Victorian Gothic: History, Literature and Culture MA

Explore the strange and spooky history, literature and culture of the Victorian Gothic period. Study online via distance learning.

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Victorian society and culture was a contradiction – an era of bold vision and technological wonders entwined with deep social fears and cultural anxieties.

Why do we associate the Victorians with darkness, sin, hypocrisy and monstrosity? Why does the Gothic seem to best encapsulate how we think about and remember the Victorians? These are some of the questions you'll explore on this course.

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This MA explores not just 19th-century Gothic cultures but, more generally, the fears, wonders, and dark imagination of the Victorian era. Through a rich and fascinating range of historical, literary and folkloric texts, themes and approaches, you'll probe the darker side of the Victorian age.

The course gives you access to a wealth of online resources and digitised archival material relating to Victorian culture and draws on local literary and cultural resources, such as the Conan Doyle Collection (Lancelyn Green Bequest) in Portsmouth’s Central Library. You'll have the freedom and scope to pursue your own areas of interest and research via an individual research project and 15,000-word dissertation.

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Entry requirements

MA Victorian Gothic: History, Literature and Culture (Distance Learning) Master's degree entry requirements

Qualifications or experience

  • A minimum of a second-class honours degree or equivalent, in History, English, or a relevant subject, or a master's degree in an appropriate subject. Equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered.

English language requirements

  • English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

If you don't meet the English language requirements yet, you can achieve the level you need by successfully completing a pre-sessional English programme before you start your course.

What you'll experience

On this course you'll:

  • Be taught by experts from both the History and English departments at the University of Portsmouth
  • Develop your research skills, critical thinking and literary analysis
  • Work through two core content modules, focused on the cultural tensions between Victorian anxieties (crime, poverty, slums, and degeneration) and Victorian enchantment (supernatural folklore and magic, ghosts, spiritualism and the occult, and the development of Victorian celebrity culture)
  • Use our Library’s wealth of online archival material including London Low Life, Victorian Popular Culture, The Old Bailey Online, The Charles Booth Archive, and the British Library Newspaper Archive
  • Have opportunities to undertake research in the Charles Dickens Collection and Arthur Conan Doyle Collection (Lancelyn Green Bequest), both housed in the Portsmouth Central Library
  • Get to study any topic of interest within the broad scope of the Victorian Gothic and the history of Victorian culture
  • Be able to base your studies around more recent Neo-Victorian re-imaginings of the nineteenth century in their research projects, exploring areas such as crime or supernatural fictions, or steampunk culture
  • Have the chance to listen to extracurricular talks by guest scholars and writers
  • Be fully supported by a personal tutor (one of the teaching team) throughout your course
Graduation 2023 Photos
- Event Consent Cards Used

It was a really incredible experience, the lecturers are awesome. I focused a lot of my research on appetite and food in

This has enhanced my teaching as an A-Level teacher, and I’m hoping to carry on with some independent research.

Catherine Howe-Evans, MA Victorian Gothic: History, Literature and Culture

Careers and opportunities

As well as giving you greater expertise in the fields of nineteenth-century history and Victorian Gothic literature, this course also enhances your knowledge and skills in other areas. During this course, you'll:

  • develop the skillset required to work in the heritage industry, the arts and media
  • develop a strong grounding for pursuing more advanced levels of academic study, including PhDs and careers in academia
  • improve your broader academic skills, such as the ability to analyse, assess, synthesise and evaluate
  • develop your archival and research skills, as well as data analysis and interpretation abilities
  • improve your oral and written communication, time and workload management, and other transferable skills

Work experience and career planning

To give you the best chance of securing a great job when you graduate, our Careers and Employability service can help you find relevant work experience during your course.

We can help you identify placements, internships, voluntary roles and freelancing opportunities that will complement your studies and build your CV.

We'll also be available to help, advise and support you for up to 5 years as you advance in your career.


What you'll study

If you study this course over one year, you'll study the following units:

  • Dissertation - 60 credits
  • Research Project - 30 credits
  • Theory, Skills and Approaches (critical skills and archives module) - 30 credits
  • Victorian Anxieties (content module 1) - 30 credits
  • Victorian Enchantments (content module 2) - 30 credits

If you study this course part-time over two years, you'll study the following modules:

Year 1

  • Research Project – 30 credits
  • Theory, Skills and Approaches – 30 credits
  • Victorian Anxieties – 30 credits

Year 2

  • Dissertation – 60 credits
  • Victorian Enchantments – 30 credits

Changes to course content

We use the best and most current research and professional practice alongside feedback from our students to make sure course content is relevant to your future career or further studies.

Therefore, some course content may change over time to reflect changes in the discipline or industry. If a module doesn't run, we'll let you know as soon as possible and help you choose an alternative module.

How history comes alive in Portsmouth

Portsmouth is a time traveller’s paradise, with historic tales of royalty, naval exploration, and even the odd ghost… join two of our students for a tour around our historic island city.

Archie and Kimberley

Welcome to Portsmouth!


Our city is a time traveller's paradise with historical tales of royalty, naval exploration and even the odd ghost.


Let us show you around.


Portsmouth is best known for our naval history, and here at the historic dockyard, you'll find the Mary Rose, HMS Warrior and HMS Victory. People arriving and leaving via ships has helped to shape the city, and the city has helped to shape their ideas and actions.


In 1662, Catherine Duchess of Braganza alighted here from Portugal to marry King Charles II. Their wedding took place here in Portsmouth and you can see their marriage certificate in Portsmouth Cathedral.


In the cathedral you'll also find a statue of the Duke of Buckingham, who was assassinated not far away in the Greyhound Inn. The Cathedral is also linked to multiple ghost stories and urban legends, including a sighting of Spring-heeled Jack, a fire-breathing demon.


The city wasn't built to keep out demons, but Portsmouth was vitally important in the defence of the Channel Coast. So a protective circuit was built around the city, including Southsea Castle.


Moving forward in the timeline of the city's defence, the site of popular shopping centre Gunwharf Quays was once home to the ‘stone frigate’ HMS Vernon. This two-tonne monument commemorates its mine warfare and diving heritage.


Like many port cities, Portsmouth welcomes a variety of different cultures and backgrounds, but their histories are not always visible. Historians at the University are working with community activists, curators, archivists and teachers to raise the visibility of black history and to engage locals in the co-production of this knowledge.


As well as visitors, Portsmouth has many famous faces who were born right here, including novelist Charles Dickens, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer.

From engineers to writers, royalty to slaves, Portsmouth has had a number of people come and go over the years.


Their impact lives on. Our historians are discovering new stories from the past that helped shape our future.


Visit us and our historic city. You never know, you might just change its future.

How you'll spend your time

We recognise that you'll probably be juggling more demands when you do your Master's degree, as you may be working or you may have family responsibilities.

We'll give you as much indication here as we can of how much time you'll need to spend in online lectures and seminars and how many hours you can expect to spend in self-directed study, but please note that these indications are always subject to change.


Teaching on this course is delivered entirely through distance learning, and includes:

  • interactive online resources
  • digitised primary sources
  • links to reading lists and ebooks
  • online training seminars
  • video clips from renowned experts

Seminars typically run for 90 minutes and take place in the early evening (UK time). There will usually be a pre-recorded introductory video or narrated Powerpoint presentation to watch before the seminar. We'll repeat some online seminars so you can choose the best time to attend.

You'll be expected to read a range of texts from the recommended reading list for the week, and to review any source material that will be discussed in the seminar. You should also jot down some initial responses to the thematic questions ahead of group discussion. You'll be expected to spend at least three hours preparing for a 90-minute seminar.

The focus of the seminars in the content modules (Victorian Anxieties and Victorian Enchantments) will vary from week to week. One week the emphasis will be on historical sources and interpretations, the next it will be on literary sources and analysis. Seminars are led by historians or literary scholars, as appropriate.

You'll get to chat with fellow students, discuss and present your work and keep in touch with tutors. You'll get plenty of support throughout your studies, including help on writing and structuring essays, and how to undertake research.

You'll receive all course materials via Moodle, our online learning environment. You'll need access to a computer and a Web connection. You may be able to access some of the resources through a tablet or smartphone, with limited functionality. You don't need to be especially computer literate, although typing skills are useful.

Teaching staff

These are some of the expert staff who'll teach you on this course:

Karl Bell Portrait

Dr Karl Bell

Reader in Cultural and Social History

School of Area Studies, Sociology, History, Politics, and Literature

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

PhD Supervisor

Read more

How you're assessed

You'll be assessed through:

  • Historiographical and documentary essays. A reflective response to a question, drawing upon different sources to analyse and evaluate a specific question, with the aim of presenting a clear and well-argued viewpoint.
  • Source review/documentary commentary. A detailed analysis and assessment of a particular piece of historical evidence or a literary source.
  • Presentation or vlog. A chance to demonstrate and enhance your presentation skills, and the ability to convey ideas, reflections and arguments through oral and visual form, rather than written form.
  • Extended individual research project and dissertation. A sustained piece of individual research into a Victorian topic of your own choosing. Working under the guidance of a supervisor, and combining analysis of both primary source evidence and secondary literature, the emphasis is on producing an original piece of research that attempts to advance a fresh interpretation or perspective. This also includes a project plan or proposal, submitted early in the modules to enable you to gain formative feedback on your proposed projects.

You’ll be able to test your skills and knowledge informally before you do assessments that count towards your final mark.

You can get feedback on all practice and formal assessments so you can improve in the future.

Term dates

September start

The Master's academic year runs from September to the following September. There are breaks at Christmas and Easter. Over the summer you'll be writing your project / dissertation.

January start

Courses that start in January have the same amount of teaching as September-start courses, but they normally run over a longer time period.

January-start courses normally run between 14–18 months, beginning in January and ending in the spring / summer of the following year. There are breaks at Christmas, Easter and in the summer. In the last few months you’ll be writing your project / dissertation.

See key dates

Supporting you

Master's study is more focused on independent learning than undergraduate study, but you'll get lots of support via video and phone from teaching and support staff to enhance your learning experience and help you succeed. You can build your personalised network of support from the following people and services:

Types of support

Your personal tutor helps you make the transition to postgraduate study and gives you academic and personal support throughout your Master's.

As well as regular scheduled meetings with your personal tutor, they're also available at set times during the week if you want to chat with them about anything that can't wait until your next meeting.

You'll have help from a team of faculty learning development tutors. They can help you improve and develop your academic skills and support you in any area of your study.

They can help with:

  • Improving your academic writing (for example, essays, reports, dissertations)
  • Delivering presentations (including observing and filming presentations)
  • Understanding and using assignment feedback
  • Managing your time and workload
  • Revision and exam techniques

As well as support from faculty staff and your personal tutor, you can use the University's Academic Skills Unit (ASK).

ASK provides one-to-one support in areas such as:

  • Academic writing
  • Note taking
  • Time management
  • Critical thinking
  • Presentation skills
  • Referencing
  • Working in groups
  • Revision, memory and exam techniques

If you have a disability or need extra support, the Additional Support and Disability Centre (ASDAC) will give you help, support and advice.

Our online Learning Well mini-course will help you plan for managing the challenges of learning and student life, so you can fulfil your potential and have a great student experience.

You can get personal, emotional and mental health support from our Student Wellbeing Service, in person and online. This includes 1–2–1 support as well as courses and workshops that help you better manage stress, anxiety or depression.

If you require extra support because of a disability or additional learning need our specialist team can help you.

They'll help you to

  • discuss and agree on reasonable adjustments
  • liaise with other University services and facilities, such as the library
  • access specialist study skills and strategies tutors, and assistive technology tutors, on a 1-to-1 basis or in groups
  • liaise with external services

Library staff are available in person or by email, phone, or online chat to help you make the most of the University’s library resources. You can also request one-to-one appointments and get support from a librarian who specialises in your subject area.

The library is open 24 hours a day, every day, in term time.

The Maths Café offers advice and assistance with mathematical skills in a friendly, informal environment. You can come to our daily drop-in sessions, develop your maths skills at a workshop or use our online resources.

If English isn't your first language, you can do one of our English language courses to improve your written and spoken English language skills before starting your degree. Once you're here, you can take part in our free In-Sessional English (ISE) programme to improve your English further.

Course costs and funding

Tuition fees

  • Distance learning full-time (180 credits): £8,900
  • Distance learning part-time (90 credits): £4,450 a year

All fees subject to annual increase.

Tuition fees terms and conditions

Funding your studies

Find out more how to fund your studies, including the scholarships and bursaries you could get. You can also find more about tuition fees and living costs, including what your tuition fees cover. 

If you're a UK student, you may be eligible for a Government postgraduate loan, which you can use to help with course fees and living costs.

Applying from outside the UK? Find out about funding options for international students and our international student scholarships.

Additional course costs

You’ll study up to 6 units a year. You may have to read several recommended books or textbooks for each unit.

You can borrow most of these from the Library. If you buy these, they may cost up to £60 each.

We recommend that you budget £75 a year for photocopying, memory sticks, DVDs and CDs, printing charges, binding and specialist printing.

If your final year includes a major project, there could be cost for transport or accommodation related to your research activities. The amount will depend on the project you choose.

How to apply

Unlike undergraduate applications, which go through UCAS, applications for this Master's course are made directly to us.

There's no deadline for applications to this course. We accept applications right up until the start dates in September and January, as long as there are places available. If you wait until your start month to apply, you may find that the course is full.

You can find more advice about applying in our Master's application checklist. International students and current students and recent graduates of the University of Portsmouth also have some different application options, which are detailed below.

Extra information for international students

If you're an international student, you can apply directly to us using the same application form as UK students.

You could also get an agent to help with your application. Check your country page for details of agents in your region. To find out what to include in your application, head to the how to apply page of our international students section.

If you don’t meet the English language requirements for this course yet, you can achieve the level you need by successfully completing a pre-sessional English programme before you start your course.

Ready to apply?

I'm a current Portsmouth student, or a recent Portsmouth graduate

If you're currently in your final year of study at Portsmouth, or you graduated since July 2023, you're eligible to make a fast track application. You'll have:

  • a shorter application form to complete
  • access to the 20% Alumni fee discount
  • a guaranteed conditional offer, for most Master's courses 

Learn more about fast track

After you apply

Once we receive your application, we may ask you for further information. We will then either make you an offer or suggest alternatives if your application is unsuccessful.

You'll usually get a decision within 10 working days, so you shouldn't have to wait too long. Some courses have an interview stage – we'll let you know if you need to prepare for one.

Learn more about how we assess your application.

Admissions terms and conditions

When you accept an offer to study at the University of Portsmouth, you also agree to abide by our Student Contract (which includes the University's relevant policies, rules and regulations). You should read and consider these before you apply.