Frequently Asked Questions

Literature Major and Intensive Major

What is the difference between the Literature Major and national literature departments, such as English, French, or Spanish?
What is the difference between Literature and Comparative Literature?
What is the intensive major?

Required Courses and Major Focus

I am a freshman or sophomore, and I plan to major in Literature. What courses should I take?
How do I know if a course fulfills the pre-1800 requirement?
How do I know if a course fulfills the poetry or drama requirement?
Do all my courses for the major have to have “Literature” numbers?
How many courses can I take in departments other than Literature?
What courses must have Literature numbers?
I am a junior or senior who recently joined the Literature Major, and I do not want to take the prerequisite courses. Are they really required?

The Foreign Literature Requirement

I have not fulfilled the university’s language requirement, or I am currently interested in a language other than the one I studied in high school. What should I do?
What courses fulfill the advanced foreign literature requirement?
There are no advanced literature courses in the language I am studying. What should I do?
The language I am studying (e.g., Arabic, Russian, or Chinese) requires several years of study before I can read its literature. How do I fulfill the advanced literature requirement.

Literature Major and Intensive Major

What is the difference between the Literature Major and national literature departments, such as English, French, or Spanish?

To undertake a major in, say, English or Spanish is to concentrate on that language and its literature to the exclusion of others. That can be a very good thing, but if you want to study a wide range of literatures from all over the world you’d be better off choosing the Literature Major. With it you will concentrate on one language and literature (two if you go “intensive”), and also read widely from a range of other traditions, time-periods, and genres with which you may not be familiar.

In addition we like to spend time contemplating some of the great theoretical questions that apply to literature as a whole, wherever and whenever it was written. 

What is the difference between Literature and Comparative Literature?

The Literature Major is the undergraduate program of the Comparative Literature department. Why the difference in name? No-one remembers. But really – it wouldn’t be Yale without some endearing quirks of tradition…

What is the intensive major?

The intensive major requires knowledge of a second foreign language and advanced study in a second literature (which may be English). It offers excellent preparation for a graduate program in Comparative Literature. Note, however, that your transcript will not indicate that you fulfilled the intensive major.

Required Courses and Major Focus

I am a freshman or sophomore, and I plan to major in Literature. What courses should I take?

Freshmen and sophomores should take our introductory courses, Literature 120, “Introduction to Narrative” and Literature 122, “World Poetry and Performance.”  They should also fulfill the Yale College Foreign Language requirement as soon as possible. They can also take other language or literature courses in order to improve their foreign languages. General surveys of literary history, such as Directed Studies or English 129, are also recommended.

How do I know if a course fulfills the pre-1800 requirement?

Literature courses in which the majority of texts studied were written before 1800 generally fulfill the requirement. It never hurts to ask the Director of Undergraduate Studies for clarification. 

How do I know if a course fulfills the poetry or drama requirement?

Literature courses in which the majority of texts studied were written in verse or for the stage fulfill the requirement.

Do all my courses for the major have to have “Literature” numbers?

No. In general, any course on literature offered by one of the national literature departments can count towards the Literature Major. Courses in language acquisition, composition, writing, conversation, and general culture do not normally count towards the major, although one writing course can count. A limited number of introductory courses (generally 120-level or below) can count towards the major, generally two outside the Literature Major.

How many courses can I take in departments other than Literature?

Eight of your courses can be selected from other departments. Two of these courses (or three with permission of the DUS) can be from departments other than literature departments (e.g., History), as long as they contribute to your study of literature.

What courses must have Literature numbers?

You must take six courses with Literature numbers: Literature 120; Literature 122; Literature 300; two core seminars (400-level Literature courses); and the senior essay (Literature 491 or Literature 492 and 493).

I am a junior or senior who recently joined the Literature Major, and I do not want to take the prerequisite courses. Are they really required?

Yes. At whatever stage you enter the major, you’ll learn things you didn’t know by taking these courses. 

The Foreign Literature Requirement

I have not fulfilled the university’s language requirement, or I am currently interested in a language other than the one I studied in high school. What should I do?

Begin your language study as early as possible in your time at Yale. It is usually possible to fulfill all the requirements of the Literature Major even if you start your studies at Yale with no foreign language.

What courses fulfill the advanced foreign literature requirement?

“Advanced level” refers to a course in which literature is read in the original language. At least one such course should be taken before the senior year, and at least one must be above the introductory survey course level, for example, above the 160-level in French or German and above the 260-level in Spanish.  A total of three foreign literature courses are required beyond the Yale College Foreign Language Requirement.  With permission of the DUS, one of the courses counting towards the Literature Major may be an advanced language course.

There are no advanced literature courses in the language I am studying. What should I do?

It is usually possible to make a special arrangement with the instructor of a course on foreign literature taught in translation, whereby Literature majors read the works in the original language and do some writing in that language. See the Director of Undergraduate Studies for details.

The language I am studying (e.g., Arabic, Russian, or Chinese) requires several years of study before I can read its literature. How do I fulfill the advanced literature requirement.

In general, it is possible to count some of the most advanced foreign language courses in such languages towards the advanced literature requirement. See the Director of Undergraduate Studies for details.