MA Design History and Material Culture

MA Design History and Material Culture with specialisms in Dress and Fashion or Contemporary Design and Technology. Design History and Material Culture helps us to understand the present and the past.

This course is concerned with the way the material world has been shaped and how designed objects, systems and spaces shape society and the individuals that use them.

The MA DHMC course is taught within the School of Visual Culture at NCAD. It is a broad and flexible taught postgraduate programme that examines a range of practices and their critical, theoretical, historical and social contexts.

This unique course offers an opportunity for in-depth research and learning about contemporary and historic dobjects, spaces and systems including dress, architecture, graphics and everyday artefacts. Topics that students have worked on include the influence of Japanese design on Eileen Gray; the material culture of Irish sufragette movement; the co-existence of peopleand robots and the agency of theatre props.

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

SPECIALISMS: flexibility is built into the programme. In addition to the core modules, students will be offered the choice of specialising in a particular field.

For 2019-20 the specialisms are:

Dress and Fashion

Contemporary Design and Technology

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

Students taking the course have come from a wide range of different backgrounds including journalism, fine art and design practice, theatre, film, publishing, craft, entrepreneurship, history, anthropology, archaeology, architecture and history of art.


One annual scholarship is available for the most promising applicant to 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.



Learning takes place 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.  

The MA DHMC regularly collaborates with key cultural institutions which have resulted in research projects, public events and publications. These include the National Museum of Ireland, the Irish Film Institute, the Dublin International Film Festival, the Little Museum of Dublin, the Irish Architecture Foundation and the National Library of Ireland.

In recent years students on the course have researched, written and produced the symposium, exhibition and book 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, for example, Visualising the City (with the National Library of Ireland and UCD MA History of Art).


Following on from previous collaborations that have resulted in publications, exhibitions and public events, two significant projects are planned for 2019-2020. Students on the MA DHMC will be collaborating with the new landmark cultural institution the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) and the National Museum of Ireland, working on its historic and Contemporary collections.

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. Located in the creative environment of an art and design college, the programme gives opportunities to work closely with postgraduate designers in classes and on live projects. NCAD is also home to the National Irish Visual Arts Library  NIVAL is an unparalleled archival 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 live projects.

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.

The following modules have been offered:

The Meaning of Things: interpreting objects and spaces

Key Concepts and Sources

Design Writing

Design, Style and Industry

Dress, Meaning and Identity

Technology, Design and Society

Contemporary Design Cultures

Themes in Irish Design and Material Culture

Material Modernities, Modernism and Design

Dublin: Design and Materiality

Social and Material Approaches to Photography

Research Methods for Design History and Material Culture

Archiving Design: archives, libraries and resources for the study of design history and material culture.


The modules may change from year to year. All of the modules listed above would not be offered in any one academic year.

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 a 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 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 that have undertaken 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 women’s suffrage movement in Ireland.


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. 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 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:

You may also contact the programme directors:

Dr Lisa Godson  or

Dr Paul Caffrey  (MA Design History and Material Culture)

Application 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. The co-directors of the course are Dr Lisa Godson and Dr Paul Caffrey

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). His current research includes a reappraisal of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty's collection of enamels in the National Gallery of Ireland. 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). 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. He is the founding trustee of the NCAD Staff Prize which is awarded to students each year.

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). She is a Director of the Irish Architecture Foundation, a Trustee of the Design History Society and has collaborated with a number of creative practitioners -: the award-winning feature documentary Build Something Modern was a collaboration with Still Films based on her research into Irish modernist architecture in Africa and she was research collaborator with Jesse Jones on the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2017.

Professor David Crowley

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 is also the author of various books in the field of urban history, material culture studies and graphic design history and music. 

Dr Rachel O’Dwyer

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 Economies, Convergence, Fibreculture, Spheres 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.


Programme Contact:

Dr Paul Caffrey (

Dr Lisa Godson (