MA Issues in Modern Culture

Programme Convenor: Dr Michael Sayeau

The English Department offers a one-year MA degree in Issues in Modern Culture.

The programme consists of three courses:


The first course (Authors), taught over both terms, develops a close reading of works by some of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century British, French and American writers who have most consistently ‘made it new’.

Authors taught on this strand of the programme in the coming session will include: Walter Pater, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Jules Laforgue, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Jean Rhys, Patrick Hamilton, Elizabeth Bowen, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Harold Pinter, Edmund White. J.M. Coetzee and Alan Hollinghurst.

This course is compulsory for all students enrolled in the Issues in Modern Culture MA.


The second course (Contexts), taught in the Autumn term, explores the implications for modern culture of some of the technologies, media, philosophies, art forms and popular genres whose development shaped modern culture from the 1860s to the present day, including aspects such as the experience of the city, photography, the emergence of surrealism, and the development of rock and roll. Special attention is paid to the relationship between modernity and the city, to the origins and history of film, and to developments in photography and music. (This course is not compulsory, and students may choose to take in its stead options run by other MA courses in the Faculty).

The following topics will be covered by the Contexts strand of the programme in the coming session:

  • Baudelaire’s Paris
  • Henry James’s The American Scene
  • Detective Fiction
  • The Harlem Renaissance
  • Vertov and the Avant-Garde
  • Citizen Kane
  • Photography
  • Surrealism
  • 1960s Rock (Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground)
  • Graphic Novels


For the third course (Options), taught in the Spring term, students will each choose two sets of seminars, each five weeks long. These options will explore specific periods, movements or thematic concerns of related works of literature or films.

These courses give students a thorough grounding in the skills needed for independent research. Emphasis is placed on the production of a dissertation in which students have extensive scope to develop their own individual research interests.

The department will offer four sets of options in the spring term. Students on the MA Issues in Modern Culture may take two of these optional courses, or they may choose to take in their stead options run by other MA courses in the Faculty. In the spring term of 2014 we will be offering:


‘Modernism, Sex, and Redemption’ (Wagner, Freud, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann)


‘Film and Television: Early Cinema to The Wire’

and either

‘Post-war American Poetry’ (Bishop, Lowell, Ginsberg, O’Hara, Plath)


‘21 st-Century Fiction’ (Michel Houellebecq, Zadie Smith, Tom McCarthy, J.M. Coetzee, David Foster Wallace)


'Cultures of the Night'

There are no tutorials, but seminar leaders have office hours. Each option will be worth 8.25% or 15 credits. These optional courses are not compulsory for Issues in Modern Culture students, but Issues students are guaranteed a place on one or other of them; we could not, however, guarantee that all Issues in Modern Culture students would get their first choice seminar in both halves of the term. These options will be available to students on other MAs in the Faculty.

The Dissertation is 10,000-12,000 words long. It is worth 60 credits, or 33% of the final mark. Students will be allotted a supervisor who will discuss their initial proposal. Students will receive two supervisions during the summer over which the dissertation is written.

Application requirements

Candidates for admission to the programme should normally have at least a good upper second-class Honours BA degree in English or its overseas equivalent. Applicants should be aware, however, that the vast majority of those accepted onto the course have a First Class Honours BA degree or its overseas equivalent. This is an extremely popular course, and each year we are unfortunately forced to reject a large number of well-qualified candidates.

Most students on the course have BA degrees in English, but we will also consider applicants holding a degree in another subject, although tutors will need to see obvious commitment to the study of English Literature and a very strong academic background for these applicants to be successful.

Application Process

Candidates will be asked to provide transcripts of their academic record with their application, and the tutors will primarily be making decisions over whether or not an applicant is admitted on their previous academic achievements, their personal statement, and their references.

Applicants are not interviewed. Candidates are not required to enclose a writing sample with the initial application.

The programme begins in September. It extends over not less than one calendar year for full-time students and two calendar years for part-time students. Part-time students take the Authors strand of the course in their first year, and the Contexts strand in their second year. The dissertations of part-time students are submitted at the end of their second year.

We receive most applications between January and March of the proposed year of entry. The course is very popular – we receive over 200 applications each year- and we therefore set a deadline of 1st March for applications to be completed.

Further Information

For further information about this course, or about anything else UCL-related, please email the Admissions Officer,