MA in Country House Studies by research: Hampton Court to 'Downton Abbey'
The University of Buckingham's Master's programme in Country House Studies offers the opportunity to pursue research at Master's level in any one of a wide range of country-house-related topics: from explorations of individual houses and their architects and decorators, to studies of their social and political use, and the role of the country house in literature and film.
Individual research topics are closely focused; but the approach of the course is to encourage students to investigate the interconnections between the country house's multiple facets and roles, rather than to examine it in exclusively architectural-historical terms. Recent dissertations have surveyed, for example, the Baroque mural in country house decoration; the use of music in the country houses during the 1650s; and the professionalisation of the sale of country estates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The choice of subject area is ultimately the student's own.
The MA is awarded solely on the basis of the dissertation (there are no 'exams'), and the relationship between you and your supervisor is therefore at the heart of the course. The maximum length for the MA dissertation recommended by the School of Humanities is 25,000 words (or approximately 75 pages at line-spacing of 1.5), excluding notes and references. Student and supervisor meet regularly on a one-to-one basis to discuss, plan, and review the dissertation as it develops through the year.
Some students know from the outset the precise subject on which they intend to work. For most, however, the definition of a research proposal is usually a gradual process, with the student starting with a general area of interest, and then focusing on a more closely defined topic as a result of further reading and consultation, usually with the Course Director. Most students do not arrive at the final title of their dissertation until towards the end of the first Term, just before Christmas.
The Course Director, Adrian Tinniswood, is available to offer advice to prospective students who would like to discuss possible subjects for their research before they apply. He can be reached directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Private research and supervision are complemented by a rich programme of seminars which give students direct access to some of the United Kingdom's most distinguished scholars of the country house. These take place in St James's, at the Reform Club, 104 Pall Mall, in central London (see infra for further details).
The seminars are of course academic events, with a talk by a visiting expert; but they also have a social dimension, bringing research students and senior scholars together to discuss matters of common interest in an informal and congenial atmosphere. Each seminar starts at 6:30 pm, with an illustrated presentation by the visiting speaker and is followed by a 40-minute question-and-answer session. There is a break for drinks and then a seated dinner follows (three courses with wine) during which there is further questioning of the speaker and a general conversation about the topic in hand. (The cost of all dinners is included within the fee.)
This coming year's seminars explore a broad range of topics, ranging from the design and planning of houses since the Tudor period, through to the fortunes of the country house during the twentieth century. A current owner, Earl Spencer, discusses what is involved in managing, living in, and presenting to the public a major country house, Althorp in Northamptonshire, in the present day.
Ightham Mote, Kent, begun in the 1340s, and acquired in 1591 by Sir William Selby, whose family resided in the house for the next three centuries.
The programme includes two full-day field trips to country houses during the spring term. In 2022, the first of these visits, on Tuesday 5 April 2022, is to Knole and Ightham Mote in Kent: a study in contrasts between the vast and palatial mansion of the Sackvilles, Earls of Dorset, and the romantic but perfectly formed Ightham, often described as the most complete small medieval manor house in the south of England.
The entrance hall, evoking an ancient Roman basilica, at Syon House, Middlesex, by Robert Adam, created in the 1760s for the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland
A second visit, on Tuesday 10 May 2022, takes in Syon House and Osterley Park, both located in what was formerly Middlesex: two of Robert Adam's most magnificent creations.
A further Research Day in the Spring Term, on Tuesday 7 June 2022, to be held at the Humanities Research Institute in Buckingham, is combined with a visit to Stowe House, the magnificent eighteenth-century palace of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, with its park adorned by Classical temples, located just two miles from the centre of the University. (Dates are firm at the time of writing, but subject to confirmation in the light of future government rules.)
Seminars and dinners take place at the Reform Club (above), 104 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5EW.
View the location on Google Maps. Nearest Tube Stations: Green Park and Piccadilly.
Tutorials usually take place at the University's offices in Bloomsbury (51 Gower St, London, WC1E 6HJ) or can take place online if the student prefers.
In addition to the seminar programmes and students' one-to-one meetings with their supervisor, the programme also offers specialist classes on thesis-writing, referencing, and on how to use archival and on-line research resources. For those who need to work with manuscripts (from the Tudor period and later), there is also a series of classes on palaeography (the reading of early handwriting) that will enable students to acquire fluency in the reading of manuscript sources.
Badminton, Gloucestershire.\nEngraving by Johannes Kip, first published in 1712.
Students who wish to take their research further have the opportunity, at the end of their year of MA studies, to extend their studies to doctoral level. Where the topic and the related evidence is appropriate, students are permitted to treat their year of Master's research as the first year of the three required for PhD study. If approved for 'upgrading' to doctoral study, they may submit their expanded dissertation for the PhD degree after a further two years of writing and research.
Adrian Tinniswood OBE FSA is the author of eighteen books on social and architectural history, including The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars, 1918-1939 (2016), which became a