Ph.D. in Literature

The Ph.D. in English with a literature emphasis is designed for people planning to pursue careers in scholarship and teaching at the college or university level. It is a rigorous but flexible emphasis in which individual programs of study are shaped through negotiation between the Ph.D. student and his or her advisory committee. Students in the program are strongly encouraged to participate in professional activities, including academic conferences.

Course requirements

  • Research methods: English 711 - Introduction to Graduate Study is required and must be taken at the first opportunity; it is customarily taught each fall semester. Students who have had a graduate-level research methods course at another university should talk with the director of graduate studies to see whether that course fulfills this requirement
  • Elective courses: The Ph.D. literature emphasis does not require a specific core of courses. Rather, the student and his or her advisory committee plan a course of study, considering the student's prior course work, primary areas of interest, planned examination fields and long-term professional aspirations.

Comprehensive examination

Each student in the literature emphasis will take comprehensive exams in three areas: period, genre and (theoretical) method. The format for taking the exam is determined by the student and his or her advisory committee. Exams, which are open book, are offered in the following format: the student will write the exams in three areas and will not take longer than a month to complete them. The student will have eight hours to complete each exam. The student should plan to spend about four hours writing a response for each exam and about four hours planning, freewriting, outlining, revising, polishing, proofreading for each exam. The exam should be no longer than 20 pages. Committee members should keep these time constraints in mind when drafting questions. At the conclusion of the exam period, the student will email the chair the completed exam in .docx or PDF format.

  • Period: Periods may be selected from the following list: Old English, Middle English, Renaissance-to-1600 (including all of Shakespeare), 17th century British (including all of Shakespeare), 18th century British, 19th century British, 20th century British, 20th-and-21st century global Anglophone, American to 1890, American since 1890, or a field of linguistics or philology to be defined by the student and his or her advisory committee. Students will be expected to be familiar with the literature, the literary history and the intellectual history of the chosen period.
  • Genre: Genres may be selected from the following list: poetry, drama, fiction, intellectual prose, or a field of linguistics or philology to be defined by the student and his or her advisory committee. Students will be expected to know the major theories pertaining to their chosen genre and the literature within their genre in the historical periods immediately preceding and immediately following their period of specialization.
  • Theory/Method: Theories and methods refer to a body of ideas and intellectual traditions that help reveal new perspectives about a literary text. Some examples of theory/method include feminism, Marxism, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, post-structuralism, queer theory and cultural studies. Students will be expected to know the major authors and texts of a given theoretical tradition and be able to apply theories to literary texts.

The written comprehensive examinations will be followed by an oral examination, as described under general requirements. The student must register for ENG 795, Comprehensive Examination, one credit, the semester they will be completing the oral exam.

Dissertation defense (final oral examination)

After the dissertation has been accepted by the candidate's advisory committee, the committee will conduct an oral examination dealing with the dissertation and related topics. The defense will be about two hours in length.

Please review the Ph.D. literature checklist of degree requirements.