PHD in Literary Studies

Literary Studies PhD Program

Each student's program is expected to achieve the following objectives: an in-depth knowledge of one literature, including the main critical sources for its study; a knowledge of a substantial number of works in a second literature; a knowledge of a large number of masterworks of world literature (such as those represented in the MA reading list); a concentration in a period, a genre or other area of study encompassing at least two literatures; and a good knowledge of the history of criticism and of contemporary literary theory. Highly unusual majors or minors require the approval of the departmental faculty.


Formal admission to the program entails one of the following procedures:

  • Students who have passed the MA examination (see above) with a grade of B+ or better may be recommended to the program at the discretion of the departmental examination committee.

  • Students presenting an MA degree in a national literature from another department or university, or an MA in comparative literature from another university, are normally not required to take the master's examination.

  • Students presenting an MA degree in a field outside literature are required to take an examination based on a few major literary works.

Applicants to the doctoral program should include in their application some samples of their writing (e.g. one or more term papers).


Students are expected to design their own curricula in accordance with their scholarly interests and their professional goals, and to prepare their own reading lists for the comprehensive examination in consultation with the members of their examining committee. All PhD students are encouraged to seek the guidance of an adviser at the beginning of their third semester to assist them in designing their programs and choosing dissertation topics.

The minimal course requirement for the PhD is 60 credits for students entering with a BA, or 36 for those who start with a relevant MA in hand. All students must take COLI 592, the Proseminar, usually in their first semester. Ordinarily, half of the courses are taken in the major; the rest is distributed among the minor, literary theory, electives, etc.

Comparative literature courses at Binghamton are, basically, of two kinds: broadly based seminars covering the evolution of a genre, the history of criticism, etc., or monographic-type courses concentrating on one or more authors, a development in literature or in literary theory, a particular interdisciplinary approach, etc. A student's program should aim at achieving the objectives of the program through a balance among the studies of literary history and theory and the comparative study of specific works and authors. In addition to the courses and seminars offered by the comparative literature department, students are encouraged to take courses offered by other departments in their fields of specialization. It is highly advisable for students to take courses in other disciplines (art history, history, women's studies, philosophy, etc.) when these contribute to broadening the scope of their programs.

PhD candidates must show native or near-native fluency in one foreign language and demonstrate a solid reading knowledge in a second. Both languages must directly relate to the student's areas of research, and must be approved by the director of graduate studies. Students are expected to satisfy the language requirements by the fifth semester of study (or if entering with an MA degree, by the end of the third semester of doctoral study).

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination consists of four parts.

  1. A Dissertation Proposal (in the format of a substantial paper): This paper is expected to review primary and secondary sources and articulate the problem(s) that the student will focus on.

  2. Historical Construction of a Topic: This section of the exam is devoted to a theme that treats the student's area of expertise in its historical dimension. This is a take-home exam, normally taken in the course of one week-end.

  3. Minor Field: This is a second area of specialization that may be conceived in such a way as to complement the major area of expertise or to represent an altogether different focus. This is a take-home exam, normally taken in the course of one week-end.

  4. Oral Examination: This segment is based on the dissertation proposal and on the preceding portions of the exam and involves all of the examiners.

Students choose an examination committee (subject to the approval of the graduate director) with a minimum of three examiners. All committee members are encouraged to participate in the process of writing the proposal. The graduate director must be informed of the student's intention to take the exam in the first week of the semester in which it is to be scheduled. Reading lists for parts two and three of the examination should be developed through close collaboration with the examiners and must meet with their approval. The approved reading lists must be handed in to the graduate director no later than four weeks before the proposed examination date. The dissertation proposal must be submitted no later than March 15 for an examination in the spring semester and Oct. 15 for an examination in the fall semester. The examination may be scheduled only after the graduate director receives the approved reading lists. The oral examination should take place while classes are in section in fall or spring.

The student is formally admitted to candidacy once he passes the comprehensive examination. Once formally admitted to candidacy, the student has five years in which to complete and defend the dissertation.


The dissertation should be comparative in its scope and implications and demonstrate the student's ability to deal with theoretical problems and to organize and present the research methodically. At the discretion of the comparative literature faculty, a student may do an extended critical translation as a dissertation. This includes an introductory study equivalent in substance to what is required of the other type of dissertation. The Graduate School requires that the candidate, while working on the dissertation, register for one credit hour of COLI 699.

On the initial approval of the dissertation by its readers, the candidate is expected to defend it at an oral examination.