The Graduate Program in Comparative Literature
The Department of Comparative Literature offers the degree of doctor of philosophy in cooperation with the other departments of literature. The program of study enables students with exceptional training in languages and literatures to profit from the increased awareness and understanding that may be derived from the consideration of more than one literature and of the theoretical presuppositions behind literary study as a whole. Typically lasting five years (although an accelerated program can be elected), the program prepares candidates for original scholarship in the field and for teaching in comparative literature, in separate departments of literature, and in the humanities.
In addition to English, students must have a command of two modern languages and one classical language. Students must elect one language as their principal foreign language. A firm reading knowledge of the other two languages must be demonstrated either through undergraduate proficiency examinations or coursework. In determining proficiency in the principal foreign language, students are held to the standards of the departments of foreign languages.
Course of Study
The curriculum in comparative literature has two major objectives: while training students in one literary tradition, it also requires them to be seriously interested in at least two other literatures as well as in the historical, critical, and theoretical problems raised by the study of literature. The course of study prior to the general examination reflects these objectives. It generally requires four semesters, depending on the student's preparation, background, and performance, and includes course work in comparative literature and the student's major and minor literatures.
Areas of Study
The Major Literature: The program of study in the major literature aims at giving students a solid background upon which to build professional credentials in that field.
Additional Literatures Students are expected to enrich their knowledge of their special fields through work in different languages and literatures. Some of this work is done in comparative literature courses, but at least one minor literature must also be designated and studied in the pertinent department.
Comparative Literature The program of study in comparative literature combines the students' work in their major and minor literatures by focusing on a specific area in which these literatures can be fully explored. This area may be a limited segment of literary history (the late Middle Ages, the 16th century, Romanticism) or a particular aspect common to all three literatures (a genre such as lyric or the novel, or a phenomenon like neoclassicism or the modern). It may also be a critical or theoretical problem, involving analyses of style or modes of interpretation; comparisons of genres and themes; questions about the artistic process in different art forms (such as painting and poetry); or problems in literary aesthetics or epistemology. In this way, comparative literature functions as the core of the curriculum, exposing students to a range of literary techniques and helping them to organize their work in their chosen literatures.
Advisers are ordinarily chosen by the end of the second year in preparation for the General Examination. At least one of these examiners, the committee chair, must be on the faculty of the Department of Comparative Literature. After concluding the examination, students, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, select a committee of advisers to direct the dissertation. Again, at least one of the dissertation committee members, normally the committee chair, must be on the faculty of the Department of Comparative Literature.
Practice teaching forms a significant part of graduate education in comparative literature. It is not only a crucial element in a graduate student's preparation for teaching and research, but also an essential credential for future employment, especially if a student wishes to qualify for a position in his or her major literature. As a matter of departmental policy, therefore, all students, after their first year, are normally required to accumulate at least four classroom hours of teaching experience during their time at Princeton.
The general examination tests, as it reflects, the candidate's course of study. Based on a reading list devised by the student and the student's advisers, the written examination is divided into two parts. The first part concerns the candidate's major literature and is comprehensive in nature. It is normally taken by the end of the fifth semester. The second part, in comparative literature, is usually taken by the end of the sixth semester. It is intensive in nature and consists of questions based on those areas of study that the candidate has prepared in consultation with faculty advisers.
Dissertation Prospectus and Defense
An eight- to fifteen-page exposition of the dissertation project, the Prospectus provides the basis for the thesis prospectus oral examination (or defense), which is conducted before the Graduate Committee, the dissertation committee, and any other professors who wish to attend, or whom the student wishes to invite. The prospectus examination is usually taken during the next Examination Period after the student's completion of the General Exams, and should be taken by the end of the seventh semester of study. This oral examination focusing on the proposed dissertation topic concludes the series of general examinations.
The dissertation should demonstrate the candidate's competence in writing a substantial work of scholarship and criticism and his or her proficiency in maturely handling the foreign languages chosen. Under certain circumstances, candidates may be permitted to submit an original translation of a work of particular difficulty. A dissertation based on translation, however, must be preceded by a comprehensive introduction that examines in depth the comparative context of the translated work as well as the linguistic and theoretical problems arising from the translation itself.
A final public oral examination is required after the dissertation has been read and approved by representatives of the faculty. This examination consists of two parts. The first is a 30-minute lecture in which the candidate justifies the subject treated and the methods employed, accounts for any new contributions to literary history and criticism, and projects plans for future scholarship and publication based upon the dissertation. The second part is a series of questions growing out of subjects presented in the lecture and relating to both the criticism and teaching of literary material dealt with in the dissertation.