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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

Research Degrees: History of Art and/or Archaeology

Overview

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Start of programme: September intake only

Mode of Attendance: Full Time or Part Time

Why embark on a Research Degree?

While a research degree should be very rewarding personally, it is also a serious and sometimes intense undertaking. Under the current system, a full-time doctoral student has three years to complete a full draft of her or his thesis and then a further one year for writing up (known as a 3+1 degree). There are always solitary moments when carrying out individual research, even if a department has a strong collegiate atmosphere, as ours does. Research degrees are generally undertaken by individuals who aim to become professionals in the field of art history and/or archaeology, whether as academics who carry out research and teach in universities or as curators or educators in museums, libraries or archives, or in any number of other related areas such as academic publishing or even the commercial art world. It is generally a good idea to have some experience of work outside university before applying to a doctoral programme, for example, in some role in a museum or gallery. Embarking on a research degree is not just about the qualification but also about developing as a person and a professional so as to be able to contribute to national and international discourses in, and perhaps also far beyond, the history of art and archaeology.

Why at SOAS?

Beyond the distinctive intellectual environment of SOAS, doctoral researchers are generally drawn to work with an individual supervisor who is a renowned expert in a particular field or else is known for a particular critical approach. Many of our current students completed MA degrees at SOAS during which time they took courses with and got to know members of academic staff in the department, experiences that encouraged them to consider a research degree. Prospective applicants may wish to browse through the staff webpages where updated biographies and publications of individual staff members may be found. Some supervisors prefer their research students to have trained under them at MA level even if they have an MA in art history or archaeology from elsewhere. Our department generally makes about 10-20 offers each year. One reason why an offer-holder might choose the Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, apart from wanting to work under the supervision of a particular scholar at SOAS, is that our programme has one of the highest completion rates at SOAS and indeed in the sector: we graduate about 0.7 doctorates each year, within the 3+1 year framework, per full time member of staff.  

What have our recent graduates gone on to do?

Our graduates have gone on to a range of different roles, mainly in academia and the museum world. Quite often, after completing a doctorate, there is a transitional stage during which an early career researcher will work as a postdoctoral researcher, sometimes with a fellowship, before securing a teaching post. Some graduates do go straight into teaching positions in universities around the world. Many of our graduates have ended up working in museums, galleries and libraries, or else they carried out their degrees part-time while working in one of these, and remained working there on completion. Changes to the way research is carried out and disseminated through forms of publishing, brought on by the arrival of the digital age, would suggest that many new types of professional career will open up in the near future which can only be guessed at now.

Structure

The year-by-year requirements for full-time MPhil and PhD research students are as follows:

Year 1

During Year 1, 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 (the exact date is set each year 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) A year 2 fieldwork and research plan
5) A bibliography of relevant sources
6) A regional research seminar presentation

Year 2

The student undertakes fieldwork or data collection. Regular reports must be submitted to their supervisor, via email or in person. A second chapter will normally be completed.

Year 3

Students complete a full draft of their thesis. They are required to undertake the following:

1) Term 1: Required informal presentation in HAA Research Skills seminar on outcome of fieldwork and its impact on their research project
2) Term 2: Required presentation in HAA Department 3rd-year PhD students’ fieldwork research seminar in March
3) Term 3: Submission of draft thesis by 15 September, along with a Completed Approval Form. If the Supervisory 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.

Year 4

Students complete and submit their thesis. At the viva (thesis examination), the examiners aim to confirm that:

a) they have satisfied themselves that the thesis is genuinely the work of the candidate
b) 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) the thesis is satisfactory as regards literary presentation
d) the thesis is of a standard to merit publication in whole or in part or in a revised form.

See the SOAS Doctoral School website for further details about MPhil/PhD processes. 

Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

Research topics

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 therefore extremely wide-ranging. This is 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 the department and as regional specialists to their appropriate regional centre at SOAS.

Supervision and training

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'.

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 department’s Postgraduate Research Tutor and a specialist in an area related to the field of study.

Application requirements

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.

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 develop the student's ideas into an acceptable research project. Staff will offer advice on developing a proposal and welcome enquiries from potential applicants.

Destinations

Our graduates have gone on to a range of different roles, mainly in academia and the museum world. Quite often, after completing a doctorate, there is a transitional stage during which an early career researcher will work as a postdoctoral researcher, sometimes with a fellowship, before securing a teaching post. Some graduates do go straight into teaching positions in universities around the world. Many of our graduates have ended up working in museums, galleries and libraries, or else they carried out their degrees part-time while working in one of these, and remained working there on completion. Changes to the way research is carried out and disseminated through forms of publishing, brought on by the arrival of the digital age, would suggest that many new types of professional career will open up in the near future which can only be guessed at now.

A Student's Perspective

With the guidance of an eminent team of professors, and the support of the various resources SOAS has to offer, my time here has indeed been very productive, academically and professionally.

Vaishnavi Patil