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The art history dissertation

The dissertation (16,000–18,000 words) is the culmination of your MA in Art History and tests your ability to present a sustained academic argument in clear, logical prose. Within the rules of the MA, you will have considerable freedom in your choice of topic. You’re not expected to make an original contribution to scholarly knowledge but you must demonstrate a reasonable grasp of work done in the subject area, with a thorough survey of relevant literature. Your tutor will help you decide on the focus of your dissertation, approve your research proposal and comment on draft sections through the module.


Start End England fee Register
31 Jan 2015 Oct 2015 -

Registration now closed

February 2015 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

What you will study

The only stipulation regarding the subject matter for your dissertation is that it must be related either to an MA subject module you have studied or to an area you have studied in sufficient detail in the foundation module. Your tutor will help you to decide what is feasible.

While the work you produce will not be expected to be entirely original (originality of that kind is a requirement for a PhD), you will be required to undertake a survey of the relevant existing literature and to be up to date as far as possible with recent journal articles on your chosen subject. Your dissertation must be well written and must show that you are confident in creating the scholarly apparatus necessary to support your argument.

During the module you will produce five pieces of written work before submitting the dissertation itself. The first is your research proposal, which must be approved by your tutor and the Examination and Assessment Board. The next three pieces of work are draft sections of your dissertation. They will not be graded, but your tutor's comments on them will be a key part of your teaching for the module, as well as a way of monitoring your progress. The fifth piece of work is a complete draft of the dissertation, and the final piece of work is the dissertation itself, which will be assessed by your tutor and a second marker. Their recommendations will help to determine the result awarded by the Examination and Assessment Board.


To take this module, normally you must have completed the Postgraduate foundation module in art history (A840) (now discontinued) or one of the other approved subject modules from the MA in Humanities programme, or have an appropriate award of transferred credit. If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service

Preparatory work

You are strongly urged to consider your dissertation topic and your access to the necessary research material before the module begins check whether the material you need is available via the OU Library, or other research library.


A847 is a compulsory module in our:

A847 is an optional module in our:

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content.  To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service before registering.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

This module makes extensive use of the internet and online forums. Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.

Study materials

What's included

Art history dissertation guide, dedicated website.

You will need

You will  need access to a university library, or large public or private library. Depending on your choice of subject, you may need facilities for listening to recordings.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some module software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2008 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile device is not suitable for this module – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this module by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be in a tuition group of about four students. Tuition will take place mostly through online forums and email. However, you should expect to meet your tutor face to face at least once. For the most part, you will be given individual tuition on your dissertation proposal and as your dissertation develops. You will be asked to send to your tutor drafts that are not part of your assessment, but that will enable your tutor to offer comment and assistance. Your tutor must approve your dissertation proposal. Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box above. All the marks come from your dissertation.

You will be expected to submit your proposal (and TMAs 2-4) online through the eTMA system, and your draft dissertation on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2015 when it will be available for the last time.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Distance learning

The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.

Course facts
About this course:
Course code A847
Credits 60
OU Level Postgraduate
SCQF level 11
FHEQ level 7
Course work includes:
5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Student Reviews

“A demanding module which enables the student to both hone and demonstrate the accumulated skills and knowledge developed during the...”
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“I completed the MA course whilst working full time but unfortunately I could not recommend the course to anyone who...”
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