Handbook for Students in the
handbook is an introduction to the Graduate Program in Comparative
Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania and
a gathering of procedural regulations and miscellaneous information
regarding studies in the Program. For official amplification, clarification,
and possible revisions, consult the Program's Chair, members of its
Executive Committee and/or individual faculty advisers.
Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory
The Program in Comparative Literature and
Literary Theory at Penn offers the study of literature as artistic
production and cultural institution across a diversity of languages
and traditions. As its name suggests, the Program features literary
theory as a core component of the curriculum, thereby encouraging
a broad interdisciplinary range of research across philosophy and
aesthetics, material and intellectual history, psychoanalysis, Marxism,
and other relevant fields. The Program at Penn gives its students
the opportunity to design courses of study that reflect their individual
interests in light of emerging fields of research within literary
and cultural studies and related disciplines. Its degree requirements
have been designed to insure that its students are well prepared
for academic careers and fully responsive to the intellectual expansions
and changes within their chosen disciplines.
OF THE PROGRAM
main components of the Program are as follows:
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in the Program are expected to become aware of the major questions
informing current theoretical discussions in literary and cultural
studies, and as their studies progress, to become conversant with
particular intellectual formations, key concepts, and critical
junctures. There are particular strengths in the teaching of theory
at Penn, including postcolonial theory and globalization studies,
studies in race and class, diaspora studies, feminist theory,
queer theory, gender studies, narratology, poststructuralism and
postmodernist thought, semiotics, psychoanalysis, film studies,
and the history of material texts. Two required courses in theory
taken during the first year of study in the Program lead to the
MA exam at the end of the year.
The study of theory during the first year has a strong historical
component, so that students will appreciate current critical discourses
by also understanding how certain concepts have been shaped and
transformed through debates in philosophy, aesthetics, political
and social thought, and theories of knowledge.
[click here to see MA the exam
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students in the Program must acquire a strong knowledge of at
least one national literature, which is understood to include
any linguistically, historically, or culturally coherent literary
tradition, as well as national literary traditions. Students organize
their studies of the principal literature according to a diachronic
model, while also bringing their developing theoretical and field
interests to bear on the material. In view of the current organization
of academic departments, it is necessary that graduates in comparative
literary studies be very well prepared in an individual linguistic/national
tradition, and our program is designed to insure this level of
expertise. Penn has extensive course offerings in English, American,
French, Peninsular Spanish, Latin American, Italian, German, and
Slavic literatures, as well as graduate programs in Classical,
Middle Eastern, East Asian, and South Asian languages.
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third component of the Program is the special field, an area of
special interest that students develop which is intended to allow
students to draw together their theoretical, historical, and disciplinary
interests towards a formulation of research objectives. It can
represent a thematic, disciplinary, critical, or historical specialization
that can draw on the principal literature but also incorporate
other interests. The special field may involve the study of a
second linguistic/literary tradition; a specific literary-historical
field, literary movement or genre; a related discipline or field
of production (such as film, linguistics, philosophy, political
thought); or any other well-defined area of study (e.g., medieval
studies, modern European intellectual history, popular culture,
art history. This last can also include particular areas of critical
theory, such as Marxist thought, gender theory, or psychoanalysis.
Reading in the special field will provide the context for work
on the dissertation, and leads to the composition of a field exam
and its rationale, which is the exam to establish the grounds
for dissertation research.
In order to apply to
the program in Comparative Literature, please use the online form. For further general information regarding graduate
studies at the University, consult the Graduate Admissions catalog.
Please note that the application deadline for the fall semester
is DECEMBER 15.
Only Ph.D. candidates can be admitted to the Program. A terminal M.A. degree will be awarded to qualifying students who transfer to another university or who, for whatever reason, cannot continue their course of study. Admissions are only for the fall semester. No student will be admitted to begin in the spring semester. Students who enter the Program with an M.A. from another university must fulfill all the Program's requirements, including the mandatory course in literary theory, but are eligible for transfer credits (see below). All students, upon admission, are expected to have proficiency in English and at least one other language relevant to their course of study. Non-native speakers are required to submit their scores on the TOEFL examination to demonstrate their competence to engage in graduate studies conducted in the English language. Non-native speakers who have passed at least two courses at English-language universities need not take the TOEFL exam again but must take the GRE exams. Applicants should take the GRE exams in time for the scores to reach the Program office by December 15. A subject test is not required.
New as of Fall 2009:
application students should submit a sample of their critical
writing no more than 30 pages long. The online application now accepts scanned writing samples and transcripts. Please do not exceed our 30 pp. writing sample limit. You
must first begin the application in order to be prompted for all
scanned materials, letters of recommendation, and the application fee. If you are unable to scan your materials, please mail hard copies to the Comparative Literature and Literary Theory Program, University
of Pennsylvania, 720 Williams Hall, 255 S. 36th Street, Philadelphia,
All applicants (U.S. citizens and foreign nationals) will automatically be considered for fellowship awards. No special forms need be submitted. The Program supports all students in good standing for five years. Successful applicants will be awarded either the Benjamin Franklin fellowship or the Fontaine Fellowship (for outstanding minority students). These prestigious fellowships pay tuition and a sizeable stipend ($23,700 for 2012-2013) for five years. Years two and three are teaching fellowship years. First year students without an M.A. normally will not be expected to teach. In subsequent years, support will take the form of a TF in one of the literature departments. A variable number of research assistantships (RA's) are also available. Both TF's and RA's provide tuition and a stipend. Advanced students will be eligible to be considered for summer teaching in the College of General Studies. A number of agencies in this country and abroad offer financial aid and fellowships for students doing dissertation research in Europe.
The Chair is principal adviser during the student's first year in the
Program. The Chair appoints a second adviser on the basis of the student's
interests. At the outset of the second year, the student chooses, in
consultation with the Chair, a committee of one principal and two
secondary advisers. These may or may not be changed as the student
approaches the dissertation stage. Each semester, the student's choice of
courses must be discussed with his or her principal adviser, who must
indicate approval by signing the student's course record form. Full time
students are expected to take four courses per semester. Students
receiving a TF or RA take three courses per semester.
Students may request the transfer of up to four credits toward the M.A.
and up to eight credits toward the Ph.D. for work done at another
university. After the student has completed at least six courses in the
Program, credit transfers are submitted by the Chair to the Dean of the
Graduate School for approval.
- Master of
Arts Degree - 8 course units required, distributed as follows:
courses from the Comp. Lit. offerings, including 501 and 999.040
Reading for the M.A. Exam.
courses in a national literature, appropriately balanced with
regard to periods and genres.
- One course
in an area of special interest.
Of these eight courses, only one may be an independent study
- Doctor of
Philosophy Degree - 12 course units beyond those required for
the M.A., distributed among:
- Comp. Lit. offerings, the 999 courses for the 50-Book Exam, the Field Exam,
- National literature (at least three courses).
- Area of Special Interest (at least two courses).
Of these twelve courses, one may be a special topic independent study
(998). Exceptions to these course
requirements should be made only with the approval of the Chair of the
A 2-hour oral
exam must be taken after one year of study, either in late spring
or early fall. The exam tests the student's knowledge of a selected
list of critical and theoretical texts
and his or her understanding of the central topics and issues in
the history of Western literary theory. The current lot of texts
is always available in the Comp. Lit. office. The examining committee
consists of three members, one of whom must be either the Program's
Chair or the teacher of Comp. Lit. 501. The other two are selected
by the student, subject to the Chair's approval, from the Graduate
Group. A satisfactory performance on the examination is a Requirement
for an M.A. degree in the Program. A superior performance is a requirement
for continuation in the Program as a Ph.D. candidate. The exam is
graded Pass/Fail. A student who fails the examination may take it
again the following semester but it cannot be taken more than twice.
In order to fulfill the research requirement of the Graduate School,
each student must submit an M.A. paper. This will normally be an
approximately 20-page research paper, with bibliography, written in the
context of a graduate course and, if necessary, revised for this occasion.
The master's paper must be approved by the Chair.
To receive an M.A. degree, the student must demonstrate proficiency in
at least one non- native language relevant to his or her program and
mastery of the language of the national literature specialization. To
receive a Ph.D., the student must demonstrate proficiency in at least
two non-native languages relevant to his or her program (one of
which must be 'modern') and mastery of the language of the national
literature specialization. Proficiency is defined as the ability to
conduct research on literary and critical texts in that language. Mastery
is defined as the ability to teach, as well as to conduct research on,
literary and critical texts in that language, and to write in it. Linguistic
competence in a foreign language is demonstrated by (a) the level of
the student's performance in at least two graduate literature courses
taught in that language and/or (b) his or her score (at least 650) on
the Princeton ETS examination. In the case of languages for which there
is no ETS examination, an examination will be prepared and evaluated
by a relevant department of the University. In all unusual cases, the
Chair of the Program will determine whether the student is to be considered
as having fulfilled the appropriate language requirements.
EXAMINATIONS FOR THE PH.D.
is expected to take two comprehensive examinations: (a) one in the
national literature in which he or she is specializing and (b) one
dealing with the student's area of special interest. The recommended
time to schedule the exams is indicated below.
The 50-book exam in Comparative Literature is an exam in the literary
history of a particular linguistic or national tradition. In
studying for the exam, students should be concerned with general
coverage of a literary history in order to prepare them for their
future careers as teachers in a literature department, where they
will be expected to have fundamental knowledge of a whole linguistic
or national tradition as well as in-depth knowledge of their
Both students and examiners should keep in mind that the 50-book exam
is one of three exams required in the Comparative Literature PhD
program: it does not assess the knowledge of the area of
specialization (this is the purpose of the Field exam), nor of theory
and methodology (this is the purpose of the MA Theory exam).
The 50-book list should include important texts (however the
"importance" of a work is to be gauged) representing major
developments in the literary history of the relevant linguistic or
national tradition. It should offer broad diachronic and formal
coverage. It should not be compiled according to thematic threads or
rationales. In preparation for the exam, students should familiarize
themselves with the entire scope of their chosen tradition, usually
by reading standard and up-to-date literary historical references.
Students should be prepared to answer rigorous questions concerning
the works on the list and their place in literary history.
- Field Exam
A four-hour written examination, graded Pass/Fail, based on a list of
25-30 primary and secondary texts relevant to the likely field of the
student's dissertation research. The list is drawn up in consultation
with the student's adviser, who normally chairs the 3-person
examination committee. Other examiners are chosen by the student in
consultation with the Chair. The field list must be accompanied by a
3-page rationale explaining the choice of texts and must be approved
by the Chair.
In the case of specializations in literatures or areas of study not
represented by any member of the Graduate Group, faculty from other
relevant graduate groups in the University will be asked to serve on
the student's examination committee(s). A student who fails either
examination may elect to take it a second time, normally three to four
months later. No examination may be taken more than twice. A student
who fails either examination more than once cannot continue in the
Four courses, including Comp. Lit. 501, the basic course in the history of literary theory from ancient sources to contemporary thought.
Four courses, including Comp. Lit. 999.040, a reading course to prepare for the M.A. exam on literary theory. First-year students form their own reading group to study for this exam, meeting informally once a week to discuss texts on the M.A. reading list. On occasion, faculty members may be asked to join the group to help in the analysis of particular authors and issues.
The M.A. exam is taken in April or May of the first year.This is a two-hour oral exam based on the M.A. reading list. Subject to the Chair’s approval, each student selects three examiners (normally, but not necessarily, from the Graduate Group), one of whom must be the Chair or the teacher of Comp. Lit. 501.
For more information, see above, “M.A. examination.”
The summer following the first year should be used to begin drafting a reading list for the 50-Book exam (taken in the second year; see below), and to commence reading towards the exam.
Three courses and teaching (usually as a TA in a lecture course). One of these three courses will be Comp. Lit. 999, “Independent Readings in National Literature.” The purpose of this independent reading course is for the student to study intensively for the 50-Book exam and establish a broad mastery of the national literature. This study will be undertaken in consultation with an advisor in the student’s selected national literature. The final version of the 50-Book reading list must be approved by the student’s principal advisor and the Chair of the Program, and will be due by October 30. During the fall semester, the student must also assemble a committee for the 50-Book exam, which will consist of the student’s principal 50-Book advisor and two other members of the faculty. The student will sign up with the Chair of the Program for this independent reading, who will assign a grade of “S” (Satisfactory) for the Independent Reading course once the student’s 50-Book reading list has been approved.
Three courses and teaching (usually as a TA in a lecture course). One of the three courses will be Comp. Lit. 999.041, “Reading for the Fifty-Book Exam.” It is strongly preferred that the 50-Book exam be taken by the end of January in the second year; with permission of the Chair, students may take the exam in May (the end of the spring semester of the second year). Permission to defer the exam until the spring may be given, for instance, to students who need to use the summer after their first year for intensive language study as relevant to their field. As soon as the student passes the 50-Book exam, the Chair of the Program will assign a grade of “S” (Satisfactory) for Comp. Lit. 999.041.
For information about the 50-Book exam list and the exam itself, see above, “Comprehensive Examinations for the Ph.D.”
The two phases of the 50-Book exam, submission of the reading list and taking the exam itself, must be completed according to the above schedule to ensure continued good standing. For information on the Graduate Division’s policies on incompletes, see below. Exceptions to this schedule will be considered in cases of the most compelling reasons, and can be granted by petition to the Chair of the Program and the Executive Committee.
The remainder of the spring semester (once the 50-book exam has been taken) and the summer after the second year should be used to begin drafting a reading list for the Field Exam (taken in the third year; see below), and to commence reading towards the exam. The independent study (COML 999) in which the student is registered in the spring semester will be used towards this purpose.
Three courses and teaching (usually as the sole instructor in a writing or language course). Two of the three courses will be Comp. Lit. 999, “Reading for the Field Exam,” and “Dissertation Prospectus Research.” For “Reading for the Field Exam,” the student will choose a field advisor, in consultation with whom the student will prepare the Field Exam Proposal. The Field Exam Proposal must be approved by the student’s field advisor and the Chair of the Program, and will be due October 30. During the fall semester, the student must also assemble a committee for the Field Exam, which will consist of the student’s field advisor and two other members of the faculty. The student will sign up with the Chair of the Program for both of these independent reading courses. The Chair will assign a grade of “S” (for both of these courses based on approval of the student’s Field Exam Proposal.
Third-year students may form a study group that will meet weekly, to keep themselves on course for the Field Exam by presenting and discussing issues that arise from their readings.
For more information about the Field Exam Proposal, see above, “Comprehensive Examinations for the Ph.D.”
Three courses and teaching (usually as the sole instructor in a writing or language course). Two of the three courses will be Comp. Lit. 999, “Independent Reading in Special Field,” and “Dissertation Prospectus Research.” The Field Exam must be taken by the end of January in the third year.
The two phases of the Field Exam, approval of the Proposal and taking the exam itself, must be completed according to the above schedule to ensure continued good standing. Exceptions to this schedule will be permitted only for the most compelling reasons, and by petition to the Graduate Chair and the Executive Committee.
After the Field Exam
During the spring semester of the third year, after the Field Exam is completed, students should work on the preliminary research towards the dissertation begun earlier in the year. This research should, at least to some extent, grow out of the Field Exam topic; thus students should be generally familiar with the critical and scholarly field of the dissertation by this point.
Dissertation Committee. During this period, the student should begin to form a dissertation committee, consisting of a dissertation advisor and at least two other faculty members. Normally at least one person on the committee is a member of the Comparative Literature graduate faculty. Typically, the advisor chosen for the Field Exam will be the dissertation advisor; but the student may wish to consult with the Chair of the Program if a change in research emphasis dictates a different person to direct the dissertation.
Dissertation Proposal. By either May of the third year or September of the fourth year, students should present a Dissertation Proposal for approval by the dissertation committee and the Chair of the Program. The dissertation proposal should be at least eight pages long, double spaced, and include a selective bibliography. The student should schedule a formal meeting with the dissertation committee and the Program Chair as soon as possible to discuss the prospectus. This meeting should take place no later than late September of the fourth year.
Suggestions from this meeting should be incorporated into a final draft of the proposal, which must be signed on the first page by the dissertation director. This finished draft must also be approved by the Program Chair.
Proposals ought to set forth, as clearly and concisely as possible, some or all of the following:
1. Any background information pertinent to the subject;
2. A close exposition of the subject and its value within the field of study;
3. The proposed methodology to be adopted and a justification of its relevance to the subject;
4. Some notice of previous scholarship and of its relation of the proposed work;
5. Some ideas as to how the argument will be structured in the dissertation, with a tentative indication of the table of contents;
6. Any special research needs or likely research problems to be faced.
When the Dissertation Proposal has been approved, the student will begin dissertation research in earnest. Normally the first semester of the fourth year should be devoted to dissertation research, followed by further research and the commencement of writing during the second semester of the fourth year.
Students may plan to study abroad during the fourth year, when they are doing research for the project and beginning to write.
PH.D. DISSERTATION (years four through five)
Drafting the Dissertation and Preparing for the Job Market
By the start of the fifth year, students should have drafted at least one substantial chapter of the dissertation. During the fifth year, students should be making steady progress towards a complete draft. It is expected that students should be able to complete the dissertation in two or three years. In the fall of the fifth or sixth year, students will embark on the process of applying for academic jobs. Students should be aware that this process is itself extremely time-consuming. Thus they should plan ahead to have a considerable portion of the dissertation complete before embarking on the job application process.
The program and its requirements have been set up to enable students to complete the dissertation by the summer of year five, that is, within the tenure of the five-year fellowship package. Students who need to take a sixth year to complete the dissertation should be aware that they will have to apply for additional funding, either an internal fellowship from the Graduate School or external funding. Students who secure external fellowship funding at other points in their graduate career (either upon entry or at a later point) will also be able to add this onto their fellowship package, giving them an extra year of support.
Dissertation Length and Advisor Approval
In many cases the completed dissertation need not be longer than 150-200 pages. Three hundred pages should be the greatest anticipated length. The principal academic adviser of a Ph.D. candidate will direct his or her thesis research and supervise the writing of the dissertation. Other members of the dissertation committee may read preliminary drafts and suggest changes. In all cases the dissertation must be read and approved by the candidate's adviser in his or her capacity as first reader, while another member of the dissertation committee must serve as second reader.
Formatting and Submitting the Dissertation
When candidates are ready to produce the final drafts of their dissertations, they should obtain from the office of the Graduate Division a set of University of Pennsylvania rules governing the form in which dissertations are submitted. This is very important, for that office has in the past refused to accept theses with too narrow margins, incorrect pagination, or other flaws, thus delaying the awarding of Ph.D. degrees. Doctoral candidates in the final stages of their dissertation writing should also be sure to consult the calendar published in the Graduate Studies Bulletin in order to know the various deadlines for applying for the degree, submitting finished dissertations to their first and second readers for their approval, and depositing the completed thesis at the Graduate Division. Either the candidate in person or his/her adviser should "deposit" the dissertation since it is not the responsibility of the Chair, of any other faculty member, or of the staff to do this.
The Graduate Division requires students and their advisors to file an Annual Dissertation Progress Report. The Graduate Division sends information about this to students and their advisors in advance of the yearly deadlines.
Further information about timely progress towards the degree may be found in the Graduate Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania, under Time Limit for Completion of the Ph.D.
The Graduate Division requires a public, oral presentation of the dissertation, including a dissertation defense (see link above, under “evaluations and examinations”). The oral defense can be a public event to which the student invites friends and family, followed by a private conference with just the student and committee members; or it can be simply a private conference with the committee. The defense should be scheduled when the dissertation is close to completion, normally at least several weeks in advance of the filing date for the term in which the student plans to submit the finished dissertation.
order to stay in good standing and hence be eligible for funding from
the Graduate Division of SAS, students must abide by the Graduate
Division's policy on incompletes. Incompletes can be carried for
only one semester. Course work for incompletes must be completed
and submitted to the professor before the beginning of the
corresponding semester of the following year. Thus, for example,
incompletes from a fall semester must be made up before the start of
the following fall semester. Students risk a block on enrollment and
the suspension of stipends if incompletes are not removed from the
record according to the Graduate Division's timetable.
PROGRAMS AND CENTERS
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- Center for
- Program in
- Program in
Latin American and Latino Studies
- Program in
Executive Committee is made up of the graduate and undergraduate
chairs, five other faculty members appointed for a term of three
years by the Chair with the approval of the Graduate Group, and
two student representatives elected by CLAS (see below) for one
year renewable terms. The graduate student representatives on
the Executive Committee have the same rights and responsibilities
as the faculty members in deliberations on all matters concerning
educational policy. They do not participate in deliberations on
personnel matters such as admissions and financial aid.
LITERATURE ASSOCIATION OF STUDENTS (CLAS):
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was founded by students in 1980 and is open to all students in
the Program, sponsors a colloquium in the spring (COMPLICOL),
visiting lecturers, discussion groups, translation workshops,
and student readings. The association elects its own officers
and delegates two students to represent the group at meetings
of the Program's Executive Committee. It also provides advice
and assistance to visiting applicants and incoming students and
is consulted by the Chair in all matters concerning the Program's
policies and regulations.
encouraged to attend the lectures, symposia, and other activities
sponsored by the Program. They should also check regularly for
mail and announcements in the Program's office, 720 Williams Hall,
where miscellaneous books, journals, reprints and other texts
are available for browsing and borrowing, and coffee, tea and
conversation are always free for the asking.
STUDY AND RESEARCH
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in the case of students whose major literature is foreign, the
Program often recommends a year's study in the relevant country.
The Chair will help students find funding agencies to support
such study and to subvent the research activities of dissertation
students working abroad.
for dormitory housing will be sent upon request to any student
entering the Program. The majority of our students prefer to make
their own housing arrangements. Good rental apartments are easily
available within walking distance of the University at rents that
are surprisingly low for a big city.
For more information
on university policies regarding graduate studies, including maximum
time limits of study, please consult the Office of Graduate