Graduate Program

Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree in Comparative Literature

The Department of Comparative Literature introduces students to the study and understanding of literature beyond linguistic or national boundaries; to the theory, interpretation, and criticism of literature; and to their interactions with adjacent fields like visual and material culture, linguistics, film, psychology, law, and philosophy. The comparative perspective invites the exploration of such transnational phenomena as literary or cultural periods and trends (Renaissance, Romanticism, Realism, Modernism, Postcolonialism) or genres and modes of discourse (tragedy, the novel, the sonnet, the grotesque, stream of consciousness). The theoretical perspective explores such topics as poetics, narratology, fictional worlds, literary semantics, representation, language and epistemology, interpretation of texts, and the history of literary theory.

The Ph.D. degree qualifies the candidate to teach comparative literature as well as one or two national or language-based literatures of her/his specialization. Students may specialize in any languages and cultures, to the extent that they are sufficiently covered at Yale (or, by arrangement, at neighboring universities). The following sections describe the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in Comparative Literature.

Normally, a student takes courses in his or her first two years; teaches as a TA during the third and fourth year; receives a Dissertation Fellowship when he or she is ready to write the dissertation, usually in the fifth or sixth year. The Graduate School will exceptionally approve registration in the seventh year but no later.

I. Courses

  1. During the registration period of each semester, students should consult with the DGS (Director of Graduate Studies) to plan their courses. All schedules must be signed by the DGS, yet the students are responsible for the fulfillment of all requirements outlined below.
  2. Every student is required to complete 14 semester courses, including at least 7 in the Department of Comparative Literature.
  3. In the first semester of their studies at Yale, all students must take the departmental Proseminar.
  4. A student may take one or two individual Directed Reading courses (900a or 900b) which consist of an independent reading project in a clearly-defined area, under the supervision of a faculty member and with the approval of the DGS.
  5. Students who did graduate work at other universities may get up to four course credits for earlier studies, provided their first-year record at Yale is very good and on condition that all required categories will be fulfilled by the time of the Orals. Such credits count as part of the student’s course work outside the department. Applications for such credit should be submitted at the end of the student’s first year at Yale.

II. Languages

  1. The knowledge of languages is essential to comparative literature, literary theory, and interdisciplinary studies. The Department will encourage advanced language study (including during the summers).
  2. By the time of the Orals, every student must demonstrate a high level of proficiency in English and two foreign languages (fluent reading of primary and secondary texts without a dictionary) and a reading ability in a third foreign language.
  3. One of these languages would normally be a classical or old language (such as Latin, Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Classical Arabic, Classical Chinese, Provençal). A list of previously approved languages is available from the DGS.
  4. Students may prove their proficiency either by taking courses where texts are studied in the original languages, or by a written exam administered in this department.

III. Fields

  1. Focus. Students are advised to combine diversity with a focus on one or two national or language-based literatures. This is intended to qualify our Ph.D.s to teach Comparative Literature in combination with a specific, national language department.
  2. Theory. Students must take at least 3 courses in literary theory (including the proseminar).
  3. Genres. Students must take at least one course in each of the following: Poetry, Narrative Fiction, Drama.
  4. Periods. Students must take at least one course in each of the following periods: a) Ancient or Medieval European literature; b) Renaissance or Baroque; c) Enlightenment or the Modern Age – or their equivalents in other cultures.
  5. Each course may serve for more than one requirement simultaneously.

IV. Orals

  1. Orals assessstudents’ knowledge and understanding of their disciplines. The Orals include topics from areas in which the student has gained some expertise (through course work or teaching) and from areas in which he/she wants to acquire expertise, notably, to think ahead for possible dissertation topics.
  2. The Orals consist of 7 topics and will last 2 ½ hours. The exam as a whole (though not each question) must reflect the student’s knowledge of considerable areas in Comparative Literature. The questions should includetexts from a range of periods and genres, and must include some examples of Poetry, Narrative Fiction, and Drama.
  3. The student will find professors who would agree to examine him/her on each topic, based on a bibliography compiled in advance, prepared by the student and approved and signed by both the professor and the DGS.
  4. The oral exam is conducted in the presence of several professors (at least two from Comparative Literature), each responsible for one or more questions. A maximum of 20 minutes is allotted to each question.
  5. The questions should cover at least three literatures, and they should include topics with different kinds of scope and range (i.e. a topic on a single author or set of authors; a list surveying an entire literary tradition; a question focused on a theoretical problem; a question of a transnational literary movement or period, etc.).
  6. The Orals should be taken preferably in the student’s fifth semester and no later than before spring break in the student’s sixth semester at Yale. The Department will arrange an examination date with the student and the examiners.

V. Teaching Assignments

  1. Teaching experience is part of the student’s training at Yale. Students normally teach as teaching assistants (T.A.s) after four semesters of residence and course work have been completed. Students should consult the Bulletin of the Graduate School for the rules governing these appointments.
  2. Our own undergraduate program, the Literature Major, appoints Comparative Literature students as teaching assistants. In addition, Comparative Literature students may teach in various language-based departments as well as in other disciplines of the humanities.
  3. Students should contact the DUS (Directors of Undergraduate Studies) of all departments in which they feel competent to teach. This should be done early in the spring semester, preceding the year of their desired employment. The departments normally send out information concerning available positions in the spring, yet the students should take initiative in signing up for these positions. There is no guarantee that a desired position may be secured for a particular student.
  4. After the approval of a student’s Prospectus, he/she may be eligible to teach in certain language courses, college seminars, or courses such as English 115, 118, and 129 at the rank of Part-Time Acting Instructor (which pays significantly more than a TA appointment).
  5. In their fourth, fifth, or sixth year, all students may apply and receive (on a non-competitive basis) a Graduate School Dissertation Fellowship, guaranteeing a year’s stipend with no teaching duties. It is advisable to take this Fellowship only when the student is well advanced in his/her research and ready to devote all of their time to writing the dissertation.

Other activities

  1. A Faculty-Student Liaison Committee is established to facilitate the flow of information and exchange of concerns between the students and the department. The committee is convened by the Chairman of the Department and normally meets once a month. The meetings are open to any interested students or faculty.
  2. The students select 2 delegates to the Liaison Committee from each of the first two years, 2 delegates from the third and fourth year, and 2 from the dissertation years. To insure continuity of the Committee’s work, at the beginning of each year, 2 students of the proseminar are elected and two members of the post-courses years retire.
  3. Students interested in summer language study, study abroad, and external fellowships, should consult the Graduate School Fellowship and Career Services office, located in HGS, as well as the information board in the Registrar’s office of Comparative Literature.

VII. Prospectus

  1. The culmination of the student’s studies is the Ph.D. Dissertation. The student should carefully select an advisor or two co-advisors (at least one of them a member of the Comparative Literature Department), who would agree to direct the dissertation.
  2. After fulfilling all requirements and passing the Orals, the student submits a Prospectus of his/her research project to the department. The Prospectus should normally run between 10 and 12 double-spaced pages and should not exceed 15. It should open with a brief description and abstractof the project, describing the expected scholarly contribution and the corpus of texts to be included in the research. The body of the prospectus should include an account of anticipated chapters and their relationship to the argument as a whole.A selected bibliography of primary and secondary sources should be appended. The Prospectus must also include the traditional formulaic sentences at its beginning and end.
  3. The Prospectus should be approved and signed by the student’s dissertation advisor(s) and submitted to the DGS for approval by the end of the sixth semester andno later than November 15 (or April 15) in the student’s seventh term at Yale.
  4. The Prospectus is submitted to the department’s standing prospectus committee, who will advise the student about the shaping of the prospectus (usually in the form of a live colloquium). In cases where the committee recommends some rewriting of the prospectus, the student should re-submit it to the DGS within two weeks.

Research and Dissertation

  1. During their work on the dissertation, students are advised to keep an informal record of their research, books read, and writing activities. The formal report of progress, submitted every six months to the Graduate School and signed both by the advisor and the DGS, should include a summary of this record.
  2. A draft of one chapter of the dissertation should be submitted to the advisor at an early stage, in order to focus the further work in progress.
  3. The Dissertation should not exceed a readable size. An optimal size would be between 200-300 double-spaced pages. If the work has produced much more, the student should consult with the advisor and either write a more concise version or curtail the scope of the study.
  4. All dissertations in Comparative Literature should be submitted with full translations of all texts (secondary and primary) quoted in languages other than English. This is to assure that the dissertation is understandable, in all its parts, to any Yale outside readers, prospective employers, readers of the dissertation on micro-film (possibly a larger and more heterogeneous audience, as information technologies change) and also any dissertation prize committees. Each of these audiences may well contain readers who command the relevant languages, but also some who do not.

Dissertations may quote the originals in the text, translations in the footnotes; both in the text; or translations in the text, originals in the footnotes. Students may use their own translations or those already published.

  1. One copy of the Dissertation must be submitted to the department simultaneously with the submission to the Graduate School.
  2. The DGS will select three further readers (usually all from within the department), who will read and submit formal reports to the department and Graduate School evaluating the submitted dissertation as a whole.