouren

Imagination, Fantasy and Delusion: Renaissance Philosophy and the Challenges of Representation | Dr Guido Giglioni

Italian Mural Painting and the Making of Visual Cultures, 1400-1500 | Dr Joanne Anderson

Maps and Mapping | Dr Alessandro Scafi

Renaissance Material Culture | Dr Rembrandt Duits

Sin and Sanctity in the Reformation | Professor Alastair Hamilton

Teaching, learning and assessment

The normal format for classes is a small weekly seminar, in which students usually discuss texts in their original languages. In most courses, students also give short presentations of their own research, which are not assessed. The emphasis is on helping students to acquire the skills necessary to interpret philosophical, literary and historical documents as well as works of art. Each compulsory or optional module will be assessed by means of a 4,000 word essay to be submitted on the first day of the term following that in which the module was taught. A dissertation of 18,000–20,000 words, on a topic agreed by the student and supervisor, has to be submitted by 30 September. The course is examined on these five pieces of written work, and on a written translation examination paper in the third term. Students are allocated a course tutor and, in addition, are encouraged to discuss their work with other members of the academic staff. Because of our relatively small cohort, students have unusually frequent contact, formal and informal, with their teachers.


Course summary

Degree structure

Two compulsory courses and two additional courses chosen from a range of options, plus a dissertation of between 18,000–20,000 words.

Mode of study

12 months full-time

Fees 2017–18 (please see website for up-to-date fees)

Home and EU Students:  £6,760  full-time | Overseas students  £15,090


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. A working knowledge of Latin and one European modern language are required[JF2] . All students whose first language is not English must provide recent evidence that their written and spoken English is adequate for postgraduate study.



Why choose this degree?

The Warburg Institute is one of Europe’s great interdisciplinary cultural institutions. Its combination of unique resources and leading academics provide a stimulating environment for students and visiting researchers. The Library with its mapping of human endeavours across its four main floors of open stacks – image, word, orientation and action – is widely recognised to be an incomparable resource for research because of the quality of its collections and because of its unique organisation.

The Photographic Collection – the world’s largest collection of photographs of works of art organised by subject – has a unique iconographic classification and comprises the whole range of western visual imagery up to the eighteenth century. The Institute houses a vibrant and generous academic community – readers and researchers from all over the world visit on a regular basis.

Located in Bloomsbury, we are just a few minutes away from many other research institutions, including the British Library, the British Museum and the other research institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

In addition to the MA course programme, there is a varied and exciting range of public lectures and conferences held throughout the year at the Institute.


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.


School graduate study webpages:


Please note the information in this leaflet is correct at the time of its production in July 2016, 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 the premier institute in the world for the study of cultural history and the role of images in culture. It is cross-disciplinary and global. It is concerned with the histories of art and science, and their relationship with superstition, magic, and popular beliefs. Its researches are historical, philological and anthropological. It is dedicated to the study of the survival and transmission of cultural forms – whether in literature, art, music or science – across borders and from the earliest times to the present. The Institute houses a world-famous library, archive and photographic collection. The Warburg Institute is a member institute of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.

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.



two to be chosen from :


The art of wall painting in Italian churches, palaces and streets reached new heights across the fifteenth century. From the single-point perspective of Masaccio's Trinity (c.1425) in Florence and the astrological scheme in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara (1466-74) to the grand typological scheme of the Sistine Chapel (c.1490), the monumental proportions and architectural character of this art lent presence and authority to religious and political ideologies. It equally gave expression to ideas of learning, culture and pleasure. To step inside their constructed and performing worlds was an embodied experience that played upon all the senses, creating connections with other objects present, such as glass, altarpieces, metalwork, furniture or tapestries.

This course focuses on sacred and profane wall paintings in central and northern Italy, exploring their role in the making of visual cultures. It begins with materials and modes of production, utilising artistic treatises, contracts and visual sources to enhance knowledge of theory and practice. This lays the foundations for case-study seminars dedicated to meaning in context: from sacred to domestic, interior to exterior, urban to rural. Students will explore the significance of works created for key sites and patrons, including those adapted according to shifts in taste or regime. With an eye on displacement or destruction, the latter weeks will focus on ideas about permanence, originality and function of murals during the Renaissance but also in modern times with the museum- like environment (e.g. Padua, Arezzo) and the real museum (e.g. Castelfiorentino). Visits to London sites (National Gallery, Eton College Chapel) will help contextualise the connection between objects and belief, the life spans of artworks and display strategies.


The aim of the course is to provide an understanding of the history of the printed book from its invention to c. 1600, with special focus on the learned book, the material aspects of its construction, and the cultural and intellectual context of this history, particularly the relationship between all the actors in the field: authors, editors, publishers, printers, proof-readers, etc.


The aim of this course is to offer a perspective on Renaissance art that is at once much wider and much more focussed than most traditional accounts. Much wider in the sense that it covers a broader range of artefacts - from lead pilgrim's badges to pieces of goldsmith's work and from wax ex votos to gold-brocaded fabrics. And much more focussed because it discusses works of art as material objects with an economic and social value, dealing not with the intricacies of individual styles but with the social and economic mechanisms that caused styles to differentiate, not with the details of specific commissions but with the larger trends in the production and consumption of art within different social classes. Using a series of case studies and documents such as inventories, accounts and anecdotes recorded by chroniclers and travellers, the course will offer an insight into how art functioned within the material world of the Renaissance and among a variety of patrons, including not just the usual male oligarchs of art-historical convention, but also poor people, artisans themselves, and women.


During the Renaissance, the notion of imagination was at the centre of numerous debates involving such different fields as art and medicine, philosophy and rhetoric, demonology and divination. The aim of the course is to identify and discuss the most relevant connections between these fields. Renaissance imagination spanned the whole spectrum of cognitive functions and dysfunctions, from the illusions of the senses to the abstractions of the intellect, from the process of artistic creation to the representative failures of melancholic disorders.


This course is intended as an introduction to some of the main issues which came to the fore at the time of the Reformation in Protestant and Catholic Europe. The survey will range from the Middle Ages to the early seventeenth century, and the emphasis will be on the standard teaching on sin and salvation before the advent of Protestantism, humanist ideals of human perfection, Protestant views of the justified sinner, heretical adaptations of such views in Southern Europe, and the Catholic reaction.