MA Design History and Material Culture

The MA in Design History and Material Culture is a dynamic platform for the study of the material world in its historical and contemporary twenty-first century contexts.


MA in Design History & Material Culture FAQ

The MA in Design History & Material Culture (DHMC) is about objects, spaces and systems: things you might sit on, drink from or wear; things you might cherish, throw away or never notice; things for special occasions and things you use every day; things made by machine, things made by hand and things never made; spaces you might visit, inhabit or travel through; ideas about things, things about ideas.

Through seminars and guided research, students are equipped with skills to enable them to conduct research, analyse and write about the material world in its various historical and contemporary contexts.
The duration of the programme is 12 months for full-time students, and 24 months for part-time students. Full-time students attend lectures on Mondays and Fridays; part-time students attend on Fridays in Year 1 and Mondays in Year 2. Students attend from September to June.

Full-time and Year 2 part time students submit a major piece of work in late September.

Course Structure and Content

The course is taught through seminars, visits and interactions with studio staff and students. Research projects are supervised and supported by school staff.

The duration of the programme is just over 12 months for full-time students, and 24 months for part-time students. Full-time students attend lectures and seminars two days per week and part-time students attend one day per week. Students attend classes from September to June and submit a thesis at the end of the MA.

Students develop their own research projects and through attending themed modules, students cultivate personal research interests. A list of modules which have been offered include: 

  • Research Methods for Design History and Material Culture
  • Archiving Design: archives, libraries and resources for the study of design history and material culture
  • Dublin: Materiality and Meaning – a joint project with the Irish Architecture Foundation and UCD
  • The Secret Lives of Objects – a joint project with the Little Museum of Dublin
  • Design and Material Cultures
  • The Influence of Neo-Classicism on Architecture and Design
  • Dress, Meaning and Identity
  • Dress and Material Culture
  • Technology, Design and Society
  • Themes in Irish Material Culture
  • Anthropological Perspectives on Material Culture
  • Modernity, Modernism and Design
  • Made by Hand: Contemporary Craft Practice
  • Designed Art: Converging Fields and Critical Responses in Contemporary Practice.
  • Contemporary Design Cultures

The modules offered can change from year to year and not all of the modules listed above would be offered in any one academic year.

Course Fees

Tuition fees for 2016/17
EU Students Full time: €5,400
EU Students Part time: €2,700 per year for 2 years.
Non EU Students Full time: €13,500
Non EU Part time: €6,750 per year for 2 years.

Alongside interacting both formally and informally with studio staff and students in other departments at NCAD, MA DHMC students benefit from external engagement arising from partnerships and joint initiatives with a wide range of museums, cultural institutions and historic properties. Collaborative projects and modules have been organised in conjunction with the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy, NUI Maynooth Department of Anthropology and others. Some students wish to gain relevant work experience and the DHMC course team has been instrumental in assisting them in organising internships at appropriate institutions.

Students on the MA DHMC have access to an incredibly wide range of resources. Students benefit from close relationships with artists, designers and commentators, together with curators and archivists in many museums and archives, including for example the National Museum of Ireland and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, where behind the scenes visits, object handling sessions and seminars delivered by curators give students access unrivalled access to collections and relevant expertise.

As well as having access to the National Irish Visual Arts Library (at NCAD) and the NCAD library, the most extensive collection of art and design books and journals in Ireland, students have access to Trinity College Library and all libraries and collections which are part of the ALCID network.


The Secret Life of Objects

The Secret Lives of Objects is a publication from an exhibition and symposium produced by NCAD MA Design History and Material Culture students in 2016 in collaboration with the Little Museum of Dublin. It includes case studies of everyday objects designed, made or consumed in Dublin over the past 100 years including a milk bottle, a hair-dryer, a chocolate box and a postcard and is available to read here.


The course consistently receives excellent feedback from both external examiners and students. Students on the course have been awarded internationally recognised awards for their work and many have gone on to pursue doctoral research at NCAD and elsewhere.

Graduates have published their work in peer-reviewed journals and many are working in educational roles within the university sector, galleries, museums, government bodies responsible for arts/craft promotion, historic houses, while others are engaged in further study. As well as engaging in further academic studies, many students return to their previous roles in the fields of design, film, art and museum management, while other students pursue new roles in publishing, curatorial practice and design related roles.



The programme is open to graduates with an honours degree award of 2.2 or higher, or an equivalent academic or professional qualification in a relevant discipline. The College also takes into consideration prior learning and experience.
English language: Students who have not been educated through English must show proof of achieving IELTS 6.5 (with a minimum of 6 in the writing section on the Academic Version) or an equivalent score in another accepted test.


We welcome graduates from a wide variety of backgrounds, including but not limited to: design, fine art or architectural practice; art history; history; archaeology; sociology; politics; economics; literature; film studies; theatre studies and communications.

Applicants should have a bachelors degree (minimum level 2nd Class Honours or equivalent) but the College will consider applications from holders of diplomas (minimum level 2nd Class Honours or equivalent) in a relevant discipline.

Applications on the basis of proven relevant work experience are also considered. If you have any queries regarding submitting an application, contact the coordinators Dr. Lisa Godson or Dr. Paul Caffrey

We look forward to hearing from anyone with queries about the course.

Please contact the course coordinators:  Dr Paul Caffrey or Dr Lisa Godson
email: /

View Entry Requirements and Application Procedure

Postgraduate scholarship for MA studies:

Following the successes of the two Master’s programmes offered by the School of Visual Culture at NCAD, a scholarship worth full tuition fees will be awarded to a student in either the MA Art in the Contemporary World or the MA Design History and Material Culture. The scholarship will be awarded on academic merit and all applicants are eligible, including EU and non-EU students.

For more information (including application procedures) on these opportunities and the research environment in the School of Visual Culture at NCAD, click here.

Deadline for scholarship applications:

You may also contact the programme directors:

Declan Long, / Francis Halsall, (Art in the Contemporary World)

Lisa Godson / Paul Caffrey  (MA Design History & Material Culture)

Other enquiries:


Programme team

The MA DHMC is taught by internationally recognised leaders in their fields. In doing so the programme draws on the wide-ranging academic expertise of faculty members in the fields of contemporary design theory, material culture studies, architectural studies, dress and textiles history, contemporary craft practice and craft history. All members of staff have published extensively and presented at numerous conferences. Co-Directors of the course are Lisa Godson and Paul Caffrey

Dr Lisa Godson

Lisa Godson was previously NCAD Fellow at GradCAM and tutor and Fellow at the Royal College of Art. Her research interests include contemporary design and twentieth century Irish material culture. Recent publications include the co-edited volume Making 1916: the visual and material culture of the Easter Rising (Liverpool University Press, 2015); Design Learning in an Age of Austerity (co-editor, 2015); The Secret Lives of Objects (editor, 2016).

Dr Paul Caffrey

Paul Caffrey’s current research explores the relationship between the material culture of Ireland and its wider European and North American context. Recent research includes contributions to Ireland: Art on a World Stage, 1690-1840 (Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press 2015), Art and Architecture in Ireland (Royal Irish Academy, Yale University Press 2015) and Allgemeines Kunstlerlexikon (De Gruyter).

Professor David Crowley

David Crowley is an expert in the history of art and design in Eastern Europe. He is the curator of various exhibitions including 'Cold War Modern' (V&A, 2008) and 'Notes fromthe Underground' (Muzeum Sztuki Lodz, 2016). He is also the author of various books in the field of urban history, material culture studies and graphic design history and music. 

Hilary O’Kelly

Hilary O'Kelly’s research interests relate to the role and significance of dress in Art History, and dress and material culture in 20th century Ireland. Recent publications include Cleo: Irish clothes in a wider world (2014)

Programme Contact

Dr Lisa Godson (
Dr Paul Caffrey (