The one-year course, entitled MA in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, provides candidates with detailed knowledge of the visual arts of these areas, contemporary and historical, while also focusing on the methodological and theoretical issues involved in their analysis and display, both in their original contexts and in the contexts of museums and exhibitions. This programme is suitable both as a stand-alone MA and as a foundation for doctoral research.
Consideration of this material occurs at the interface of several disciplines: anthropology, art history, archaeology and museology. The MA course is therefore essentially cross-disciplinary, with an emphasis on anthropological approaches, including related subfields such as anthropology of art, museum anthropology, and cultural heritage. Students are introduced to a variety of perspectives and theoretical approaches, while maintaining a focus on the complexity of the body of material at hand.
The wide range of options for essays and the dissertation allows the course to be tailored to a student's interests. Thus, someone wishing to focus, for example, on a particular region, disciplinary perspective or museum studies, can weight the course in that direction by selecting essay subjects and a dissertation topic in that area. Places on the course are restricted to a maximum of ten, allowing an unusually high degree of regular individual supervision and small-group tuition. Strong emphasis is placed on the development of research skills.
General Course Themes
The SRU MA course provides coverage of the three regions (taught in three separate modules) and a core module focused on general theoretical and methodological issues and on museum anthropology. Through lectures and coursework, the course explores some of the following themes: Architecture, cosmology and organisation of space | Representations of power and legitimacy | Ceremonial practices | Spirits and ancestors: the interface of politics, ideology and art | Valuables, exchange and the market | Production, style and the role of the artist | Ethnographic museums and display | The agency of objects.
The MA course requirements are: six essays (a seminar paper and gallery talk for each of the three world regions), a museology essay, and the dissertation. Throughout the course, there is a strong emphasis on cross-cultural comparison and examination of contemporary theory.
The dissertation of approximately 15,000 words is an important part of the course, allowing students to work intensively on a topic of their choice, possibly as a precursor to doctoral research.
These run weekly during the academic year. Each member of faculty delivers a lecture series on the appropriate specialist area. These lectures, besides providing students with an overview of each area's visual material, also cover the main methodological and theoretical issues raised in the area literature and provide the background against which seminars will be delivered by students.
For each of the three world regions, each student produces two essays: a research seminar and a gallery talk. The topics for the seminar paper (written and oral presentation) are chosen from a range of options provided by faculty to accommodate each student's interests. Likewise, for each world region, the student is expected to present an essay and presentation (i.e., gallery talk) on one of the objects in the Sainsbury Collection. Practical instruction is provided in presentation and teaching techniques, so that students become experienced in presenting written and visual material to an academic audience.
Ethnographic museums and material culture studies
The MA course also provides lectures and study sessions on a variety of topics: the Sainsbury Collection, object handling and conservation, display, cultural property, the history of collections, fakes and authenticity, the art market, cataloguing and documentation.
Museum study visits
An emphasis on museological issues is covered by study visits to museums and exhibitions in London, Paris, Cambridge, Oxford and elsewhere.
These provide training in research techniques, bibliographic research, computing, work presentation, editing, design and other professional matters. There are also regular seminars with presentations by SRU staff, students and visiting speakers. Postgraduates and faculty attend the weekly World Art Research Seminar, at which faculty and visiting speakers present papers on wide range of topics.
This module examines the distinctive arts and cultures of the Americas. Lectures, discussions, readings, and assignments provide an overview of selected indigenous traditions of the New World – both ethnographic and archaeological – with a focus on their remarkable achievements and material things, including architecture, sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, basketry and textiles. We will examine how scholars have interpreted them as ‘arts,’ using a range of approaches and viewpoints. The SCVA and its assemblage of objects from different parts of the Americas are crucial in the teaching of the module. There will be special focus on how Amerindian cultures can be studied on the basis of shared dimensions in cosmology, organisation and aesthetics. We will highlight ways that objects inform about the people and societies who produced them, particularly in terms of negotiating identity, ritual practices and socio-political status. We will also have documentary films to illustrate and analyse the close relations between art, performance and socio-cosmological meanings.
This module considers the arts and artefacts produced in Africa in the past thousand years or so. As in the rest of the course, we will focus on the methodological and theoretical issues involved in the analysis and display of objects. We will also be using anthropological approaches, historical sources, and theories on the use and disposal of material culture. We aim, through a strong archaeological backbone, to make you reflect on the ‘fourth dimension’, time, in your consideration of objects. By the end of the course, you should be familiar with social and historical developments in sub-Saharan Africa as evidenced by material remains and be aware of the difficulties (both ethical and practical) in understanding and caring for artefacts.
Examining ‘art’ in the diversity of its forms (visual, aural, kinetic, tactile), this part of the course will provide a working knowledge of the distinctive cultural traditions and histories of Oceania. Through lectures, discussions, readings, assignments and films, we will address the history of the region and some of the central conceptual issues that have arisen in the study of Oceanic sensorial ‘things’ (sculptures, architecture, textiles, paintings, ceramics, dance, chants). The aim of this module is to draw on interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies, particularly from anthropology, archaeology, art history and ethnohistory. After an introduction to the region, we will discuss the historical engagements of Pacific communities with Euro-America. These encounters will be examined with a particular eye to the various routes by which the ‘arts’ of Pacific communities moved into museums and collections. There will also be intensive surveys of Oceania’s various ‘art’ forms found in Melanesia, Polynesia and Australia, historical and contemporary. These surveys will be supplemented by case studies on West Papua, Fiji and Australia.
SRU MA Scholarships
To help foster study and research in the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, the Sainsbury Research Unit offers funding support for those who undertake the MA course. An endowment from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Art Trust, made in 1986, partly funds the SRU, and includes provision for MA scholarships.
For MA applicants, UK or overseas, the SRU is able to offer several scholarships annually. These range from full awards to part-awards to study allowances. All MA students receive a travel allowance to cover visits to museums, exhibitions and conferences in London and elsewhere.
Please contact the SRU Admissions Secretary for further information on scholarships. Fees, both for UK and Overseas candidates (including EU), for entry in 2024 will be £9,975. There is no high International fee for this course.
The University of East Anglia offers reduced MA course fees for those who have undertaken an undergraduate degree at UEA and who wish to proceed to an MA.
We welcome enquiries concerning any aspect of the MA programme offered by the Sainsbury Research Unit. Please contact the SRU Admissions Secretary, or any member of faculty for further information or to discuss your interests.
MA Applicants should have, or be about to complete, a good undergraduate degree in anthropology, archaeology, art history or a related subject. Exceptions, such as candidates with extensive museum experience, may also be considered.
Applicants wishing to be considered for SRU funding should apply no later than 20 March for the course starting in September that year. Applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible. Applications after 20 March will be considered depending on available places.
Application forms and course details may be obtained from the SRU Admissions Secretary or apply online below.