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UCL Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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Student views

MARS students come from diverse backgrounds and go on to a variety of successful careers in fields including journalism, politics, and the law. Many also take up funded doctorates at UCL or elsewhere.

In recent years, MARS graduates have gone on to complete funded PhDs at Cambridge, Durham, Glasgow, Lancaster, Oxford, St Andrews, the Warburg Institute, and York, as well as at Ann Arbor, Columbia, and Princeton.

Some recent students' views are given below.

"I will remember my time with UCL History incredibly fondly. While completing my BA in History with the department, I decided I wished to stay at UCL to continue my studies in medieval history. The MARS degree offered the perfect mixture of practical and theoretical components. I was able to develop my Latin, while also learning new methodologies and approaches to medieval history. On top of this, the course structure allowed me to create the degree that I wanted, from modules on medieval China to Magna Carta.
 
Looking outside of the course itself, the department’s location allows for a richer experience of study. The British Library and the Institute of Historical Research are right on its doorstep, and the proximity of these resources certainly allowed me to stay informed of the latest historical research.
 
More important than all, however, was the quality of teaching within the department. All staff, and particularly those who worked with MARS students, were friendly and accommodating, while remaining challenging and committed in their approach as teachers. They offered invaluable guidance, whether it be about my studies or my career goals. They were always willing to discuss my ideas and I am incredibly grateful to them all for their help.
 
Although I did not continue on the academic path, I believe that my time on the MARS programme made me a much more suitable candidate for my current role as a Fast Streamer with the Civil Service’. . I fully recommend anyone considering it to do so, regardless of their future career aspirations."

- Oliver Palethorpe, MARS MA Graduate, now a Fast Streamer with the Civil Service

"The past twelve months as a MARS MA students has been the most intellectually stimulating period in my life. As an international student without a solid knowledge of either European cultures or medieval history, the MARS programme provided me with both hard-core palaeographical training and the most comprehensive survey of French and German social theories, necessary to tackle the most challenging socio-historical questions. The wide range of modules available to a MA student here is remarkable. Through collaboration with a number of field-leading institutions, every student enjoy the freedom to build up their own curriculum. In my case, I could further improve my Latin at King's, participate in early South Asian archaeological debates in the Institute of Archaeology, consolidate my Chinese history at SOAS, and, at the same time, learn social theories, comparative methodologies, and historiography in UCL.

With an emphasis on the Latin West, the MARS programme is never confined by the traditional boundary evident in most Medieval Studies programmes. A comparative, or even global, approach to essential but less studied historical phenomena is greatly encouraged. Therefore, I wholeheartedly recommend this programme to prospective candidates who have a comparative mind-sets. In this programme, one may meet brilliant minds committed to various fascinating research projects, let it be Japanese economic structure, Chinese Buddhist monasticism, or the Seljuk conquest of Anatolia. I have to point out that the unparalleled module 'Medieval Manuscripts and Documents' is not only the best training for understanding medieval Latin documents in Anglophone Academica, but also provides great insight for any historical enquiry involving unconventional primary sources.

Finally, exchanging ideas across scholars of different career stages in casual and horizontal. It is common to share one's epiphany with either peers or supervisors over social drinks and, rather impressively, the doors of leading scholars' offices are always open to students, even during the summer season. In a word, the MARS is an optimal preparation for world-class intellects."

- Gan Quan, MARS MA Graduate, accepted to do a funded PhD at the University of Texas at Austin 

"The MARS course played a pivotal role in refining research skills and beginning my path in academia. The standard of teaching, coupled with the vast amount of resources so conveniently to hand, afforded us a learning experience which I think is unique for an MA course. With an emphasis on practical historical research (i.e. the palaeography and Latin modules), students are given an insight into the social, cultural and political mechanisms that shaped the Middle Ages. It is with the skills gained from MARS that I was fortunate enough to be awarded a CDA (collaborative doctoral award) to begin a PhD with Kings College in collaboration with the British Museum in 2018.

I was initially drawn to the MARS course after finishing my Bachelor’s degree at Royal Holloway in 2016. I knew that I wanted to continue to learn about the Middle Ages, but came out of my degree without any technical skills to properly conduct medieval historiography. Upon learning that MARS offered students the ability to learn both palaeography and beginners Latin, it seemed to be a natural fit. However, it was only in beginning the course that I fully understood the scope that the MARS course provides. Two particular highlights for me were the Invention of the Question: A History of European Thinking 1100-1400 and the Writing History in Europe, C.900-1200 modules. Both these courses proved instrumental for me to not only refine my knowledge of the medieval world, but also to better understand the philosophical and political questions that faced thinkers and writers in the later stages of the Middle Ages.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the two independent research projects: the Dissertation and the Manuscript Description Project, which allow students to conduct their own investigations into a particular aspect of medieval history. With the British Library, the Warburg and the Institute of Historical Research a stone’s throw away, we were spoiled by the vast amount of directions we could take with our research! My dissertation, on the coinages of Norman Southern Italy and Sicily during the reign of Roger II was a particularly rewarding experience. I am greatly indebted to my dissertation supervisor, Emily Winkler, who gave me the opportunity to help assist in a conference at the University of Oxford entitled The Normans in the South. As a result of the conference, Emily and I are now in the process of producing an academic volume on material culture in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, which I will be editing and contributing my own chapter for. My own experience is a reflection of the support and opportunities that the MARS course provides for its students not only during your studies but after as well.

Finally, I cannot express how thankful I am to have been part of such a supportive and inclusive environment during my time at UCL. Both the academic staff and cohort were incredibly helpful and engaging, and I developed friendships in MARS which I continue to cherish today."

- Liam Fitzgerald, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at Kings College London

"I cannot emphasise enough how the MARS course has positively impacted my life. The high academic standards, focus on technical historical skills, and opportunities to conduct independent research projects were all instrumental in my personal development and set the foundations for my success in being offered two full scholarships to undertake my PhD at Birmingham University. Furthermore, the superlative degree of support that I received from the staff was invaluable, providing assistance throughout the year and not only helping me to decide on the path I wanted to take after the MA, but also in advising me about the best way in which to do so.

"I was attracted to the MARS course because of the variety of the programme it offered. I came in having done relatively little medieval history (it was this aspect more than Renaissance history which interested me) and through MARS I was able to get up to speed with important skills such as palaeography and Latin. The 'Medieval Manuscripts and Documents' module provides an overview of the medieval period integrated into the more skill-based elements, which is supplemented by a range of engaging and challenging modules pertaining to more specific aspects of history. One of these in particular, 'Writing History in Europe', was instrumental in inspiring my PhD thesis. The dissertation and "manuscript project" required by the course are the two pieces of work of which I am proudest and were hugely rewarding to undertake. MARS students will have access to many of the finest research institutions such as the British Library and the Warburg Institute, allowing them to create extremely proficient projects. 

"It is also important to mention what a pleasantly social course this is. Throughout the year we had several events organised on campus so we could spend time with our MARS peers and professors in a more relaxed setting. The cohort is not too large and the convenors did an excellent job of fostering a community spirit. We became a close group and the cooperation and support of my peers was extremely valuable.

"I had a hugely positive experience with the MARS course. It was exactly as a taught MA should be, offering a chance to take your knowledge of a subject to a far deeper level whilst remaining always enjoyable and inspiring."

- Giles Connolly, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at the University of Birmingham

"I finished my BA History here at UCL having taken all the possible medieval modules, and yet that was not enough. I realised early on that I wanted to become 'a real historian' and continue on studying and researching the Middle Ages. Taking the MARS MA degree was definitely a step in the right direction. The degree's focus on paleography and diplomatic ('Manuscripts and Documents' in my case, but also done on the 'Old English Book' course), language (Latin, in my case), and the dissertation provides students with the key tools that are needed to carry on working independently in the field of medieval history. The paleography and Latin that I learned from zero throughout the year made it possible for me to engage with both original and edited 13th-century sources and, indeed, to base my whole dissertation on them. On top of that, the other courses offered by UCL's medievalists provide ample opportunity to either focus on one's already-developed interests, or to broaden perspectives. Although very intensive (it has been described as a "medievalists' boot camp"), the course is well-designed in terms of dividing time between coursework and the dissertation. After exams, students have 3 months dedicated solely to researching and writing the dissertation. Furthermore, the dedication of the tutors to guiding students throughout the year is invaluable. Lastly, UCL's location gives students not only access to a huge variety of resources (British Library, Institute of Historical Research, Warburg Institute), but also the ability to meet and hear leading medievalists at the numerous seminars organised in the area. The skills I acquired during the MARS MA are crucial to the research that I am now undertaking as part of my PhD - also here at UCL."

- Agata Zielinska, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at UCL

"I found out about the MARS course in my second year of undergraduate study in medieval history at the University of St Andrews. I researched a number of potential Masters courses prior to submitting my application to join UCL, but MARS was my first choice - it was immediately clear to me that the course combined academic rigour and intensive practical training with an interdisciplinary and flexible approach to study. So I was thrilled to be accepted into the MA programme (funded by the UCL Carol Chattaway Award and a scholarship from the British Society for the History of Science). The taught elements of the course introduced me to new areas of study, brought to life through interactive learning and manuscript handling sessions at the Wellcome Library, the Warburg Institute, the British Museum, and the British Library (all a convenient 5-10 minutes' walk from the UCL Department of History). I was even permitted to take a module on medieval science and medicine, run by the Department of Science and Technology Studies as part of their History and Philosophy of Science MSc.But it was MARS's 'Manuscripts and Documents' course that provided me with the essential tools for research into the medieval past. Combined with regular training in classical and medieval Latin, this hands-on year-long course provided me with the confidence to handle and analyse rare books and manuscripts. Those who took this class learned about everything from the history of script and manuscript production to how to decode difficult text, how to formally describe manuscripts, and how to make sense of catalogue descriptions. I came away with the ability to conduct truly original research, and the opportunity to pick a manuscript to study from the British Library's vast archive was so exciting that it hardly felt like coursework at all. 

"My MA helped me secure my first permanent job as the Assistant Editor of Military History Monthly magazine - it proved I had specialist knowledge of the magazine's area of focus, the ability to write, and the ability to organise my own workload. I then decided to return to academia, and I am now working at the University of Lausanne as a doctoral researcher. My thesis is part of a 3-year project titled Region and Nation in Late Medieval Devotion to Northern English Saints, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. (For the specific project I'm working on, 'Region and Nation in Late Medieval Devotion to Northern English Saints', see this website: http://wp.unil.ch/regionandnation). To say that I would not be where I am without the skills and language training offered by the MARS programme would be an understatement."

- Hazel Blair, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at the University of Lausanne

"Having studied Viking Studies at UCL for four years and - unusually for a MARS student - been lucky enough to take a palaeography module during my time as an undergraduate, I was fairly certain that I wanted to pursue doctoral study investigating early fourteenth-century Icelandic manuscripts, but I knew I would need to both deepen and broaden my skills in order to be best prepared to apply for and take on such a project. MARS amply exceeded all my expectations in this regard. Practically speaking, the chance to learn Latin (including a module on medieval and Renaissance Latin), to continue with Old Norse, and in particular to benefit from the intensive training of the flagship 'Manuscripts and Documents' course has stood me in extremely good stead. The highlight by far, however, was the coursework side of Manuscripts and Documents, a project that involved working closely with a chosen manuscript in the British Library. Nothing quite compares to the thrill of first opening a medieval manuscript and finding oneself face-to-face with centuries-old text - it was in that moment that I knew I'd made the right choice. I have no doubt that not only the invaluable training but also the sense of passion for manuscript studies that the MARS MA engendered played a large role in my ending up in the enviable position of being able to choose between fully-funded offers from Oxford and Cambridge. I'll shortly be beginning a PhD in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the latter, looking into the manuscript context of eddic poetry - but I'll always remember that first experience of 'my' manuscript as a MARS student."

- Jon Wright, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at Magdalene College, Cambridge

"Whilst studying English Literature at UCL I became fascinated by all things medieval. My interest lay in the origins of ideas that would later develop and become the ideals of the western society that we live in today. Having already benefited from three years of excellent teaching in the UCL English department I knew that applying for the MARS MA would provide me with the tools I needed to go on to undertake further study in the field. The MARS MA outperformed any expectations that I had at that early stage. Although I had a pretty firm understanding of the literature and ideas of the period that I was interested in, I had no real understanding of the skills needed to undertake further research. As soon as I had been accepted onto the course I realised immediately what a good decision I had made. It is not only the depth but also the breadth of the MARS courses that make it perhaps the greatest MA for medieval and Renaissance studies in the country, if not the world. The ability to study under the best tutors from all departments at UCL, as well as from other London universities, makes this MA truly enriching. I had not studied Latin or French since A-Level and yet, under the wise direction of the MARS course tutor, I endeavoured to undertake courses in both medieval French and medieval Latin. These language skills, on top of the renowned palaeography skills that the MA offers, have enabled me to embark on a fully-funded PhD in the UCL English department, exploring the relationship between alchemy and poetry in the late Middle Ages.

"The more libraries and archives that I visit, the more I hear from librarians and archivists just how well-regarded the palaeography courses on the MARS MA are. Whereas before the MA I could only discuss texts that were both in print and translation, the treasure chest of multilingual manuscript material has now been opened up to me. Without this key to unlocking both the historical and literary sources that lie unedited and untranslated around the world's libraries and archives, I would not be able to undertake my current research.

"The English Literature courses available through the MARS MA were also extremely useful to me for furthering my understanding of the medieval period. The tutors in the English department have enabled me to be in a position where I can begin to engage on academic discussions at the forefront of the field. I could not sing the praises of the MARS MA more. Having completed the course one will undoubtedly be in a position to research confidently any aspect of medieval or Renaissance culture."

- Eoin Bentick, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at UCL

"I came to UCL after completing my BA in History at Oxford. It was by sheer good fortune that I found out about the MARS course, in an email circulated by my undergraduate dissertation supervisor. I investigated the structure of the course and was extremely excited to see that it included extensive opportunities for hands-on manuscript training. I had hitherto come into contact with manuscripts only fleetingly, usually in glass cases! I applied and was lucky enough to be awarded both a place and an MA studentship, without which I would have been ill able to afford the cost of further full-time study. A year later I am fully able to understand why this MA, in particular the marvellous 'Manuscripts and Documents' course, consistently receives such glowing praise from former students. The engaging and thorough approach of my two wonderful Manuscripts and Documents tutors inspired me with a real love of manuscript studies and the confidence to apply my technical training to important research topics almost at once. In the space of just a year I have moved from a position of never having studied manuscripts before, to one where I was able to produce an MA dissertation on the palaeographical and diplomatic characteristics of Westminster Abbey's twelfth-century charters and a piece of coursework in which I established that the British Library's early twelfth-century manuscript of the Chronicon of Sigebert of Gembloux is, in fact, the author's autograph. I benefitted from UCL's longstanding collaborative relationship with King's, which allowed me to take one module and audit another there. My dissertation was also co-supervised between the two institutions and I have now in fact begun a PhD with my King's supervisor on the palaeography of the Exon Domesday manuscript. That I am able to countenance the idea of spending three years researching in a field in which I had absolutely no experience at the beginning of my MA is a testament to the excellence of the MARS course. I will remain, moreover, forever grateful to my MA tutor for the endless patience and multiple cups of coffee he provided as I agonised over whether or not to apply for PhDs this year. I can now say that I am very glad that I did."

- Lois Lane, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at King's College London

"I took time out to work after my undergraduate degree from Oxford (in French and German) and was looking for a way back into academia that would accommodate my interdisciplinary approach to the study of pre-modern literature. After researching what was available, the MA MARS at UCL seemed the logical choice and was the only course that I applied for. In one short year, I received extensive training in all aspects of working with manuscripts and was able to undertake wonderful original research on an unstudied manuscript of my choice; I made great strides in Latin, a language I had never studied before; and I worked with some stellar academics on a literature course whose curriculum we collaborated on together. I can only echo what other students have said about the generosity of the MARS academics in terms of both their time and their encouragement. I left with a greatly broadened knowledge of medieval manuscript culture, and with the confidence to pursue doctoral research. I am about to embark on a PhD in Comparative Literature at Stanford University with a tuition waiver and a generous five-year stipend."

- Mae Penner, MARS MA Graduate, now a PhD student at Stanford University

"I had already spent three years at UCL before applying to the MARS degree, and there developed in the final year of my History BA a keen taste for medieval studies. When it came to thinking about postgrad programmes, I was thus already well familiar with the high academic standard and stimulating interpersonal atmosphere of the UCL History Department, but what tipped the edge for me was the extensive focus on developing practical skills that the MARS MA promised: with one eye already on the possibility of future doctoral study, I was acutely aware of the quantum leap between the world of the undergraduate and that of the researcher, particularly in the technically demanding field of medieval history. The MA's heroic 'Manuscripts and Documents' course, combined with the MARS tutors' duly forthright emphasis on the student's need to put serious hours aside for linguistic development - in my case, Medieval Latin and modern foreign languages at the UCL Language Centre - provided the springboard necessary for this jump. Having brought my BA to a close still chiefly relying on readily-available translations, within the first term of the MARS course I was already spending (rather too many) hours a day in the hushed septa secretiora of the British Library Manuscripts Room, enjoying free reign on a selection of incredibly rare tenth-century texts, and there engaging in original and independent research. Indeed, criss-crossing each day through Bloomsbury's 'Golden Triangle' of the Institute of Historical Research, the Warburg Institute and the British Library itself (not forgetting the occasional wander through the British Museum to gawp idly at the Sutton Hoo find again), it was difficult to imagine getting one's training in this field anywhere else. The History Department's healthy intercollegiate relationship with King's only emphasized this further, allowing me to profit equally from the very considerable resources and expertise of UCL's nearby "rivals". My degree complete, I was later offered a substantial Wolfson scholarship to undertake a DPhil at Oxford: it can almost go without saying that I owe it entirely to the formidable training, extensive research opportunities and uncommonly attentive personal guidance that I enjoyed throughout my MA."

- Ben Savill, MARS MA Graduate, who then did a funded Dphil at Oxford, was a stipendiary lecturer at Wadham College, Oxford, and is now lecturing at the University of East Anglia.

"Having decided to continue medieval history at MA level, and considering applying for PhDs, I was advised by my undergraduate supervisor that the place to go was UCL. After talking to the MARS tutor, I was convinced that he was right. I am now sure of it. The MA benefits from London resources and proximity to a number of research seminars, but what singles out the course is the emphasis on skills necessary for research. During the first year of my PhD, I have been thankful on a daily basis for the skills I learnt in 'Manuscripts and Documents', and 'Medieval Latin Literature' - particularly the ability to read and work with manuscripts. Both courses involved getting to grips with manuscripts first-hand at the British Library, enabling me to continue to use them for my dissertation and doctoral research. As well as the specific history modules held at UCL, I took advantage of the intercollegiate system by taking and auditing modules run by King's. My fellow students were not only valuable intellectually, but became friends, partly thanks to the department's provision of wine and Mars bars! I am particularly grateful to the staff for being so supportive, both academically and pastorally. From making time to talk to me and persuading me to choose UCL in the first place, through to giving me invaluable help and advice when I was applying for PhD funding, they have been incredibly generous. I have no doubt that my success was in no small part thanks to their kindness. Since my leaving they have remained happy to provide help whenever I have asked."

- Felicity Hill, MARS MA Graduate, who went on to do a funded PhD at UEA, won a research fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and now has a permanent lecturership at St Andrews.

    "While an undergraduate at Oxford I settled on the arcane decision to pursue postgraduate studies in medieval history. It was one of my teachers there who told me firmly I could, therefore, do nothing better than to follow the Medieval Studies MA at UCL. I am as convinced now as I was then that this was the right advice. You will read many accolades justly celebrating the unrivalled quality of the training received in the mysterious, 'technical' arts of medieval research, to which I can only add: the intensive immersion in palaeography and diplomatic, languages and the editing of original texts, was not only rigorous and effective but, I believe, it contributed powerfully to my later success in securing full funding for doctoral study. The opportunity too to make a close study of a highly-restricted, near-millennium-old manuscript in the British Library was a pure thrill, and I would not have had a hope of access without the clout of the highly-respected MARS teachers.

    "Beyond however obtaining superlative preparation for doctoral work - and the excitement of balancing work and life in one of the world's great and overwhelming cities - you will work at UCL with an exceptionally generous and supportive team of teaching staff (as well as one which recognises the benefit of a glass of wine to serious scholarship!) The relationship between students and tutors is close, and I was struck by how much time and good, patient advice was given freely to me by all my tutors, not only during the MA course but also after I ceased to be a UCL student, as I panicked and grappled with my applications for PhD programmes. I owe an immense amount to the MARS staff in winning a generous Wolfson scholarship to return to Oxford for a DPhil, and it is with some bittersweetness that I leave the places and people that made my time in London so rich and enjoyable!'

    - James Norrie, MARS MA Graduate, continued to a PhD at Oxford and one-year fellowship at the British School at Rome