MA Medieval and Early Modern Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Medieval and Early Modern Studies Dissertation

Course unit fact file
Unit code SALC70050
Credit rating 60
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Full year
Available as a free choice unit? No


The dissertation is your opportunity to make a sustained contribution to scholarship at the postgraduate level.  It may serve as the ‘capstone’ to your MA degree, helping you consolidate the skills you have developed over the course of the year—or it may help prepare you for further academic work (like a PhD).  You can write your dissertation on any topic within literary or cultural studies, provided your proposed research topic is approved by the MA directors.   

Your first piece of work for the dissertation will be a research outline, a document comprised of:  500-750 word abstract describing your project; an outline of the dissertation’s proposed chapters; a timeline for the project’s timely completion (factoring in that supervisions usually take place before the academic year ends in mid-July); and a working bibliography.  Once the outline is complete, you’ll be paired up with a suitable supervisor (though you are also welcome to ask other members of staff for their advice on the project). As the author of the dissertation, you will be in charge of organising and completing all the research and writing relating to the project; you will also be responsible for arranging 3 30-minute meetings with your supervisor and managing your own time.  

For full time MA students, the bulk of the work for the dissertation is completed over the summer months, with a final deadline in early September. 


The dissertation tests your ability to identify a research topic and formulate a research question; to identify and carry out the research necessary to answer that question; to synthesize and analyse the results of your research; and to present your findings in a clear, coherent argument sustained over 12,000 words.

Teaching and learning methods

After passing the research outline phase, you will be assigned a supervisor who will be there to guide you through the process.  You are entitled to 3 meetings of at least 30 minutes each with your supervisor. Your supervisor can also read up to a maximum of 3000 words of draft. In order to get detailed feedback on the organization and argumentation of the project as a whole, you may wish to ask for feedback on a detailed outline rather than a chunk of text. For full-time students, all three dissertation supervision meetings normally take place before graduation in July. 

Knowledge and understanding

Students who complete the dissertation will have:  

- a thorough knowledge of their chosen topic and/or texts   

- a good familiarity with relevant existing scholarship on the subject  

- an understanding of research methods  

- an understanding of how to present research findings in a clear, sustained piece of argumentative writing.   

Intellectual skills

Students who pass the dissertation will have:  

- skills of critical thought and analysis  

- skills in applying relevant literary or cultural theories (where relevant)  

- an ability to find and synthesize information gleaned from research   

- research and writing skills   

Practical skills

The dissertation will equip you with:  

  • An ability to identify and pursue a valid research question;  

  • An ability to identify and obtain relevant scholarship using the library catalogue, MLA database, and other relevant resources;  

  • An ability to summarize information and present it in a clear, coherent manner;  

  • IT skills;  

  • Analytical and critical thinking skills.   

Transferable skills and personal qualities

The dissertation will equip you with many transferable skills, including:  

- time management  

- familiarity with a wide range of IT tools, including specialist databases  

- an ability to find and summarize complex information  

- advanced reading and writing skills  

- ability to use an archive (where relevant).  

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Dissertation 100%

Feedback methods

Supervisor Meetings 


Written feedback on 3000 word draft 


Written feedback on dissertation 


Recommended reading

As you will be in charge of your own project, you will need to identify and complete the necessary relevant reading.  To identify relevant secondary sources, don’t just use JStor or Google scholar; use the specialist databases available through the library catalogue. (You can find a list of the resources relevant to literary studies, history, and other fields by looking at the ‘subject guides’ on the library website).   

For work in literary studies, the MLA Bibliography offers perhaps the most extensive catalogue of existing journal articles and book chapters.  Monographs can be identified via large multi-library catalogues like WorldCat. 

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