The one-year course, entitled MA in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, provides candidates with detailed knowledge of the visual arts, contemporary and historical, of these areas, while also focusing on the methodological and theoretical issues involved in the analysis and display of the visual arts, 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.


In addition to the dissertation, 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.

Course structure

Lecture series

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.

Seminar series

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.

Supplementary sessions

These provide training in research techniques, bibliographic research, computing, work presentation, editing, design and other professional matters. There is also a regular SRU research seminar with presentations by SRU students, staff and visting speakers. Postgraduates and faculty attend the weekly World Art Research Seminar, at which faculty and visiting speakers present papers on wide range of topics.

Americas Module 

This module examines the distinctive arts and cultures of the Americas.  Lectures, discussions, readings, and assignments are to 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. 

Africa Module

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.

Oceania Module

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.

To help foster study and research in the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, the Sainsbury Research Unit offers funding support for its academic programmes.  An endowment from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Art Trust, made in 1986, partly funds the Research Unit, and includes provision for postgraduate grants, scholarships and fellowships.

SRU MA Scholarships
For MA applicants, UK/EU or overseas, the Research Unit is able to offer several scholarships annually. These range from awards covering fees and living expenses, to study allowances. All MA students receive a travel allowance to cover visits to museums, exhibitions and conferences in London and elsewhere as part of the course.

UEA Scholarships
The University of East Anglia administers different scholarships and bursaries for candidates commencing MA and PhD study. These competitive awards are restricted to candidates who have been offered a place to undertake research at UEA. SRU candidates are strongly supported in applications for funding grants and have very high success rates. Please see the graduate school studentships page for further information.

ACU Scholarships
The Association of Commonwealth Universities provides scholarships for graduates of Commonwealth universities who wish to undertake postgraduate study at a Commonwealth university outside their own country. Please see their website for further details.

We welcome enquiries concerning any aspect of the programmes offered by the Sainsbury Research Unit.  Please contact the Admissions Secretary, or any member of faculty for further information or to discuss your interests.

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 funding should apply no later than 20 March in the year of application. Later applications will be considered depending on available places. Overseas applicants are recommended to apply at least four months before the proposed start date in order to process visas and arrange payment of the deposit. The academic year begins in late September.

Application forms and course details may be obtained from the admissions secretary or apply online below.

Online Application form and guidance notes