MPhil in Criticism and Culture


Photo of Blue Face by Claude Heath
Claude Heath, Blue Face, 1999

The MPhil in Criticism and Culture is an innovative nine-month course of literary study with an interdisciplinary and comparative focus, running from October until the end of June. It aims to provide an introduction to and training in different aspects of contemporary literary criticism and literary and cultural theory. You will be encouraged to develop a critical and methodological framework, and to pursue questions relating to literary and cultural production alongside your individual research project. Within a flexible framework, you will be able to study particular areas in depth or explore topics broadly relevant to your intended research. Each student works closely with a member of the Faculty on his or her chosen dissertation topic while participating in collaborative seminars and classes.

The three-term course will consist of a changing program of seminars. You will write papers in the first two terms, followed by a final dissertation on the research topic of your choice. You will be able to construct an individual program tailored to your research interests, in close consultation with an advisor who will usually also serve as your dissertation supervisor for the third and final term. All MPhil students are strongly encouraged to attend the English Faculty's postgraduate research seminars, which consist of presentations by outside speakers, faculty, and postgraduate students. You will also have the chance to attend lectures in other fields in the Humanities and to explore the interdisciplinary possibilities of postgraduate study at Cambridge. In addition, you will be able to draw on the University's language-learning facilities and exceptional library resources and special collections.

The MPhil in Criticism and Culture is designed to provide a gateway to a wide range of different research areas, including areas that are historically based. You will be able to take courses and subjects from other M.Phils. in English, as well as from M.Phils in certain other faculties (see below). Registration for the PhD will normally require students to have completed either the MPhil in Criticism and Culture or one of the English Faculty's other MPhils at an appropriate level, or the equivalent at another university.

The Course

Cover page of Capital by Karl marx and Frederick Engels

Seminars run throughout the first two terms, Michaelmas and Lent. You will be able to choose two courses per term from a changing selection (usually three or four courses) on offer each term, depending on the research interests and availability of academic staff. At least one course would normally be drawn from the list of courses specific to the Criticism and Culture MPhil. In either term (timetable and availability permitting) qualified students may opt to take one of their courses from another MPhil in English or from an MPhil in certain other faculties.

The courses detailed below are an illustrative sample from one year of this MPhil. The options and seminar topics on offer vary each year, and we cannot guarantee the provision of specific courses.

Michaelmas Term 2020

Optional courses:

  • Decolonise: The Life and Times of an Idea, Professor Priya Gopal
  • Contemporary Marxist Poetics, Dr Drew Milne
  • Theatrical Dramaturgies, Dr Zoe Svendsen

Lent Term 2021

MPhil students choose two optional courses, each consisting of six ninety-minute seminars, from the pool shared with the Modern and Contemporary, American, 18th Century and Romantic Studies, and Medieval and Renaissance MPhils. In 2020-2021 the Criticism and Culture M. Phil. plans to offer the following two courses to this pool, for which its students will have priority:

  • The Body in Culture, Dr David Hillman
  • Affects in Modern Literature and Theory, Dr Alex Houen
  • Cultures of the Anthropocene, Dr Robert Macfarlane
  • Digital Forms, Professor Caroline Bassett
Carsten Höller’s ‘Crocodile’, 2002
Photo courtesy of Kettle's Yard

In addition to familiarizing yourself with the resources of the University Library and electronic resources for research, you will have the opportunity to participate in the broader intellectual life of the Cambridge research community. As well as postgraduate research seminars in the English Faculty, you may attend University lectures in English and other Humanities faculties. Interdisciplinary seminars and reading groups take place at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH). You are also encouraged to make use of the University's language-learning facilities.

Examined Work

  • Two coursework essays, each of not more than 5,000 words. One of the essays to be written for one of the chosen Michaelmas Term courses, the other essay written for one of the chosen Lent term courses. The first essay contributes 20% and the second essay 30% to the overall degree mark. In Easter term the teaching will be centred around supervisions for the dissertation.
  • A dissertation of 12,000 to 15,000 words on a research topic of your choice, contributing 50% to the overall mark. Students work on the dissertation throughout the nine months of the course, in consultation with their personal supervisor. At the end of the Michaelmas Term, students are required to submit an essay of 2,200 to 2,500 words on a topic directly related to the dissertation, which they have devised in consultation with their supervisor. This essay is a formative exercise and does not contribute to the overall mark.

Faculty Members: Criticism and Culture

The interests of those teaching the Criticism and Culture MPhil span, for instance, philosophy and literature, visual culture, post-colonial and commonwealth literature, psychoanalysis and literature, critical theory, Marxist literary theory, and performance theory. Many faculty members also have period-specific interests that range from Medieval and Renaissance literature to twentieth-century and contemporary writing. Members of the Faculty available to teach on this MPhil are listed below.You may want to consult the full list of Members of the English Faculty for the interests of faculty and to contact potential supervisors in relation to your research interests.

Faculty Members:

Professor Peter de Bolla, Dr Deborah Bowman, Professor Steve Connor, Dr Sarah Dillon, Dr Priyamvada Gopal, Dr David Hillman, Dr Michael Hrebeniak, Dr Alex Houen,, Dr Robert Macfarlane, Dr Shamira Meghani, Dr Drew Milne, Dr Chana Morgenstern, Dr Zoe Svendsen, Dr Christopher Warnes, Professor Clair Wills, Dr Ross Wilson

Entry Requirements and Application Procedures

You may find it helpful to find out about funding for home students or funding for overseas students before you apply. All postgraduate students in Cambridge are members of a College as well as of a Faculty of the University, and those applying through the Postgraduate Admission website for a place on the course will find themselves invited to list a number of Colleges in order of preference. It is a good idea to consult the prospectuses of a number of Colleges before you apply.

All applications must be made using the online Applicant Portal on the Postgraduate Admissions Office website. It is important that you read through the information available on this website before submitting your application. If you are seeking funding for your course, there are specific deadlines and eligibility criteria for each funding competition. Please check the funding webpages for details of eligibility and the Application and Funding Deadlines section of the Postgraduate Admissions Office website for application deadlines.

Please note that after submitting your online application form, there may be a delay of up to 48 hours before you are able to access your self-service account and submit supporting documentation

Applications are first considered by the Faculty. Potential supervisors are then consulted. Successful applications are then offered to the Colleges of the student's choice, and may be then passed on to the second or third choice.

*The final deadline for applications for entry in October 2021 is 7 January, 2021.*

Most of our postgraduate students have a first-class undergraduate degree or international equivalent. The Faculty is willing in principle to accept candidates with strong 2.1s, or mature students who have not pursued an orthodox pattern of higher education, provided that such applicants have strong backing from their referees, have a feasible topic, and are well qualified for their proposed course of research. We recognise both that things sometimes do not go candidates’ way in examinations and that a sparkling examination style is not always the best qualification for postgraduate work. Applicants should note, however, that the vast majority of those accepted onto the MPhil do have a first class BA degree or its overseas equivalent, and the vast majority of students accepted for the PhD have similarly strong MA marks. Applicants whose first degrees are in other disciplines are always considered, provided they can give an account of how their interest in literary study has developed. We welcome qualified UK, EU, and overseas applicants (those for whom English is not a first language will be required by the Postgraduate Admissions Office to provide evidence of linguistic proficiency).


Applicants should include specific proposals for advanced study or research (of around 500 words). A piece of written work, of 5,000 - 7,000 words, should accompany a formal application. Applicants may submit any work they like, but it is worth choosing work which is recent and which relates to your proposed area of study, if this is available. Many applicants submit their undergraduate dissertation or similar extended piece of work. You can submit one long piece or several shorter essays if you wish. In reaching decisions about applications the Degree Committee takes particular account of:

  • The applicant's academic record and references
  • Their suitability for the proposed course (including knowledge of foreign languages)
  • The applicant's research proposal, which should suggest a realistic program of work for a 15,000 word dissertation.
  • Whether a suitable supervisor can be found for the proposed research
  • The written work which a candidate submits in support of their application

Enquiries regarding the course content should be addressed to the course convenor Dr Ross Wilson.

All other queries should be directed to Anna Fox (postgraduate secretary).