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 four areas: period, genre, topic and author or major work. The format for taking the exam is determined by the student and his or her advisory committee. Ph.D. examinations are open-book. Each of the four area exams is designed to take about four hours to write, with additional time allowed for revision. The student will be allowed a full day (24 hours) for each of the four area exams. All four exam days must occur within a period of 30 days. In either case, the questions will be designed to take about four hours to write. Students also, in consultation with their committees, may elect to write a formal paper in lieu of one exam. This paper will be based on a reading list very similar to the one used otherwise for the exam.

  • 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.
  • Topic: The topic is a theme or focus selected by the student in consultation with his or her advisory committee. Normally this topic is suggested by the anticipated dissertation. The following list suggests the range of possibilities for the topic exam: feminist criticism, the elegy, rhetoric, stage history, literature and science, genre fiction, literary theory, Western American literature.
  • Major work or author: The major work or author will normally be chosen from the period and genre of specialization selected by the student and will be chosen in consultation with the student's advisory committee. (Substitutions are possible with committee approval).

The written comprehensive examinations will be followed by an oral examination, as described under the general requirements. The student must register for English 795, Comprehensive Examination, one credit, the semester he or she 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.