[revised, 11/27, 2007. Approved by DOECL faculty vote, 2/13, 2008. Approved by The Graduate School, 3/28, 2008]

Advising and the Plan of Study  I  Course Requirements  I  Language Competence  I  Reading Lists  I  PhD Examinations  I  Dissertation  I  MA Requirements

The Department of English and Comparative Literature supervises advanced work leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Comparative Literature. The program is administered by a Program Director appointed by the department chair and an interdepartmental faculty program committee appointed by the chair in consultation with the director and previously serving members of the committee. Students admitted into the graduate program are admitted for the PhD degree. A master’s degree may be taken as part of the program leading to the PhD degree but is not an essential part of the doctoral program.

The PhD degree requires advanced course work in a defined area of study and the completion of an acceptable dissertation treating some problem within that area. The Comparative Literature program is very flexible: any area, topic, or problem can be selected for study, provided only that it meets the approval of the student’s advisor and the program faculty and involves the study of literature in an international or interdisciplinary context. Each student’s course selection is made in consultation with a faculty advisor to meet the needs of the individual student’s program.

A. Advising and the Plan of Study

Course of Study Plans

Because the program is tailored to the interests of each individual student, it is essential that there be regular and intensive consultation between students and the faculty members advising them. Newly entering students will be advised by the Director of Graduate Studies during their first semester of residence. By the next semester, however, each student is expected to identify a faculty member with whom he or she feels comfortable working to serve as that student’s faculty advisor. This faculty member should have recognized expertise in the student’s primary area of interest and be willing to assist in the development of her or his Plan of Study. The advisor need not have an appointment in CMPL, though if such a faculty member should become the student’s dissertation director, this would require the approval of both the program and the Graduate School. All faculty with CMPL appointments should be ready to serve as advisors. Faculty without CMPL appointments but willing to serve as advisors should be thoroughly counseled by the Program Director in the responsibilities and expectations attendant upon the position. A student may also opt to select co-advisors, who must then be prepared to consult regularly with each other.   

The program requires that every continuing student present to the faculty, in the spring semester of each year, a formal Plan of Study for the coming year. Each student develops a Plan in consultation with the faculty advisor, keeping in mind the need to meet the requirements of the program for linguistic competence and to prepare for the doctoral comprehensive examinations. It is understood that in a student’s first two years, the Plan may be fairly open and still under construction, and the choice of advisor may be subject to change. However, it is expected that by the end of two years the student will have focused his or her studies sufficiently that a faculty advisor can be found who is qualified to assist the student in (1) composing an appropriately focused Plan of Study, (2) compiling the Ph.D. reading lists, (3) preparing for the Ph.D. exams, and (4) drafting a Ph.D. dissertation in the student’s area of interest and the faculty member’s area of expertise. Because the Comparative Literature program is designed to be both flexible as a whole and rigorous for each individual student, the faculty advisor will play a critical role in helping the student determine the particular courses appropriate to her or his Plan of Study. The Plan of Study is then submitted each spring for review to the assembled program faculty, who may make suggestions for alterations before giving approval. In any case, no student will be permitted to register for the second or subsequent years of study without the written approval of the Plan of Study, signed by the Program Director.

Newly entering students are exempt from this requirement. Before classes begin in their first semester of residence, entering students work out their course of study with the Director of Graduate Studies, who serves ex officio as advisor to all incoming students. Typically, in the first semester students will take CMPL 700, CMPL 841 (if offered that semester), one course that will serve to establish language competence, and one course relevant to their proposed field of study (two if CMPL 841 is not offered). Students in their first year contemplating teaching elementary language or English Composition should consider taking the pedagogy course that is normally a prerequisite for TA positions in those fields.

B. Course Requirements

Assuming they have non-service financial support during their first year of study, students normally take 4 courses per semester in their first two semesters of study and 3 courses per semester thereafter. If teaching or in similar employ during their first year, students usually take 3 courses per semester. A minimum of 16 courses is required for admission to candidacy; this minimum excludes consideration of the dissertation registration required by the Graduate School. All students are required to complete at least two CMPL courses during their first three semesters in residence, including both CMPL 700 (Literary Theory and the Practice of Comparative Literature) and CMPL 841 (Literary Theory and Criticism from Antiquity to 1700). In many cases the faculty advisor may recommend registering for other CMPL courses: for example, students specializing in modern literature are encouraged to take CMPL 842 (Literary Theory and Criticism from 1700 to 1900) and/or CMPL 843 (Literary Theory and Criticism from 1900 to the Present); students specializing in earlier literature or non-Western literature may be advised to take other courses in theory and methodology.

Students should take note of the following special circumstances, which may substantially affect the total number of courses required for the degree: 1) many students are required to take pedagogy courses as part of their training to teach in foreign language departments or in the English Writing Program; only one of these pedagogy courses may be counted toward meeting the minimum of 16 courses. 2) Courses taken to acquire or improve basic language skills, while often expected or encouraged by the program, do not count toward the 16 course minimum. 3) Students will sometimes be expected to take additional courses beyond the minimum. Circumstances under which this might be required include cases where students petition to change the primary orientation of their Plan of Study, in regard to either the primary geo-cultural field or comparative focus (see below). Such petitions for change must be submitted to the Program Director and approved by the program faculty. 4) Students entering the program with an M.A. in Comparative Literature or a related discipline from another institution may petition at the end of their first year of study for up to 9 hours of credit to be counted toward the courses required for admission to candidacy. Such petitions must be submitted to the Program Director and approved by the program faculty. 5) No more than two reading courses (496, 796, see below) may be counted toward the minimum of 16 required for candidacy.

The roster of courses numbered 400 and above offered under the CMPL designator constitute the core of the program’s curriculum, and students are strongly advised to make courses from this roster central to their Plans of Study. Graduate students may also, in accordance with the regulations of the Graduate School, take courses offered by other departments or neighboring universities. Courses in Anthropology, Art, Asian Studies, Classics, Communication Studies, Cultural Studies, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Medieval Studies, Music, Religious Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Slavic Languages and Literatures are often particularly appropriate. Students may, however, select any course in any department that is relevant to the program of study they have selected and that meets the approval of the faculty advisor.

In selecting courses, students should strive to acquire a solid foundation in their primary geo-cultural field as well as in the areas of their comparative interests, in keeping with their plan of study and in preparation for their reading lists for their Ph.D. exams (see below).  At times, the best option for achieving these goals will be to arrange a directed reading (CMPL 496 or 796) with an appropriate faculty member. Students are also encouraged to consider auditing courses whenever appropriate throughout their graduate career. 

C. Language Competence

Before being admitted to candidacy (that is, receiving official permission to write a dissertation), all students in the program must demonstrate linguistic competence as follows:

  • Mastery of one foreign language. “Mastery” here means competence comparable to that of an advanced Ph.D. student in the department offering that language; the “foreign language” will be a language other than English that is centrally relevant to the student’s plan of study. Whenever possible, this mastery will be demonstrated by serving as a Teaching Assistant or Teaching Fellow in the elementary instruction in that language.  If teaching opportunities are not available, the student may demonstrate mastery by passing (with a grade of P or H) two or more courses at the 700 level or higher in the literature/culture of that language; these courses must require substantial work in the original language.  In cases where neither teaching experience nor 700-level courses are available, the advisor and director will work together to find a means of certifying mastery in the foreign language.
  • Proficiency in a second foreign language.  “Proficiency” here means competence comparable to that of an undergraduate majoring in that language.  This proficiency will generally be demonstrated by passing (with a grade of P or H) a course at the 500 level or higher in the literature/culture of that language; this course must require substantial work in the original language.  In some cases, this proficiency may be demonstrated by passing a language exam administered in cooperation with the department responsible for instruction in that language.

D. Reading Lists

In order to be admitted to candidacy and begin writing a dissertation, students must pass the doctoral comprehensive exams, which are based on two comprehensive reading lists, devised individually by each student. Beginning with the end of the 2nd year, these reading lists should be included as part of the Plan of Study. Preliminary lists should be developed in consultation with the student’s primary advisor; both lists should normally be finalized by the fall semester of the student’s third year, usually after additional consultation with other members of the student’s exam committee (see below).

There are two comprehensive reading lists, roughly defined in terms of a “field” and a “focus.” There may be overlap between the two lists, but the point is to have two different ways of organizing the student’s knowledge. Titles will ordinarily include an appropriate mix of primary and secondary literature, and the degree of acceptable duplication with the titles of books read in specific courses and of allowable overlap between the two lists will be determined by the student's primary advisor in consultation with the student and his or her committee.

The Field:       

The field reading list maps out a general field of study within a primary geo-cultural literary tradition and over a broad chronological period (such as either pre 1700 or post 1700). It should be closely coordinated with the student’s Plan of Study, and should lay the basis for his or her preparation in the field in which the student and primary advisor expect the student to be qualified to seek academic employment.  This reading list should generally consist of no fewer than 75 titles.

The term "geo-cultural literary tradition" is intended to describe what in some cases might be called a "national literature tradition," but clearly not in all cases. Thus, Greek or Latin Literature, Italian Literature, Germanic Literature, French or Francophone Literature, Spanish Literature, and Russian Literature would all be considered geo-cultural traditions. But so would Latin American Literatures, Caribbean Literatures, Islamic Literature, African Literatures, and South or East Asian Literatures. A by no means exhaustive list of the kind of geo-cultural traditions we have in mind would include:

  • African and /or Diaspora Literatures
  • American literatures -- either U.S. or North American and/or Central American and/or South American
  • Caribbean literatures (in French and/or English, Spanish, and other languages)
  • Classical Literatures
  • East Asian Literatures
  • English / Irish / Scottish / Welsh / "British" literature
  • French and/or Francophone literatures
  • Germanic literatures
  • Italian literature
  • Latin American literatures (Spanish or Spanish / Portuguese)
  • Middle Eastern / Arabic / Islamic literature
  • Postcolonial literatures -- New World (Canadian/Carib), or S. Asian, or Pacific  Rim, etc.
  • Russian and/or Slavic literatures
  • South Asian literatures  
  • Spanish / Iberian literatures

Most of these geo-cultural traditions are not in themselves comparative, though some are and some could be. Rather, almost all correspond to departmental units or recognized subfields within departmental units that would likely have positions to offer our graduates, and for which students should be qualified.

For the purposes of the field reading list, the chronological coverage within the primary geo-cultural literary tradition expected of students will not be as extensive as that for graduate students specializing in that tradition alone, but will still be considerable—which is to say, sufficiently inclusive to qualify students to compete for academic positions in that field. The exact extent of the coverage will depend somewhat on the specifics of the given tradition, and will be determined in consultation with the student’s committee. But generally, coverage of either the early or the modern tradition is expected.

The Focus:

The focus reading list is focused on a particular area of comparative research; it should allow students to explore topics and issues they may want to pursue further in the dissertation. In the interest of maximum flexibility, and as a way of best reflecting each student's personal interests and Plan of Study, there should be very few preexistent guidelines for the composition of this list. It should, however, remain centered in the student’s primary geo-cultural literary tradition and always cross linguistic bounds into other traditions and so be truly comparative. It should generally consist of no fewer than 75 titles.

The comparative dimension of the focus reading list can be defined in many different ways. Most traditionally, it can be characterized in terms of a genre, such as drama, lyric, the novel, film, literary criticism or theory; or in terms of a particular period, such as Renaissance, Romanticism, or Modernism (and similar ancient and non-Western demarcations). A rough and merely illustrative indication of the kind of periods we have in mind would be:          

  •  Classical (Greek, Roman, Late Antique/Early Christian)
  •  Medieval (or pre-modern Islam / Asian studies)
  •  Renaissance / Early Modern (usually up to 1700 in Northern Europe)
  •  Neoclassical / 18th Century / Enlightenment / "Age of Empire"
  •  Early Transatlantic / Colonial Americas (roughly 1450-1750 or a portion thereof)
  •  Enlightenment / Romanticism (roughly 1750-1840?)
  •  Nineteenth Century
  •  Modernism (Late 19th -- early-to-mid 20th Century)
  •  Contemporary (1945-present)

In a very few cases, the period might nearly coincide with the broader chronological sweep expected for the student's primary geo-cultural literary tradition, but will usually be much shorter. It will, however, always be extended synchronically/ comparatively into the student’s secondary language(s). And the same basic principle would hold for a student whose comparative focus was a genre: the more general and extensive coverage expected in the primary geo-cultural tradition of the student’s field would be complemented by a more targeted comparative study of that genre in the secondary language(s) of his or her focus.

Periods and genres are simply the most traditional means for defining a comparative focus. There are many others, and we can be quite flexible and the student quite inventive in devising the comparative dimension of the reading list. Here is a very partial list of some well-recognized comparative foci: 

  •  Philosophy and Literature
  •  History of Science / Medicine / Technology / Psychology
  •  Visual Culture / Art History (incl. photography, et. al.)
  •  Cinema / Film Studies
  •  Sexuality Studies / Gender Studies / Queer Theory
  •  Anthropology and Literature
  •  Religion and Literature
  •  Politics and/or Social Thought
  •  Theater / Spectacle / Performance Theory
  •  Poetics / Literary Criticism
  •  Literary and/or Cultural Theory

In any of these cases, and in that of any other devised by the student and approved by his or her committee, the guiding principle should remain the same as for a period or genre: the comparative field will always cross linguistic boundaries and will complement the broader, more diachronic coverage in the primary geo-cultural tradition.

E. PhD Examinations

By the end of the second year, the student should have assembled her or his exam committee, which should consist of 5 members, including the primary advisor. The same faculty will serve on the exam committees for both lists and both exams. All committee members should be involved from early on, and should assist the student and the primary advisor in the compilation of the lists and the composition of the exams. It will be the responsibility of the student's primary advisor, not the student, to ensure that the entire committee approves of the final reading lists, but it will be the student’s responsibility to coordinate scheduling of the exam with departmental support staff.

In the 4th year of study (optimally Fall), students will present themselves for two sets of exams. Ordinarily, these exams will be taken within a semester’s time of each other. The first exam will be a six hour sit-down exam and will test the student on the field list. It will be divided into two roughly equal parts, one part to be taken in the morning and the other in the afternoon of the same day. The exam will be written by the student’s primary advisor in consultation with the exam committee, who may be asked to contribute questions; the exam must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies before being taken by the student.

The second exam will test the student on the focus list. It will be in two parts. The first part will be a take-home open-book exam that the student will have 48 hours (two days) to complete. It will normally consist of one substantial question, whose general parameters should already have been established in conversations between the student and her or his advisor. The advisor will compose the exam, which should be approved the exam committee prior to being given to the student. The student is expected to write an original 15-20 page essay on the assigned topic. Students are encouraged to make use of all available technology and of any materials, resources, data bases, etc., they would normally consult while doing research.

The second part of the second exam will be oral. Graduate School regulations stipulate that students must be officially admitted to the oral exams after the writtens: the exam committee will be given approximately one week to read the written exam and admit students to the orals. The oral portion of the exam will last one hour, and ordinarily will be scheduled within two weeks of the completion of the writtens. One week prior to the oral exam, the student will be presented with a question by the committee formulated after their reading of the writtens, and he or she will be asked to prepare a twenty minute oral response and to deliver it at the beginning of the oral exam. The format for the rest of the oral exam will remain open, to take the shape that best serves the occasion.

The prospectus exam should normally follow within six weeks.

F. Dissertation

Dissertation Prospectus

Since the function of the focus reading list and exam is to allow students to prepare themselves in their chosen areas of comparative interest, students should complete their exams in an excellent position to begin their dissertation research. Accordingly, students are expected to begin formal discussions with their advisor about their dissertation proposal immediately after the completion of the Ph.D. oral exam. In consultation with his or her primary advisor, the student selects four other faculty members to serve on his or her dissertation committee; under most circumstances, the dissertation committee will coincide with the examination committee, but it need not always do so.

A final draft of the dissertation prospectus should normally be submitted to the committee within 6 weeks, and no later than 2-3 months, after the successful completion of the Ph.D. oral exam. The dissertation prospectus ordinarily consists of a narrative description of the dissertation project approximately 3,000 words in length (12 double-spaced pages) and a substantial bibliography of approximately 10 double-spaced pages. The prospectus must 1) present the thesis and outline the argument of the dissertation project; 2) engage with relevant scholarship to explain why the proposed work needs doing and what the potential significance of the results might be; 3) elaborate the theoretical perspective(s) or methodology for the proposed research; 4) offer a chapter-by-chapter overview of the dissertation; and 5) demonstrate the student's broad familiarity with relevant primary and secondary literature.

Once the final version of the dissertation proposal has been completed, the student meets with the committee for a one-hour oral examination in which he or she presents and defends the dissertation prospectus. In order to be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy, students must submit a proposal that in the judgment of their committee meets these standards, and they must defend their proposal successfully in the oral examination. The committee may, at its discretion, require revision of the prospectus as a condition of final acceptance, and in some cases may require the student to defend the prospectus a second time.

Dissertation Completion:

Dissertations should ordinarily be between 200 and 350 pages, printed in a standard font such as Times-New Roman 12, in the format that conforms to the requirements stipulated by the Graduate School. Once a complete penultimate version has been approved by the student's advisor, the dissertation will be distributed to members of the committee, and a defense will be scheduled. The defense will usually be held as soon after the submission of the penultimate version as is practical.. It is crucial, however, that students submit the penultimate version of their dissertations to the committee a full four weeks before the scheduled defense.

The examination will be conducted by the primary advisor and the four other members of the dissertation committee. The result of the defense may be one of the following: 1) pass with acceptance of the penultimate version as the final draft, or with the expectation that the student complete minor revisions; 2) pass with recommendation for moderate to extensive revisions; 3) fail. In case 2), the primary advisor will oversee the revisions, and no further defense will be necessary. In case 3), the student will be allowed to retake the examination one more time.

G. M.A. Requirements

The MA is not required as part of the PhD curriculum. Students who wish to obtain an MA degree as part of their PhD studies may do so, provided they meet certain additional requirements. These requirements are as follows:

Passing ten courses, including:

  • CMPL 700
  • CMPL 841
  • an additional graduate-level course in theory or methodology (CMPL 842, 843, or equivalent)
  • seven additional graduate courses, at least three (and no more than four) of which must be in the student’s primary geo-cultural literary tradition, and the others part of an approved Plan of Study with a coherent comparative focus.

If the student’s primary geo-cultural literary tradition is English-language based, then the student will also be required to establish language proficiency in a foreign language that is centrally relevant to the student’s plan of study, according to the standards formulated above (Section C).

Enrolling in a 3-hour thesis-substitute course (992, typically an independent research project)

Passing an hour-long oral comprehensive MA exam, based on the readings in the required courses.

Neither a third foreign language nor a thesis is required to qualify for the MA.
For those students wishing to obtain an MA, the primary advisor in consultation with the student sets up a committee of three faculty members (including the advisor) to supervise progress toward the degree and to administer the oral exam.