MA in Garden and Landscape History

Learn how to acquire knowledge from a range of sources including history, horticulture, architecture, garden archaeology and other subjects, to develop an appreciation of the study of garden history as a cultural discipline.

Course details

Students will learn how to acquire knowledge from a range of sources including history, horticulture, architecture, garden archaeology and other subjects, to develop an appreciation of the study of garden history as a cultural discipline.

Students will be able to appreciate the differences in garden-making over time and in different countries, from the 16th century to the present day in Britain, Europe and America. Emphasis will be on design and management, ownership, and the culture from which these examples have evolved.

This degree will provide an academically rigorous environment in which students will learn a range of academic research and writing skills. Teaching will be undertaken at the Institute of Historical Research, with a strong emphasis on tutor/student interaction in class. There will be practical sessions at museums and libraries, as well as visits to gardens in London. There will also be an optional field trip to Italy in the spring.

Course structure

The course will be run on a full-time basis over one year. Teaching will take place on Thursdays from 10:00 to 17:00 and will be divided between two terms. The third term will be dedicated to dissertation preparation and writing. Please get in touch if you would like to see the full timetable.

Students must complete core module 1, core module 2 (selecting two options from the four provided), and core module 3 - a 15,000 word dissertation in order to be awarded the full MA.

However, there are a range of options available for flexible study:

  •     Those wishing to pursue this course on a part-time basis can complete Modules 1 and 2 (the taught elements of the course) in their first year and Module 3, the dissertation, in their second year
  •     Module 1 and 2 can be undertaken as a standalone unit leading to a PGDip, the credit for which can be banked should the student wish to complete the MA at a later date (within a prescribed time frame) Please enquire for further details.


The first term will showcase the huge variety of resources available to study garden and landscape history from archaeology, architecture, cartography, horticulture, manuscripts, paintings and other works of art, from the medieval period to the present day. A key aspect of Module 1 is the opportunity to consider in detail theoretical concepts underpinning garden history and their practical application.

Sessions include:

  •     What is garden history?
  •     Contemporary planting trends (RHS Wisley)
  •     Resources for garden restoration (Hampton Court)
  •     Anglo-American relations in garden design
  •     Conservations theory and practice
  •     Politics and gardens
  •     Italian Renaissance philosophy and garden design


  • One 1,500-word essay on a conceptual issue eg. picturesque theory, sustainability, conservation theory.
  • One 5,000 word report on a garden's history to assess the student's report writing ability and application of research skills.

This module will look at historiography, theory, the connection between culture and politics in landscape-making and the expansion of the skills of module 1 across regional boundaries.

For instance, the influence in Britain of the Italian Renaissance’s new ideas on garden making, including architecture, sculpture and hydraulic engineering; iconography in gardens and landscapes; formality in garden-making as an indicator of the power of the owner, from the sixteenth century onwards, as in France; different aspects of the ‘natural’ garden from the eighteenth century onwards; conflict between the ‘natural’ and the formal in the nineteenth century between William Robinson and Reginald Blomfield in Britain; gender and garden making; and shifting boundaries between architect, landscape architect and plantsman relating to the status of those designing gardens and landscapes in the 21st century.

These sessions aim to:

  • Develop students’ knowledge and understanding of gardens and landscapes in different countries
  • Develop students’ critical analysis and judgement
  • Demonstrate the importance of context and the relationship of garden and landscape history to other disciplines such as literature, social history, film and visual media and the history of ideas

Students will choose one unit from each group:

Group A

  • Travel and the seventeenth-century garden
  • American gardens 1800 to the present

Group B

  • Nineteenth-century English gardens
  • The suburban garden between the wars

Please note: Optional units are subject to change. Please consider this a guide only.


Two 5,000-word essays (one for each option taken) and a 1,500-word dissertation proposal.

The MA dissertation provides the opportunity to design and implement a small research project drawing on the skills and methods learnt during the course, or to undertake an investigative project which offers new light on an aspect of garden history.

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