The Dickens MA – how it works

What is the Dickens MA, and what does it involve?

The MA by Research in Charles Dickens Studies is run by the University of Buckingham with the Chares Dickens Museum in London. Seminars are run either at the museum or at the University’s London site on Gower Street, near Euston, where there are also computer facilities and resources available 24/7 to students. The course directors are Professor John Drew and Dr Pete Orford.

The course is designed to support and encourage students through their own research project, over the course of one year for full-time students, or two years for part-time. Students are initially asked to produce three preliminary projects in the first half of their study: an extended research proposal, an annotated bibliography, and an intermediate essay. Each of these is designed to train and prepare you with the necessary skills and knowledge to then pursue your full dissertation on a topic of your choice in the second half of your study. Your study is supported through one-to-one tuition, guided feedback, and fortnightly seminars where guest speakers meet the group to discuss their own work with Dickens.

About the seminars

The seminars are a highpoint of the MA. Research offers opportunity for independent study and innovation, but it can be isolating, so we feel it is important to encourage a sense of community. Throughout term time, the seminars run on a Thursday evening at 6pm in London where students can come together, meet their peers and supervisors, and discuss their work. More than this, it also allows the students opportunity to meet academics and Dickensians from around the world who come to the seminars to deliver a guest lecture. Previous seminar speakers have included playwrights David Edgar and Michael Eaton, authors Judith Flanders and Lucinda Hawksley (Dickens’s descendant), and academics such as Michael Slater, Catherine Waters, Malcolm Andrews, Andrew Sanders, Juliet John and many more. The seminars usually finish by 8pm, when traditionally we head to the nearest restaurant for pizza, wine and more chat!

In the age of Covid-19, we moved our recent seminars online to allow students to still participate in these meetings and hear world-class research from their home. The University also offers a wide range of research resources online. We are continuing to monitor the situation, balancing student experience with safe precautions to ensure that research can continue in these ‘Hard Times’, and are looking forward to resuming face-to-face seminars in September.

Your research

Dickens studies is growing field with a wide range of areas you could choose to study. Previous topics covered by students include Dickens’s female collaborators on the Christmas Numbers; his religious views; the portrayal of Mary Hogarth in Dickens biographies; his relationship with Daniel Maclise; fictional portrayals of Dickens; his co-editor W H Wills; his portrayal of servants; and even his representation of smells!

You’ll be encouraged in your early studies to consider your topic and set out a plan of action in the Extended Research Proposal. Creating an Annotated Bibliography will help you build up a library of resources and find your own voice among the network of critics who have had their own opinions on the topic. The Intermediate Essay is a mini-dissertation of 3,500 words where you can hone both your research and writing skills with support and feedback. The Intermediate Essay can be on a topic unrelated to your main thesis. All three Project Preliminaries are submitted halfway through your studies, but there is no set order in which you start them – that is up to you! Some students prefer to get their main topic identified first, then use the Intermediate Essay to tackle the bits they didn’t choose. Others prefer to start with the Intermediate Essay to get a sense of what they can do and get their creative juices flowing, before then making a decision about what they want to do extended research on. Your supervisor will help you make the best decision for you.

Once the preliminaries are done, you’re ready to go on your main thesis! This will be around 30,000 words, with students usually breaking this into three or four chapters. You’ll continue to receive one-to-one support and feedback from your supervisor as you push ahead in your new specialist subject.

The Charles Dickens Museum

We are very pleased to be able to offer this MA with the support and involvement of the Charles Dickens Museum. Based in Dickens’ former home at 48 Doughty Street, London, the Museum has an unrivalled collection of Dickensiana. Early in their studies, students have opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Museum to learn about their archives. Then students can visit the museum’s research rooms for a one-to-one introduction on items relevant to their potential areas of interest. If you’re not sure what to study, the Museum has several items and avenues of research that it can suggest for exploration. In addition, many MA students have gone on to help the museum in archiving items, transcribing letters or exploring new objects.

The Department of English at The University of Buckingham

The English Department at Buckingham has long been a home to thriving Dickens Research. Our staff members include Professor John Drew (author of Dickens the Journalist and founder of Dickens Journal Online), Dr Hazel Mackenzie (author of The Companion to The Old Curiosity Shop and co-editor of Dickens Journals Online) and Dr Pete Orford (author of the Mystery of Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens unfinished novel and our endless attempts to end it, and founder of The Drood Inquiry).The department is also proud of its place in a larger Dickens network, and has several Dickensians among its Research Fellows, including Paul Schlicke, Cathy Waters, David Paroissien, Jeremy Parrot, Nicholas Cambridge, Emma Curry and Tony Williams.

In recent years the department has launched several online reading groups and initiatives to encourage wider participation with Dickens, including A Tales of Two Cities Reading Project, Cloisterham Tales, Great Expectations Readalong, Dickens In Italy and the Hard Times Readalong which is currently running. We’ve featured on television and radio programmes, co-curated Museum exhibitions, and convened conferences. We are always keen to promote the works of Dickens and work with others to introduce more people to his writings. One of the greatest joys of the Dickens MA for us is seeing people find their confidence as they discover new things about Dickens and present their own opinions, joining a thriving conversation of scholars in the process! You can find full details on the MA, including costs and how to apply, here.

Published by Pete Orford

I'm course director of the MA in Charles Dickens Studies at the University of Buckingham in conjunction with the Dickens Museum in London. I am currently editing Pictures from Italy for the Oxford Dickens collection, and I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry ( My book "The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel and our endless attempts to end it" was published by Pen and Sword Books in 2018.

13 thoughts on “The Dickens MA – how it works

  1. If there are any potential students reading this, who are in two minds whether to do the MA or not, I would say go for it! The programme of seminars is vibrant and varied, and the academic support is outstanding. I’m a very satisfied customer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pete, when enrolling on the course, do students tend to come with ideas about what they want to research or is it more common for something to evolve as result of the seminars and the direction that you provide?


    1. Paul, it can go either way. I’ve had many students come in waiting to be inspired, and others who have a very definite idea (many of whom then change their minds!). The course is designed to allow time to explore and investigate, with the seminars and museum often providing inspiration.


    2. Paul I had no idea what I wanted to focus on my research on when I started. It evolved. There are so many avenues I could have gone down, it was hard to actually narrow down what I wanted to do. Pete and John both gave really great guidance, and helped me to discuss some of the ethical issues that arose as I waded through the legal issues around the separation between Charles and Catherine.


    3. Paul, when I signed up, I was planning to write about Dickens and prisons. The idea of ‘Dickens’s finances’ suggested itself to me after a seminar about household artefacts at the museum. I think quite a few of us developed, or even completely changed, our tack during the first few months.


  3. I just wanted to thank everyone. This has been a really enjoyable and informative Open Day. I especially appreciated the posts of David, Kyle, Deborah and Warren – all of which were so interesting.


    1. Thanks Joy, and I’d certainly echo that. Thank you to our students for taking the time today to share their ideas. It’s been great to see.


  4. Thanks for the varied and inspiring coverage of the field. Can you say please what does full time and part time mean in this context?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Val, you’re welcome, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. Full and part-time is really defined in this instance by length of study. So full-time would require students to submit their preliminary materials in six months, and their thesis six months later at the end of the year; part-time doubles those lengths so you submit preliminaries after one year, and then have a whole other year to write the thesis. The cost is also spread over two years (all fees are paid in quarterly instalments over the year, so in part-time this would be eight instalments). Many of our students have taken the MA while working so have preferred part-time.


  5. Hi everyone. It’s Saturday 19th June 2021, the sun is out (huzzah) and we’re inside on our keyboards for the rest of the afternoon ready to answer any questions about the Dickens MA. We’ll bne releasing videos and blog posts through the afternoon to showcase some of the recent work of students and staff, and are happy to talk about any other aspects of our research, the MA, and Dickens!


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