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

The MA in Design History & Material Culture (DHMC) is a taught postgraduate programme that is unique in Ireland in its focus on designed objects, buildings, spaces and systems in their historic and contemporary contexts. Students on the course come from a wide range of backgrounds including journalism, fine art and design practice, theatre, film, publishing, craft, entrepreneurship, history, anthropology, archaeology, architecture and history of art. An annual scholarship is available for the most promising applicant.

Learning happens through four key interlocking elements: histories, theories, live projects and personal research projects.  Students are supported in developing a high level of research and writing skills combined with flexible and original thinking about the role of design and material culture across space and time.

As well as cultivating personal research interests and producing individual work including a substantial thesis, students are given the opportunity to work with local and national institutions through a series of collaborative projects. In the recent past, while on the MA students have produced publications (The Secret Lives of Objects with the Little Museum of Dublin), curated exhibitions (Grit, Grandeur and One Euro Bananas: an Exploration of Dublin 1 with the Irish Architecture Foundation) and organised conferences and symposia (Visualising the City with the National Library of Ireland and UCD MA History of Art).

The course is taught by a core team of experienced tutors who are experts in their fields, ranging from eighteenth century architecture and design to dress history, modernism, design writing and curatorial theory. Guest speakers are invited to address the course through a monthly inter-disciplinary public seminar series and focussed symposia (most recently on Design and Film), with students hearing from a variety of leading practitioners and researchers whose work relates to design and material culture. Located in the creative environment of an art and design school, the programme gives opportunities to work closely with postgraduate designers in classes and on live projects. The College is also home to the National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL),National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL), an unparalleled resource for the study of Irish art and design.

Course Structure and Content

The course is organised around a series of taught seminars, workshops, site visits and supervised research projects with students graduating with a portfolio of writing, presentations, a substantial MA thesis and the experience of being involved in a live project.

The duration of the programme is 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 in September, at the end of the MA.

A list of modules and courses which have been offered include:

  • The Meaning of Things: interpreting objects and spaces
  • Dublin: Materiality and Meaning - a joint project with the Irish Architecture Foundation and UCD Architecture
  • Research Methods for Design History and Material Culture
  • The Influence of Neo-Classicism on Architecture and Design
  • Dress, Meaning and Identity
  • Archiving Design: archives, libraries and resources for the study of design history and material culture
  • Technology, Design and Society
  • Contemporary Design Cultures
  • Themes in Irish Material Culture
  • Modernity, Modernism and Design

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.

For details of Course Fees see here


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 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 programme runs a dynamic public programme of talks and events. Recent speakers include Dr Claudia Kinmonth, Dr. Mick Wilson (Valand Academy, Gothenburg), Dr. Mhairi Sutherland (artist), Sam Keogh (artist), Dr Elaine Sisson (cultural historian, IADT), Professor Sarah Glennie (Director of NCAD), Vaari Claffey (independent curator) Eimer Murphy (design historian and prop maker, Abbey Theatre) Professor Luke Gibbons (cultural historian) and Professor Pat Kirkham (film and design historian). 

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.


On graduating, students on the programme have excellent research and writing skills, as well as a deep understanding of the way in which our material world has been shaped. Graduates from the MA DHMC work in a number of fields including writing, curating, research, design practice, design for film and theatre, heritage and arts management. The high standard of work on the course has been widely recognised, with two recent graduates receiving the prestigious international Design History Society postgraduate essay prize. Students have researched and produced work on highly diverse topics, with recent thesis subjects including the ontological status of theatre props; the concept of comfort in modernist furniture design; garden suburb design in Dublin; butter as material culture; the wearing of fur in twentieth century Ireland and the material culture of the Suffragette movement.



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 Masters programmes offered by the School of Visual Culture at NCAD, scholarships covering full tuition fees will be awarded to one student on the MA Art in the Contemporary World and one student on 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:

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 and architecture. Recent and forthcoming publications include the co-edited volume Making 1916: 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); Modern Religious Architecture in Germany, Ireland and Beyond: Influence, Process and Afterlife since 1945 (Bloomsbury, 2018); Understanding Uniform: Clothing and Discipline in the Modern World (Bloomsbury, 2019)

Dr Paul Caffrey

Dr Paul Caffrey is a lecturer in the history of art and design and an NCAD research fellow. His principal research interests are in Irish design history, interior architecture, the material culture of jewellery and miniature painting (works on enamel and ivory). Current research includes a reappraisal of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty's collection of enamels in the National Gallery of Ireland which was formed by Jacob Nachemsohn in the 1920s.

Recent publications include contributions to: Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840 at the Art Institute of Chicago (Yale University Press, 2016), Soldiers of Christ The Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar in Ireland (Four Courts Press, 2016), Portrait Miniatures: Artists, Functions and Collections at the Tansey Foundation, Celle Castle (Michael Imhof Verlag, 2018) and Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland (Irish Georgian Society, 2018). He is a regular contributor to the Irish Arts Review.

Since 2002, he has been chairman of the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust Awards which funds research projects in art, design and architecture in Ireland (including Northern Ireland). He is the founding trustee (1999) of the NCAD Staff Prize which awarded to students each year.

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 (