Postgraduate History courses require a greater degree of intellectual engagement than do their undergraduate precursors. This is because most programmes operate on the assumption that students are driven by a desire to deepen their historical knowledge as much as by the ambition to secure employment in a related field upon completing the course.
Of course this is not to suggest that History courses are not of great practical utility – indeed, they encourage the development of numerous skills that are deemed to be invaluable by many employers: the ability to conduct complex independent research; to display well-developed powers of interpretation, deliberation, and critical analysis; and to articulate arguments and findings in a thorough and coherent way. There is also the sense of context and understanding that comes from studying the subject.
Moreover, much of the knowledge that a History course imparts can, in a sense, be converted into economic capital. After all, acknowledging our cultural and natural heritage is often the basis for future development, and preserving that heritage is essential not only so that we can establish a sense of personal and national context, but also because it acts as a major incentive for tourism in this country, which is an important source of employment here.
One course that deals directly with the management of cultural heritage is Trinity College Dublin’s MPhil in Public History and Cultural Heritage (one year full time, two years part time). The programme examines the notion of ‘cultural heritage’: how it can be defined, shaped, and the policy consequences of its different definitions. The course is run in collaboration with several cultural institutions (i.e. libraries, museums, galleries) and so students will have the chance to undertake a short work placement with one of the participating bodies. While not strictly vocational in nature, the programme provides training in curatorial theory and in delivering web- and media-based projects in the field. Applicants should possess an upper-honours degree in a related subject (e.g. History, Philosophy, Language, Literature) or have relevant professional experience.
NUI Maynooth’s MA in Historic House Studies (full time, eighteen months) presents another interesting option. Students on this programme will examine the historic house in Ireland within its social, cultural and economic contexts. It is also possible for students to spend a summer module on the comparative study of historic houses in Britain and Ireland. Graduates may go on to work within cultural tourism, conservation or may go on to study at doctoral level.
While accessing and analysing historical records is part and parcel of most History courses, the MA in Historical Archives (full time, eighteen months) – which is also run by NUI Maynooth – is solely dedicated to the equally important tasks of managing and preserving them. The programme is primarily geared towards those responsible for the care and development of archives in voluntary societies, religious institutions, historic houses and other such settings. As first-hand archival work is an integral part of the course, applicants are advised to note that admission to the programme is dependent upon arrangements for suitable practical experience being in place.
More general History courses are available from colleges throughout the country (e.g. UCD, UCC, Mary Immaculate College etc.), each with their own key areas of study. The revised MA in History at NUI Galway (one year full time), for instance, allows students to choose from among modules such Studies in Local History, Studies in Oral History and Conceptions of Wealth and Poverty in the Early Modern World; while module options on UL’s MA in History programme include History of the European Idea and American Foreign Relations.
Programmes dedicated to Medieval studies are provided by NUI Galway, UCD, Mary Immaculate College, NUI Maynooth and Trinity College. Latin and palaeography (the ability to read and interpret ancient texts – two key skills for study of the Medieval and Renaissance ages) are normally included on such courses. Taught modules and research topics can vary hugely in a subject that spans from Iceland to the Crusader kingdoms of the Middle East, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginnings of Reformation. Many graduates of such courses go on to pursue MLitt or PhD degrees. However, completing a PhD is not a prerequisite for students interested in other careers such as archival, museum or heritage industry work, or traditional areas of graduate employment such as business, teaching and law.
The History of Art is very much a related area and an established discipline in its own right, with postgraduate courses available from UCD (one year full time), UL (one year full time) and UCC (one year full time or two years part time). Students will examine works of art and architecture and explore their relationship with notions of identity. Potential careers for students include working in galleries, museums, academia, arts administration, as well as art journalism and managing art collections.
Archaeology is another branch of history that is well catered for at postgraduate level. Courses are available from UCD, NUI Galway, and UCC – with all three universities providing Higher Diploma entry for applicants without a primary degree in the subject. Courses include fieldwork and theoretical study as well as the option to choose from specialised modules such as Celtic Archaeology, ICT for Archaeologists and Art & Ritual in Prehistoric Europe. For those with a more advanced knowledge in the subject there are taught and research master’s degrees available. Research courses allow students to investigate a highly specialised area (e.g. Bronze Age settlements in a particular geographic area), while taught masters provide the necessary professional skills (e.g. project management, GIS) for a career in archaeology.
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