UCL English


MA English: Issues in Modern Culture

Programme Convenor: Dr Christine (Xine) Yao

Photo grid of 15 authors who are taught on this programme. See information below regarding authors covered.

The English Department offers a one-year MA English degree, focusing on 'Issues in Modern Culture'.

The 2021/22 programme consists of four taught units (Modern Literature and Culture, Critical Contexts, and a wide range of Special Topics of which you choose two), and then a dissertation. Please note that the contents of the modules, as outlined below, is subject to change – texts and topics listed are indicative only.

Modern Literature and Culture

This compulsory course orchestrates a rigorous explorations of some of the significant works of literature and culture who most strikingly 'made it 'new' from 1900 to the present-day. This weekly seminar discusses some of the influential genres and concepts of the period through close reading, scholarship, and theory.

These seminars may include themes such as Fiction 1900-1960, Modern Cinema, Experiments in Form, Marginal Voices. Writers studied may include: Walter Pater, Henry James, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bishop, Alfred Hitchcock, Patricia Highsmith, Chinua Achebe, Bob Dylan, Sylvia Plath, Maxine Hong Kingston, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Bill Manhire, Alan Hollinghurst, and Alison Bechdel.

Critical Contexts: Modernity and the City

Photo grid of images related to texts taught on this programme. See information below regarding topics covered.

This course, which is taught in seminars during the autumn term, explores the relationship between modern culture and the city from the 1860s to the present day. It does so by reading literature and other art forms (ranging from the high-brow to the popular) in the context of a broad range of societal, philosophical, and technological developments. It is assessed by a 6000 word essay submitted in the spring term. Seminar groups are usually made up of 20-25 students.

The following topics were covered by the Contexts strand of the programme in the most recent session: Modernity and the City; Underworlds; City Symphonies; Blackness and the City; Class and the City; Abstract Expressionism; Filming New York; Queer Fictions and the City; TV and the City; Domestic Space.

Special Topics

During Special Topics (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. Each Special Topic is assessed by a 4000 word essay submitted towards the end of the summer term. Seminar groups are usually made up of 12-15 students.

The department will offer six sets of Topics in the spring term. Students on the MA Issues in Modern Culture take two of these Special Topics modules, which change every year.

The Special Topics seminars for spring 2021 are:

  • Complicated Feelings
  • 20th Century Black Atlantic Literature, Criticism, and Politics
  • Contemporary Poetry
  • History and Fantasy
  • 21st Century Novel
  • The Literature Machine

Topics in previous years have included: Marxist Aesthetics; Contemporary Poetry; Global Anglophone Fiction; History and Fantasy; 21st Century Fiction; Modern Sex; Modernist Days (and Nights); Counterfeit Culture: Authenticity and Originality in American Literature; Modernism and History; Post-War American Poetry; Joyce Amongst the Modernists; Detective Fictions.

Each Special Topics module is worth 15 credits.



The Dissertation is 12,000 words long. It is worth 60 credits (33% of the final mark) and is submitted at the end of August. Students will be allotted a supervisor who will discuss their initial proposal and read a small quantity of work in draft form. 

The independent research and writing undertaken for the dissertation provide the opportunity for students to complete a stand-alone project and entails excellent preparation for students who wish to continue on to doctoral study.

Programme Breakdown

This MA programme is a 180 credit course. Overall, the dissertation (60 credits) is worth 1/3 of your final mark, Modern Literature and Culture (60 credits) is worth another 1/3, and the course essays for Critical Contexts (30 credits) and Special Topics (each module is worth 15 credits) make up the final 1/3 of the final degree classification.

Each module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar. Full-time students have two seminars per week during the first two terms, while part-time students have one seminar per week.


We welcome applications for part-time of this course, as well as full-time. Part-time students take the Critical Contexts and Special Topics in their first year, and Modern Literature and Culture in the second year. The dissertations of part-time students are submitted at the end of their second year. 

Application Requirements

Candidates for admission to the programme should have at least a good upper second-class honours BA degree in English, or its overseas equivalent, and most successful candidates will have achieved first-class grades in relevant undergraduate modules. Please note that this is an extremely popular course and each year we are unfortunately forced to reject a number of well-qualified candidates.

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

Application Process

We receive most applications between January and March of the proposed year of entry. The 2021/22 admissions cycle will open in November 2020. 

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 reference. Your personal statement should be a maximum of two A4 pages and demonstrate clearly why you wish to undertake this specific programme of study.

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

Further Information

For further information about this course, or about anything else UCL-related, please email Jose Prego at jose.prego@ucl.ac.uk 

Apply Online 

A link to the application form, as well as more detailed information about entry requirements, can be found on the prospectus page.