[skip to content]

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

Research Degrees: Art & archaeology


Featured events

Research topics can be considered under three headings: first, historical and contextual studies of the traditions, forms and artists of the past; second, the study of contemporary and popular visual arts; and third, the contribution of Asian and African art studies to the development of a comparative philosophy of art and archaeology. The opportunities for original and innovative research are, thus, extremely wide-ranging. This is, moreover, an area in which cooperation with scholars in Asia and Africa is possible to mutual advantage. All staff are simultaneously attached as art historians or archaeologists to this Department and as regional specialists to their appropriate Regional Centre within the School.
The teachers of the Department offer supervision in most aspects of the visual arts, architecture, material culture and archaeology of Asia and Africa, leading to the MPhil or PhD. Both degrees are examined by thesis, normally up to 60,000 words for the MPhil and 100,000 for the PhD. According to University regulations the MPhil 'shall be either a record of original work or an ordered and critical exposition of existing knowledge'; while the PhD 'must form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality ... either by the discovery of new facts or by the exercise of independent critical power'.
It is expected that candidates will already have completed postgraduate taught courses in the form of a taught Masters degree (an MA, MSc or LLM, for example) and obtained good results before starting a PhD programme.
At SOAS, the necessary training, supervision, research and writing takes a minimum of two years for the MPhil and a minimum of three for the PhD. Students will be registered initially for the MPhil but those wishing to take the PhD may be upgraded depending on the progress and scope of their work.
A supervisor will be appointed from among the teachers of the Department according to the nature of the proposed research. The supervisor is responsible for providing guidance as needed. The progress of the student will normally be monitored by a supervisory committee comprising the supervisor and two other teachers, normally including the Departmental Postgraduate Research Tutor and a specialist in an area related to the field of study.
Students are expected to be sufficiently familiar with the subject and to have their own ideas about the research they wish to do. They are required to submit an outline proposal with their application. This should be at least 1,500 words and should indicate the treatment of research intended and the sources of the materials to be used. Proposals must indicate the scope and significance of the study as well as the feasibility and intended approach. The responsibility of the supervisor begins with advice intended to help to develop the student's ideas into an acceptable research project. Staff are willing to offer a reasonable amount of advice on developing a proposal and welcome enquiries on potential applications. Applicants should consider the regulations of the department and school as set out under ‘HAA MPhil and PhD procedures 2012-13’.


Year-by-Year Requirements for Full-time MPhil and PhD Research Students

Year One
During Year One, the student refines the research proposal and decides in conjunction with his/her Supervisory Committee whether the research project should be directed towards the goal of an MPhil or a PhD degree. Students who wish to work towards the PhD must pass the process of upgrading registration from MPhil to PhD candidacy.  They must provide the following to the Supervisory Committee by the May deadline (exact date TBC by SOAS Registry):

1) Written work for the HAA Research Skills (15 PAR H061) Term 1 obligatory course (5,000 words)
2) Draft chapter(s) (15,000 words)
3) A Chapter Outline and a time plan for each chapter’s completion
4) Year Two Fieldwork and Research Plan
5) A Bibliography of relevant sources
6) Regional Research Seminar presentation
SEE notes Page 2
Guidance for PhD upgrade
Presentations and special fieldwork challenges

Year Two - Fieldwork or Data Collection
1) Regular reports must be submitted to Supervisor, via email or in person
2) A second chapter will normally be completed

Year Three – Completion of Full Draft
1) Term 1: Required informal presentation in HAA Research Skills seminar  on outcome of fieldwork and its impact on your research project (date TBC)  
2) Term 2: Required presentation in HAA Department 3rd-year PhD students’ fieldwork research seminar in March (date TBC)  
3) Term 3: Submission of draft thesis by 15 September (date TBC)  
a) Text to be submitted as Word document or printed out if the Supervisory Committee requests a paper copy
b) The Completed Approval Form must be submitted to the Supervisory Committee; if the Committee is satisfied that the draft thesis can be developed into a thesis of a quality worthy for submission for examination in the subsequent academic year, the student will be allowed to register on Extension of Writing-up (Continuation) Status in Year 4 at reduced fees during year 4, assuming 4 years are needed to complete the thesis
Teaching experience may be available in Year Two or Three, depending on Department needs
Year 4 – Completion and Submission of Thesis
At your viva (thesis examination), the examiners aim to confirm:

a) that they have satisfied themselves that the thesis is genuinely the work of the candidate
b) that the thesis forms a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject, and affords evidence of originality by:
(i) the discovery of new facts; and/or
(ii) the exercise of independent critical power
c) that the thesis is satisfactory as regards literary presentation
d) that the thesis is of a standard to merit publication in whole or in part or in a revised form.

SOAS Policies, Procedures and Forms
See the Registry’s Postgraduate Research Section website:   http://www.soas.ac.uk/registry/pgresearch/
- Please read the University of London Research Degree Regulations and Code of Practice.
- Take note of forms needed at various stages of your study (Departmental Decision Recommendation Form - the blue form attached to research applications; Upgrade Form - for transfer from MPhil to PhD; Fieldwork Form - application for periods of approved fieldwork; Extension of Writing-Up (Continuation) Form – for approving thesis-draft status at the end of year 3, allowing a student to enrol on reduced fees during year 4 if 4 years are needed to complete the thesis; Exam Entry Form - for approving exam entry 2 months prior to the thesis submission; Examiner Nomination Form - where you nominate examiners to read the thesis and conduct the Viva. NB: Examiners must return this form to the Registry to confirm their agreement before theses can be posted out)
Guidance for PhD Upgrade

Through the upgrade process, you will aim to provide evidence to your Supervisory Committee that you as a researcher and your research plan have the potential to produce a successful PhD thesis. Your ‘upgrade package’ should demonstrate:

1) Some evidence of the potential for the research to reflect ‘originality’ through the revealing of new evidence and/or exercise of the researcher’s ‘independent critical power’.

• A ‘critical’ approach typically entails challenge to existing models or approaches and may involve the identification of contexts, histories, objectives, viewpoints and implications to reveal new knowledge. 'Originality' may thus be evidenced by using modes of interpretation or analysis which cast a new light on the subject.
• Originality and critical power may be revealed in your package in many ways.  You might show these for example in the way you position your research project relative to previous scholars’ work. You might also mention in your fieldwork plan the kinds of research questions you have in mind to answer through the work and some possible approaches or methods by which you would analyze your data.  

2) Some preliminary conception by the researcher of how the research and its results might make a contribution to existing knowledge, including wider spheres of knowledge.

• You should explain why that new knowledge would be significant, both in terms of your narrow field of study as well as on a broader, ‘big-picture’ basis, that is, how the new knowledge impacts or relates to larger spheres of knowledge or understanding.

3) Satisfactory literary expression is a factor in the assessment of the final thesis, so in the upgrade package you should endeavor to write with clarity, correct use of grammar and appropriate academic style.

There may be other important elements considered for your upgrade depending on your research topic.  Your supervisor will advise you on developing the upgrade package.  

Presentations and special fieldwork challenges  

- Various departments of SOAS have different procedures for upgrades. Some have a ‘mini viva’, in which the student answers questions in a closed meeting with Supervisory Committee members. In HAA, students make presentations in the public seminars of their research area (Near and Middle East, East Asia, South and Southeast Asia and Africa).
- Often lecturers from other departments or universities, retired academics, local experts from the British Library or London museums, and amateur researchers attend the seminars. The presentation is a useful occasion for getting your name and project known to this wider audience and for getting experience with answering a variety of questions and receiving feedback from your Supervisory Committee and others. Also, you will have a chance to practice oral presentation of your research.
- If you have particular challenges to your fieldwork, logistical or otherwise, you will probably need to include a note in your upgrade about how you plan to deal with these.

A Student's Perspective

The insight provided, knowledge delivered and understanding transmitted during lectures, seminars and conferences at SOAS is impressive and requires real personal involvement in the topics.

Xavier Fournier