MA Design History and Material Culture

In 2022 the Design History and Material Culture MA programme commences in January. Details of the curriculum appear below, as well as the Postgraduate Scholarship. Applications are open.

The MA in Design History & Material Culture (DHMC) is a broad and flexible taught postgraduate programme within the School of Visual Culture at NCAD. It is unique in Ireland in its focus on designed objects, buildings, spaces and systems and their critical, theoretical, historical and social contexts. It is taught in close partnership with the National Museum of Ireland.

Students can expect to produce work in a range of formats such as academic writing, design journalism and presentations. The programme offers opportunities to work with other postgraduate design students on exhibitions and other live projects.

MA DURATION: 1 year full-time or 2 years part-time 90 ECTS credits / Taught Masters /Visual Culture Pathway

Students on the course come from a wide range of backgrounds including fine art and design practice, history, theatre, film, publishing, craft, entrepreneurship, anthropology, archaeology, architecture and history of art. They work particularly closely with the curators and collections of the National Museum of Ireland, and alongside other postgraduate students at NCAD.

Irene Gilbert fashion design (detail)


One annual scholarship is available for the most promising applicant to the MA Design History and Material Culture. The scholarship will be awarded on the basis of previous academic and/or professional achievement and all applicants are eligible, including EU and non-EU students.

Detail of packaging for a robot toy, c. 1960


MA exhibition at the Irish Architecture Foundation

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 and form of design and material culture across space and time.

As well as pursuing individual research projects including a substantial thesis, students are given the opportunity to work with local and national institutions through a series of collaborative projects. In partnership with the National Museum of Ireland, students have produced in-depth research of specific objects in the museum collection and undertaken projects to collect material that reflects contemporary Irish culture.

In the recent past, while on the MA students have produced publications (360: the material culture of the Liberties sponsored by the Digital Hub), 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, including dress history, material culture theory, modernist design and architecture, design writing and contemporary technology. Guest speakers are invited to address the course through an inter-disciplinary public seminar series, with students hearing from a variety of leading practitioners and researchers whose work relates to design and material culture.


Eileen Gray display at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks

Our key institutional partner is the National Museum of Ireland, Ireland’s leading museum institution. Through this partnership, students are able to work with the advice of expert curators to explore the museum’s unrivalled collections of Irish and international historic and contemporary material, and collaborate on a series of research and collecting projects. Joint initiatives include our interdisciplinary public seminar series, symposia and conferences.




Design for stained glass from the Earley collection, NIVAL

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.

Modules and courses which have been offered include: 

  • The Meaning of Things: interpreting objects and spaces
  • Design, Display and Exhibition: focussing on a different Dublin postcode every year and working towards a public exhibition of student research
  • Dress, Meaning and Identity
  • Design and Technology
  • Contemporary Design Cultures
  • Themes in Irish Material Culture
  • Modernity, Modernism and Design

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. 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.

Students benefit from close relationships with artists, designers and commentators, together with curators and archivists in museums and archives, including the National Museum of Ireland.

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.

Collaborative project with IMMA and UCD Architecture

In 2021, students on the MA will be involved in an exciting new interdisciplinary collaborative module with UCD architecture students and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), focussed on the site of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham where IMMA is located. In attending to the historic, contemporary and future use and meaning of this specific place, themes including infrastructure, the materiality of death, empire and landscape, and the material realm of the contemporary art museum will be explored. Contributors include Professor Hugh Campbell, Professor Mick Wilson and IMMA Director Annie Fletcher. A public outcome in the form of a symposium and exhibition is planned. 

Public Seminar Series

The MA DHMC is committed to public understanding of the ways design and material culture can be understood across a range of fields and registers. Our annual public seminar series is open to all and features speakers whose work intersects with some of the key concerns of the course and students. Past speakers have included Claudia Kinmonth on understanding the vernacular, the artist Sam Keogh on the limits of speculative object analysis, Ben Grosser on the software-induced desire for more and Mary Ann Bolger and Max Phillips on (re)designing Irish typefaces.

The Secret Lives 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 academia, 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 three recent graduates receiving the prestigious Design History Society postgraduate essay prize.

Students have researched and produced work on highly diverse topics, with recent thesis subjects including the ethics of living with domestic robots; 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 ways of understanding the material heritage of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundry system.


Donna Rose (graduated from NCAD MA Design History and Material Culture 2019) 

'I had initially graduated from the Crawford College of and Design, Cork, with a Fine Arts degree in 2017. It was during my undergraduate study that I realized that as much as I loved making art, I enjoyed writing about it even more. I knew I wanted to pursue further study in a field that could combine my interests in art, history and cultural studies with my desire to develop my writing and research skills. I chose to study Design History and Material Culture at NCAD because of the multidisciplinary nature of the programme. Its location on such a vibrant and creative campus was also very appealing to me.

The course content is varied, with focus on areas such as dress history, object analysis and research methods. I particularly enjoyed, and have since found very useful, the design writing module in which we were encouraged to develop our writing styles. We worked with the MA Interaction Design students on this module, and the range of insight and opinion has helped me to grow as a writer and communicator. 

My time in NCAD not only allowed me to nurture my skills in writing, but also in research and everything that goes with it - following leads, meeting deadlines, communicating my findings, and approaching everything with professionalism and care. The projects we were given emulated real-world challenges and helped me prepare for the real world of work and my career. 

After finishing the MA course, I immediately entered the workplace by securing a fellowship in the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art in the National Gallery of Ireland. I can say with confidence that my time at NCAD gave me the confidence needed to apply for the fellowship and the skills to succeed. The role involves working with objects in the archive, sharing the material culture with a wide audience and fostering interest in the study of Irish art. I feel that my time at NCAD has ensured that I can approach my role with creativity and insight.

The creative freedom that I experienced while studying at NCAD was a vital stage in my personal growth. I had the support and encouragement to develop my practice both in my research and in my writing. As an early career historian support is vital, and as a recent graduate, I continue to be supported in my professional development by the lecturing staff at NCAD.'

Jess Majekodunmi - DHS Prize winner

Photo: Ruth Medjber.

n 2019 Jess won the annual Design History Society essay prize for the best student essay of the year for her study of bollards in Dublin, produced while on the Design History and Material Culture MA programme at NCAD. The essay can be read here. She is also interviewed here. Jess now heads up the Human Insights Lab at the Dock


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 requirements: 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 an undergraduate 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. 

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

Please contact the course director Dr Lisa Godson

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 two students 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: Monday September 13th 2021 (applications for places on the programme remain open after this date).

You may also contact the programme director

Dr Lisa Godson 

Application enquiries:

Programme team

The MA DHMC is taught by internationally recognised leaders in their fields, which include contemporary design theory, material culture studies, architectural studies, dress and textiles history, contemporary craft practice and craft history. The current course director is Lisa Godson, and the external examiner is Professor Ben Highmore, University of Sussex.

Paul Caffrey

Dr Paul Caffrey’s principal research interests are in Irish design history, interior architecture, the material culture of jewellery and miniature painting (works on enamel and ivory). 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 Tansey Foundation, Celle Castle (Michael Imhof Verlag, 2018) and Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland (Irish Georgian Society, 2018).

David Crowley

Professor David Crowley is an expert on modernism with a focus on Eastern Europe under communist rule. His books include Socialist Spaces (2003) and Pleasures in Socialism (2010). He writes regularly for Eye magazine, Creative Review, and Frieze, and curates exhibitions including Cold War Modern (V&A, 2008–9) and Notes from the Underground: Alternative Art and Music in East Europe (Lodz and Berlin 2017-18). He also curated the Warsaw Poster Bienalle in 2016. He is also the author of various books in the field of urban history, material culture studies and graphic design history and music. 

Lisa Godson

Dr Lisa Godson’s research interests include contemporary art and design and Twentieth Century Irish material culture and architecture. Recent publications include Making 1916: Visual and Material Culture of the Easter Rising (Liverpool University Press, 2015); Design Learning in an Age of Austerity (co-editor, 2015); Modern Religious Architecture in Germany, Ireland and Beyond: Influence, Process and Afterlife since 1945 (Bloomsbury, 2019); Understanding Uniform: Clothing and Discipline in the Modern World (Bloomsbury, 2019). She frequently collaborates with artists, for example with Jesse Jones on the Irish pavilion at the Venice International Biennale (2017).

Rachel O’Dwyer

Dr Rachel O’Dwyer’s research is at the intersection of digital cultures and cultural economies. She has been a research fellow in Connect, the SFI Research Centre in Trinity College, Dublin and an IRC research fellow in the sociology department of Maynooth University. She has published extensively on digital cultures, digital value and digital art in Journal of Cultural EconomiesConvergenceFibrecultureSpheres, Journal of Digital Culture, Institute of Network Cultures, London Review of Books, CIRCA and other titles. She is currently completing a book for MIT Press, Leonardo Art|Science Series on the ownership of the radio spectrum.

Hilary O’Kelly

Hilary O'Kelly is a dress historian with a specialist interest in Ireland since the 18th century. Her book Cleo: Irish Clothes in a Wider World (2014) is an award-winning study of one of Dublin's oldest clothing businesses. She has also written on Celtic Revival dress and on the role played by National Revival dress in Irish revolutionary politics. Research interests include the role and significance of dress in art history, costume design, dress and the material culture of Ireland.