This 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.
The Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at Penn offers the study of literature and other cultural products 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, gender studies, sociological and ethnographic methods, 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.
Literary Theory and Method
During the first year, a required course in the History of Literary Theory, COML 501.401, bolstered by independent study, leads to the M.A. Exam at the end of the year. Each student in the program must master a common list of foundational texts in theory and method as well as two additional modules, representing areas of concentration for that particular student. Students in the Program are expected to become aware of the major questions informing current theoretical and methodological 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 and method at Penn, including postcolonial theory, studies in race and class, diaspora studies, feminist theory, queer theory, gender studies, narratology, poststructuralism, semiotics, psychoanalysis, cinema studies, digital humanities, and the history of material texts. The study of theory and method during the first year has a strong historical component, so that students will appreciate current scholarly 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.
Principal Literary and Cultural Traditions
Major coursework is completed in the course of the first two years of study in the program, during which all students in the Program must acquire a strong knowledge of either one or two linguistically and historically coherent literary and cultural traditions -national or regional traditions corresponding to recognized disciplinary fields of study (Latin American, Slavic, French, Global Anglophone, American, etc.). Students may concentrate on one such tradition as a single "major" or may elect to study two. In this latter case students either designate one tradition a "major" and the other a "minor" area of concentration, or alternately they may study both traditions equally as "majors." In the spring semester of the second year, students are tested on their knowledge of their selected tradition(s) in a Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. Students organize their studies of the principal literature with maximal diachronic depth and attention to a broad array of literary genres and forms of cultural production. In view of the current organization of academic departments, it is necessary that graduates in comparative literary studies be well prepared in at least one linguistic or national tradition, and our program is designed to insure this level of expertise. Penn has graduate course offerings in English, American, French, Peninsular Spanish, Latin American, Italian, German, Slavic, Jewish Studies, Classical, Near Eastern, East Asian, and South Asian.
The Program encourages dissertation topics that combine scholarly rigorousness with interdisciplinary and experimental creativity, as is apparent from our list of recent graduates, their job placements. In their third year in the Program, each student forms a dissertation committee. With the advice of the committee, the student articulates a pre-dissertation bibliography, which he or she studies during the course of the academic year. The pre-dissertation bibliography assembles the primary and secondary materials out of which the dissertation will coalesce. It should include the major literary and cultural works in the period(s), genre(s), or field(s) and particular theoretical and methodological texts relevant to the student's developing focus of research. In the second semester of the third year, students enroll in a dissertation prospectus workshop and develop their prospectus in consultation with their committee. The prospectus must be approved by the dissertation committee and the graduate chair before the conclusion of the third academic year. The fourth and fifth years in the Program are devoted to focused work on the dissertation. Dissertation committees must include at least one member of the Comparative Literature Graduate Group, but may include any other membersof the permanent faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as well as up to one faculty member from another institution.
In order to apply to the program in Comparative Literature, please use the online form. In selection of applicants, the admission committee seeks evidence of: a coherent set of goals for graduate study; evidence of a high level of theoretical sophistication; excellent analytical writing; fundamental preparation in the field(s) relevant to a given student's research goals; all linguistic skills needed for a given course of study. 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 and method, 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.
With their 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, PA, 19104-6305.
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 of $26,700 for 2016-2017 paid at the end of each month from September through June) for five years. During years two and three students on fellowship are required to TA or teach TA one course per semester as part of their training to work as educators. Advanced students will be eligible to apply for summer teaching in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. Advanced students are encouraged to apply to a number of agencies in this country and abroad that offer fellowships for students conducting dissertation research abroad-such as the DAAD (graduate researchor graduate study), the IREX, or the Fulbright-Hays. Students awarded prestigious grants that offer full support for an academic year or more may pause their Penn fellowship packages, thus extending their full support to six or more years.
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. Students in the Program should meet with their principle advisors in person at least once per semester, and should remain in continuous contact with the members of their advisory committees and the Graduate Chair.
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, including:
At least two courses from the Comparative Literature offerings
At least three courses in the student's major and minor literary and cultural traditions, balanced with regard to periods and genres
COML 501.401 History of Literary Theory
COML 981.001 M.A. Exam Prep
No more than one independent study (998)
Doctor of Philosophy Degree - 12 course units beyond those required for the M.A., including:
At least two more courses from the Comparative Literature offerings
At least three more courses in the student's major and minor literary and cultural traditions
COML 999 courses (normally five), in preparation for the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam and in preparation and study of the Pre-Dissertation Bibliography
COML 999.051 Dissertation Prospectus Workshop
No more than one additional independent study (998).
Exceptions to these course requirements should be made only with the approval of the Graduate Chair.
At the conclusion of the second semester of study students must take a two-hour oral exam. The exam tests knowledge of the foundational M. A. reading list of thirty-five items, which constitute a punctuated history of literary and aesthetic thought and the core material for study in the mandatory first-semester course COML 501 History of Literary Theory. In addition, each student should select two additional modules of ten items, representing areas of special concentration selected by that particular student. Modules are curated by groups of Comparative Literature Faculty according to their areas of expertise. Study of these modular lists, as well as continued study of the foundational list, takes place in the context of the independent exam preparation course COML 981.001 M.A. Exam Prep. This course, which meets during the spring semester, is a collective study group for the exam, organized by the first-year students themselves, who may invite members of the Comparative Literature Faculty, especially the curators of relevant modules, to join in discussion of particular texts and authors.
The examining committee consists of three members, one of whom must be either the Graduate Chair or the instructor of COML 501 History of Literary Theory. The other two are selected by the student, subject to the Chair's approval, from among the curators of those modules the student has elected to study. 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 may not 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 research paper of approximately twenty pages, including bibliography, written in the context of a graduate course and, if necessary, revised for this occasion. The M.A. paper must be approved by the Graduate Chair.
During the first year, in consultation with the Graduate Chair and other members of the Comparative Literature Faculty, students are to designate their specializations in either one or two linguistically and historically coherent literary and cultural traditions -national or regional traditions corresponding to recognized disciplinary fields of study (Latin American, Slavic, French, Global Anglophone, American, etc.). Students may concentrate on one such tradition as a single "major" or may elect to study two. In the latter case students either designate one tradition a "major" and the other a "minor" area of concentration, or alternately they may study both traditions equally as "majors." In consultation with the Graduate Chair and his or her advisors, each student will direct coursework during the first two years towards achieving historically complete diachronic and cross-generic knowledge of major and minor traditions.
To receive an M.A. degree, each student must demonstrate proficiency in at least one non-English language relevant to his or her program of study and mastery of the language of one "major" literary and cultural tradition. To receive a Ph.D., each student must demonstrate proficiency in at least two non-English languages relevant to his or her program (one of which must be "modern") as well as mastery of the languages of all "major" literary and cultural traditions. 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) performance in a translation exam to be arranged in consultation with the graduate chair. In all exceptional cases, the Chair of the Program will determine whether the student is to be considered as having fulfilled the appropriate language requirements.
Before the end of March in the fourth semester of study, students must pass their Qualifying Examination for the Ph.D. This is a two-hour oral exam in the literary and cultural history of the student's major and minor traditions, administered by a committee. In studying for the exam, the student should be concerned with general coverage of literary and cultural history in order to prepare for a future career as a teacher in a literature or literature and culture department, where faculty are expected to have fundamental knowledge of a whole tradition. Both students and examiners should keep in mind that the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam does not assess the knowledge of the student's area of specialization (the student will demonstrate this knowledge in the dissertation), nor of theory and methodology (this is the purpose of the M.A. Examination).
As early as the end of the second semester of study and in all cases before the end of September of the third semester of study, each student is to form a Qualifying Examination Committee, which is to oversee the student's preparation and to administer the exam. The Committee should include at least one member of the Comparative Literature Faculty. For students who have elected to concentrate on a single major tradition, all members of the Committee should be specialists in that same tradition. For students who have elected to concentrate on a major tradition and a minor tradition, the Committee should consist in two specialists in the major tradition and one in the minor tradition. For students who have elected to concentrate on two major traditions, the Committee should consist of two specialists in each tradition.
In consultation with the Committee, each student is to prepare a Qualifying Examination List of works to be discussed in the context of the exam. The List is to be approved by the Committee and the Graduate Chair before the end of October in the third semester of study. Students who have elected to concentrate on a single major tradition should include 50 items from that tradition in the List. Students who have elected to study a major tradition and a minor tradition should include 40 items from the major tradition and 20 items from the minor tradition in the List. Students who have elected to study two major traditions should include 40 items from each tradition in the List. In any case, the List should include important texts (however the "importance" of a work is to be gauged) representing major developments in the literary and cultural history of the relevant tradition(s). 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 enroll in COML 999.041 Reading for the Qualifying Examination during both the third and the fourth semesters of the Program. In addition to studying all the works included in the List, students should familiarize themselves with the entire scope of their chosen tradition(s), 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.
As early as the end of the fourth semester of study and in all cases before the end of September of the fifth semester of study, each student is to form a Pre-Dissertation Committee of at least three members, one of whom must be a member of the Comparative Literature Faculty. The chair of this Committee should be the student's advisor. Commonly, this committee becomes the Dissertation Committee following the approval of the Dissertation Prospectus, yet changes in the make-up of the Committee are to be considered as completely normal as well.
In consultation with the Committee, each student is to prepare a Pre-Dissertation Bibliography, which must be approved by the Committee and the Graduate Chair before the end of October in the fifth semester of study. The Pre-Dissertation Bibliography is to include 30-35 primary and secondary texts relevant to the likely field of the student's dissertation. In the remainder of the fifth semester and during the early portions of the sixth semester, the student is to study the Bibliography. In preparing and studying the Bibliography, students should enroll in COML 999.061 Reading for the Dissertation Prospectus during both the fifth and the sixth semesters of the Program-normally students will receive two course units in the fifth semester and one in the sixth for this reading course.
In the sixth semester of study, the student enrolls in COML 999.051 Dissertation Prospectus Workshop. In consultation with the instructor of the Dissertation Prospectus Workshop and his or her Committee, each student must produce a Dissertation Prospectus. The dissertation proposal should be at least 2000 words in length. A revised Bibliography should be included as an appendix. The Prospectus is to set forth, as clearly and concisely as possible, some or all of the following:
- Any background information pertinent to the subject
- A close exposition of the subject and its value within the field of study
- The proposed methodology to be adopted and a justification of its relevance to the subject
- Some notice of previous scholarship and of its relation of the proposed work
- Some ideas as to how the argument will be structured in the dissertation, with a tentative indication of the table of contents
- Any special research needs or likely research problems to be faced.
The student should schedule a Prospectus meeting with his or her Committee and with the Graduate Chair by the end of April in the sixth semester of study. Suggestions from this meeting should be incorporated into a final draft of the proposal, which must be approved by the dissertation director and the Graduate Chair before the end of the semester. No student may progress to the fourth year of the program without an approved Dissertation Prospectus.
Four courses, including COML 501.401 History of Literary Theory.
Four courses, including COML 981.001 M. A. Exam Prep.
The M.A. exam is taken in April or May of the first year. (See above: "M.A. Examination.")
Designation of major and minor traditions of concentration takes place before the conclusion of the academic year. (See above: "Designation of Major and Minor Literary and Cultural Traditions")
At the conclusion of the semester, students should begin to form a Qualifying Examination Committee and drafting a Qualifying Examination List. (See above: "Qualifying Examination for the Ph.D.")
The summer following the first year should be used to complete drafting the Qualifying Examination List and to begin reading towards the Exam. (See above: "Qualifying Examination for the Ph.D.")
Teaching, usually as a TA in a lecture course.
Three courses, including COML 999.041 Reading for the Qualifying Examination.
The Qualifying Examination Committee must be approved by the Graduate Chair by the end of September.
The Qualifying Examination List must be approved by the Committee and the Graduate Chair by end of October. (See above: "Qualifying Examination for the Ph.D.")
During the second year, each student is recommended to attend at least one professional conference, preferably presenting work derived from a graduate seminar, and preferably in (one of) his or her major field(s) of concentration.
Teaching, usually as a TA in a lecture course.
Three courses, including COML 999.041 Reading for the Qualifying Examination.
The Qualifying Examination must be taken by the end of March. (See above: "Qualifying Examination for the Ph.D.")
At the conclusion of the semester, students should begin to form a Pre-Dissertation Committee and drafting a Pre-Dissertation Bibliography. (See above: "Pre-Dissertation Bibliography and Dissertation Prospectus")
The summer following the second year should be used to continue drafting the Pre-Dissertation Bibliography and to begin its study.
Teaching, usually as the sole instructor in a writing or language course.
Three courses, one of which will be COML 999.061 Reading for the Dissertation Prospectus.
The Pre-Dissertation Committee must be approved by the Graduate Chair by the end of September.
The Pre-Dissertation Bibliography must be approved by the Committee and the Graduate Chair by end of October. (See above: "Pre-Dissertation Bibliography and Dissertation Prospectus")
During the third year, each student is recommended to prepare and submit at least one article for publication, preferably in a peer-review journal in (one of) his or her major field(s) of concentration.
Teaching, usually as the sole instructor in a writing or language course.
Three courses, of which one course is COML 999.061 Reading for the Dissertation Prospectus and another is COML 999.051 Dissertation Prospectus Workshop.
Students must schedule a Dissertation Prospectus Meeting with their Committee and the Graduate Chair by the end of April.
A finalized Dissertation Prospectus, approved by the Committee and the Graduate Chair, must be submitted by the end of the semester. (See above: "Pre-Dissertation Bibliography and Dissertation Prospectus")
(Summer after Third Year and Years Four and Five)
Drafting the Dissertation and Preparing for the Job Market
Once the student's Dissertation Prospectus has been approved and submitted and all outstanding coursework and other programmatic obligations have been completed, he or she becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. During the fourth and fifth year, candidates should devote the vast majority of their time and energy to writing the dissertation. With the advice and approval of the Graduate Chair and Dissertation Committee, however, the candidate may engage in additional teaching in the context of one or another of the University's programs, or may devote time to conference presentations and preparation and submission of articles for publication. It is expected that candidates should be able to complete the dissertation in two years.
To maintain good standing, the Graduate Division requires candidates 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, usually in December. Further information about timely progress towards the degree for Ph.D. candidates may be found in the Graduate Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania, under Time Limit for Completion of the Ph.D.
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 dissertation research and supervise the writing of the dissertation. Other members of the dissertation committee may read preliminary drafts and suggest changes and may serve as special consultants on particular areas of specialization within the dissertation project.
By September of the fifth year, candidates should have drafted at least three substantial chapters (or well over half) of the dissertation and should be making steady progress towards a complete draft. In the fall of the fifth year, candidates will embark on the process of applying for academic jobs and postdoctoral positions. 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 all students to complete the dissertation by the summer of year five, that is, within the tenure of the five-year fellowship package. Candidates who require to take a sixth year to complete the dissertation must apply for additional funding, either an internal fellowship from the Graduate Division or some other University program 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.
Completing the Dissertation, its Defense and Submission
When the candidates are ready to produce the full and nearly complete drafts of their dissertations, they should consult the University of Pennsylvania rules governing the form in which dissertations are submitted, provided by the Graduate Division. NB: the Graduate Division has in the past refused to accept dissertations with excessively narrow margins, incorrect pagination, or other flaws, thus delaying the awarding of Ph.D. degrees. Doctoral candidates in the final stages of 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.
When the dissertation is near completion and the advisor and readers have had the opportunity to read a full draft, the student should schedule a dissertation defense. This is a public event to which the student may invite friends and family. It consists of a public presentation of the dissertation, in which the candidate offers a prepared oral statement, followed by a period for questions from the audience, followed by a private conference including only the student and his or her Committee. The defense should be scheduled at least several weeks in advance of the anticipated filing date for the term in which the student plans to submit the finished dissertation, to allow the student to undertake final revisions as and formatting.
Following the defense, the student must make changes as recommended by the Committee. In all cases the finalized dissertation must be read and approved by the candidate's adviser and other members of the dissertation committee before filing. It is the responsibility of the candidate in person or his or her adviser to deposit the dissertation.
In order to stay in good standing and remain eligible for continued funding from the Graduate Division, students must abide by the Graduate Division's policy on incompletes. Incompletes can be carried over 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.
The Program's 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.
CLAS, which 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.
Students are 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.
Especially 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.
Housing forms 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.