Program Requirements

Languages.  Foreign languages must include at least two foreign modern and one classical language.  In this context, “classical language” means a language from a cultural context in the distant past.  For some working in modern European languages and literatures, the most useful of such languages might be Greek or Latin, but Classical Chinese or Japanese would be more appropriate for other students, and pre-nineteenth century Classical Arabic for yet others.  In most cases this would mean a written language, but in some cases, relatively ancient languages that have survived into the modern world in special cultural contexts, such as Quechua, might qualify.  Comparative Literature “classics” majors are expected to study Latin and Greek and one modern language in lieu of the two modern / one classical requirement.  The specific languages to be included in a student’s program of study should be determined at the outset in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.  Current competency in the three designated languages must be demonstrated within the first two years of study.

Principal Foreign Language.  Speaking, writing, and reading knowledge are required.  In determining proficiency in the principal foreign language, students are held to the standards of the departments of foreign languages.  Determination of proficiency can be made by written certification of the instructor of a graduate course in the relevant national literature department, upon successful completion of the course, or by the language exam, (usually a brief translation exercise) offered yearly by the individual foreign language departments.  Native speakers of the Principal Foreign Language are exempt from the exam in that language.

Classics majors must pass the series of exams in both Latin and Greek offered by the Classics Department, and will receive their instructions from that department.

Second Foreign Language.  Determination of proficiency in the second foreign language is normally made by the language exams offered yearly by the individual foreign language departments; these are usually brief translation exercises.  Students not prepared for such exams on entrance to the program may substitute a year’s study (or the equivalent, in accelerated courses) of a second foreign language at the undergraduate level.  Students continuing work in a second foreign language at an advanced level may fulfill the requirement with a graduate course taken for credit in the relevant national literature department.  The pass / fail option cannot be used in such cases.  All options require written certification of successful completion by the course instructor or examiner.  Native speakers of the Second Foreign Language are exempt from the exam in that language.


Classical Language.  The Department will normally rely on the undergraduate proficiency examinations given by the relevant departments of language and literature. Students not prepared to take such exams on entrance to the program may substitute satisfactory performance in a course equivalent to one year of work in the language at the undergraduate level.  The pass / fail option cannot be used in such cases.

The Principal Foreign Language must be certified during the first year; all others by the end of the second.  Exceptions may be made for classics majors who need additional time to pass all the exams administered by the Classics Department.

Course of Study.  When special arrangements are needed to accommodate the study of languages and literatures not sufficiently supported at Princeton to complete the requirements as outlined below, such arrangements are best made upon the student’s arrival in order to ensure feasibility and practicality.  Students are expected to take a minimum of 12 graduate-level courses, at least 10 of which must be for credit.  COM 521 is expected of all first year students in their first semester.  In addition to COM 521 and at least 2 other courses in Comparative Literature, students should take 4 or more courses in the department of their principal national literature, and at least 2 in their minor national literature, for credit.  Students whose principal national literature is English-language should take 4 or more graduate courses for credit in this field, as well as 2 or more graduate courses for credit in the minor foreign literature.  They will also be expected to demonstrate proficiency in a second foreign language, as well as in a classical language.  This can be accomplished either by passing the relevant undergraduate proficiency examination(s) or by performing satisfactorily in a course equivalent to one year of work in that language at the undergraduate level.  (For example, a student who has elected English as the major literature might take 4 graduate courses in English-language literature, 2 graduate courses in Italian, and pass reading exams in French and Latin.)

In addition, all students are required to take COM 500, the Department’s pedagogy seminar, before completing their first teaching assignment.  Students desiring language teaching experience should expect to take the relevant department’s language pedagogy seminar as well.

Students whose interests and language preparation lead them to "double-major" in two foreign literatures should take at least 4 courses in each of those literatures, 3 of which must be for credit.

Credit for Graduate Courses Taken Elsewhere.  As of September 2009, students who come to Princeton with an M.A. or equivalent course work elsewhere may receive credit for no more than two courses taken elsewhere against the ten required for credit by the Department.  Such decisions, made in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, will normally be reached by the end of the student's first year at Princeton.

Completion of Courses.  No Incompletes are allowed for students in their first term of study.  Only one Incomplete, to be made up by the end of the summer, will be permitted to first year students in their second term.  More advanced students must complete fall courses by the end of the spring recess and spring courses by the end of the summer.  Yearly readmission will depend on the completion of coursework.  According to the rules of the Graduate School: “If a student has not turned in the final paper or work for a course within one year after the beginning of the course, the grade in the course will be recorded as an F.”

  • Students can only have one incomplete in order to be considered in good standing.
  • Courses cannot be converted from credit to audit after ten weeks.  Courses can be converted from audit to credit at any time.

Re-enrollment.  Reviews for re-enrollment are required of the department by the Graduate School.  The re-enrollment of all students to each year for which they are eligible to attend is dependent on course performance, timely completion of language examinations (or coursework), graduate coursework, and the General Examinations, including the dissertation prospectus defense.

Student Teaching.  Students may teach beginning with their second year; normally, first-year students are not eligible for teaching.  All graduate students in the department are required to undertake at least 4 classroom hours of teaching while at Princeton. Classroom hours refers to the number of hours per week, over the course of a semester, during which the student is in charge of the classroom as the primary instructor present.

Teaching assignments in Comparative Literature are arranged by the Director of Graduate Studies.  Students apply for teaching through the Departmental Graduate Administrator, who also regularly receives requests for graduate student teachers from related departments.  Students may sometimes directly approach or be approached by related departments regarding teaching opportunities, but must inform the Graduate Administrator of any tentative assignment they receive in an extra-departmental course, and have that assignment cleared by the Director of Graduate Studies of Comparative Literature, before accepting it.

Advising.  A committee of three advisers usually works with the student for both parts of the General Examination.  Advisers are ordinarily chosen during the second year of study, though for students with advanced standing, this may occur earlier.  Students may either approach individual faculty members directly or ask for suggestions about advising from the Director of Graduate Studies.  In either case, the student should notify the DGS once an advising relationship has been arranged.  If, for any reason, a student needs to change or add advisers, the matter should be discussed first with the DGS.

  Although continuity in advising is desirable, a change in advisers may occur between the two parts of the General Examination, between exams and the dissertation, and during the dissertation stage itself.  A student's committee is normally chaired by faculty appointed in the Department of Comparative Literature; under truly exceptional circumstances of unique scholarly expertise, however, the committee may be co-chaired by faculty unaffiliated with Comparative Literature, upon approval by the Director of Graduate Studies.

The General Examination.  Reflecting the Course of Study, the General Examination is offered in two parts—the Principal or Major Literature and Comparative Literature—usually separated by one semester.  Students should declare their intention to take each part of the General Examination at the beginning of the term: i.e., in September for January examinations, in February for May, and in May for September.  Both examinations must be written in English.

General Examination in the Major Literature
.  The precise date of the exam during the month designated by the candidate will be set in consultation between the student and the Director of Graduate Studies; this must be determined, at the latest, one month before the examination.  Students will be notified of the results in writing within one month of completing the exam.  This first part of the General Examination should be taken during the fourth or fifth semester of study.  This schedule may, of course, be accelerated as the student, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, sees fit.

Reading List.  The list will include at least 50 items (primary and secondary) concentrating in the student's area of interest.  It should be drawn up by the student in consultation with his or her advisers, and then reviewed by the Director of Graduate Studies.  The historical scope of the list is determined by the student's choice of time period in the major language literature; if the student is working equally in two literatures, the list may reflect this fact.  The list should consist primarily of literary works but interpretive, critical, theoretical, philological and philosophical works are also welcome.  Brief works, such as lyric poems or critical essays written by a single author, should be grouped together in numbers relative to their density and interest (e.g., five lyrics by Baudelaire or Lorca; four substantial essays by Barthes or Lukács, might count as 1 item on the list).  Students are advised to consult the Graduate Administrator for samples of past reading lists and examination questions; these are on file in the departmental office.

The final list, approved by all advisers, should be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies at the latest one month before the date of the examination, in order to allow time for possible changes.  For the same reason, the student should submit the proposed reading list to the committee of advisers for its approval a minimum of one month prior to submission of the final approved list to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Examination questions are emailed to the students on Friday by 9 a.m.  Students use the weekend to write the examination, and the completed essays must be returned on the following Monday by 9 a.m.  Students are asked to aim for answers between 1000 and 1500 words each.  This is an "open book" exam, so the use of texts, reference tools, and other resources is both permitted and encouraged.  Students are expected to complete the examination, in its entirety, once beginning it.  Any student who falls ill during the examination needs to contact the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Administrator immediately via email; under such circumstances, a new examination will be rescheduled, and the student will be asked to obtain a brief note from a medical practitioner. Students are also urged to double- and triple-check the documents they submit to the Graduate Administrator to make sure that they have sent the final version of each essay; neither late submissions nor substitutions are permitted.   Students will meet in person with their examiners within three weeks of the exam date—and not before they have received their exam grades—in order to discuss the results.  This meeting is to be considered an advisory follow-up discussion, not an exam in its own right.

No extensions of any kind are granted for this examination. If you fall ill during the examination, you must immediately contact the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Administrator via email. A new examination will be scheduled for you if your illness looks to prevent you from completing the exam on time. Please also double- and triple-check the documents you submit to the Graduate Administrator to ensure that you have sent the final version of each essay; neither late submissions nor substitutions are permitted.

General Examination in Comparative Literature.  Because the Comparative Literature Examination completes the two-part General Exams, it must be taken during one of the three periods annually designated by the Graduate School.  A combined grade for the Major and Comparative Literature Examination will be submitted to the Graduate School by the Department along with notice of completion of the General Examination.
  The second part of the General Examination tests the student's competence in the chosen comparative field, and consists of a written, open-book exam based on an approved reading list.  It is normally taken within one semester of the exam in the Major Literature.  Both General Examinations should be completed no later than the end of the sixth semester of study.

Reading List.  The reading list for the Comparative Literature Exam, drawn up in similar fashion to that for the Principal Literature Exam, should consist of at least 60 items.  It should reflect the student's entire field of comparative study, with particular focus on the probable subject of the dissertation.  The basis of the questions will be the student's own brief description of the key issues and areas underlying the list.  Since the list is comparative, it will necessarily include some works from the list for the Major Exam, but should add new works in the second literature as well.  Students are advised to consult the Graduate Administrator for samples of past reading lists and examination questions; these are on file in the departmental office.

Examination questions are emailed to the students on Friday by 9 a.m.  Students use the weekend to write the examination, and the completed essays must be returned on the following Monday by 9 a.m.  Students are asked to aim for answers between 1000 and 1500 words each.  This is an "open book" exam, so the use of texts, reference tools, and other resources is both permitted and encouraged.  Students are expected to complete the examination, in its entirety, once beginning it.  Any student who falls ill during the examination needs to contact the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Administrator immediately via email; under such circumstances, a new examination will be rescheduled, and the student will be asked to obtain a brief note from a medical practitioner. Students are also urged to double- and triple-check the documents they submit to the Graduate Administrator to make sure that they have sent the final version of each essay; neither late submissions nor substitutions are permitted.   Students will meet in person with their examiners within three weeks of the exam date—and not before they have received their exam grades—in order to discuss the results.  This meeting is to be considered an advisory follow-up discussion, not an exam in its own right.

No extensions of any kind are granted for this examination. If you fall ill during the examination, you must immediately contact the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Administrator via email. A new examination will be scheduled for you if your illness looks to prevent you from completing the exam on time. Please also double- and triple-check the documents you submit to the Graduate Administrator to ensure that you have sent the final version of each essay; neither late submissions nor substitutions are permitted.

Prospectus of the Dissertation and Oral Defense of the Prospectus.  The Prospectus is an eight- to fifteen-page exposition of the dissertation project written by the student in consultation with a committee of advisers.  This document is the basis for the Oral Defense of the Prospectus, 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.

This defense usually occurs 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.  Students who have not successfully defended the prospectus by that time cannot be competitive candidates for honorific dissertation completion fellowships, and will not have enough time remaining on standard fellowships to complete their dissertations.

  To arrange for the prospectus defense, students should consult with the committee of advisers and discuss any scheduling difficulties with the Director of Graduate Studies.  A request for an examination date must be submitted, along with a copy of the prospectus, to the DGS a minimum of four weeks prior to the proposed date of the examination, in order to allow time for possible changes.  For the same reason, the student should have submitted the final version of the prospectus to the committee of advisers for their approval a minimum of one month prior to submission to the Director of Graduate Studies.  When submitted to the DGS, the prospectus must already have the signed approval of the advisers; an email message sent by the advisers to the DGS may serve as written approval.

Regardless of its particular focus, the prospectus should reflect the general requirement that the dissertation involve at least two national languages and literatures.

Guidelines for the Dissertation Prospectus

The dissertation prospectus should address the following matters clearly and directly:

  1. The field to which the dissertation will belong, e.g. literary history, theory, poetics, thematics, genre, interrelationships among the arts or interdisciplinary methodologies, specific areas of inquiry such as feminism or postcolonial critique.
  2. The period or periods under study.
  3. The writers on which the dissertation will focus and the titles of the works to be examined.  For the purpose of the prospectus, it is highly advisable to restrict the list to three to five authors.
  4. The major theme or themes of the dissertation, e.g. agency and negativity in French and English romantic lyric; religious identities in early modern writings of the Iberian peninsula; skepticism and the sublime in the Renaissance; the genres of incarceration literature; schizophrenia and the postcolonial condition.
  5. A clearly expressed thesis or argument about the topic itself.  These are examples of the type of thesis statement that could be developed in the prospectus: "modern realism develops from the humble style in classical rhetoric," or "modern realism stems from the prosaic nature of irony;" or "the English realist novel of the 18th century is linked to the growth in literacy, the widening of the reading public, and the changes in the status of women and legislation affecting domestic life.”
  6. The critical and theoretical background of the thesis.  The student should indicate the major critical texts that have most influenced him or her, and specify the critical perspectives or theses against which the thesis is directed.  The names, titles, and dates of publications of these critical works should be provided.
  7. The student should allow provide a few titles of scholarly works related to the field, the period, the writer(s) and the theme(s) selected.  The prospectus should indicate what is novel, relative to these works, about the topic or the approach.
  8. The prospectus should sketch the probable development of the thesis in chapters.

Dissertation.  The Graduate School allows students a maximum of five years following the successful completion of their General Exams to complete and submit their dissertations.   A special waiver granted by the Department is required thereafter.

Advisers.  The dissertation is directed by a committee usually consisting of two or three advisers, and chaired or co-chaired by a member of the faculty of the Department of Comparative Literature.

Scope of the Dissertation.  The dissertation must be genuinely comparative in the sense of involving at least two national languages and literatures, even if a single author is the subject.  Older and newer forms of the same language or one literature and theory are not acceptable substitutes.  This must be borne in mind for the prospectus and for the natural narrowing of focus as a dissertation progresses.  The completed dissertation should demonstrate familiarity with the existing scholarship on its topic and represent a distinct contribution to its field.

Guidelines for Submitting the Dissertation.  Candidates should keep in mind that submission of the final draft of the dissertation begins a process that typically requires several months before all degree requirements can be completed and the doctoral degree conferred.  In order to allow the necessary time for the completion of final doctoral degree requirements, candidates should begin by reviewing these crucial deadlines, here.

The process involves the following steps:

  1. Submission of the final draft.  After the work on the individual chapters and bibliography has been completed, a readable draft (not a final copy) of the completed dissertation is submitted to the dissertation committee.  Students should consult their individual committee members regarding the amount of time they require to review this final draft for approval, but in no case should advisers be expected to review a complete dissertation in less than one month.  At this stage, substantive changes and re-submission may be required.
  2. Approval of the final draft.  Once the committee members have agreed, the dissertation committee chair will communicate approval of the dissertation to the Director of Graduate Studies.  At this time the candidate should begin to prepare the final manuscript, including the particular formatting required by the Graduate School and the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, which can be found here.
  3. Readers' Reports.  After receiving notice from the dissertation committee chair of approval of the final draft, the Director of Graduate Studies requests formal Readers’ Reports.  The Graduate School requires two Reader’s Reports, at least one from a faculty member in the candidate’s home department, and allows for additional readers as may be assigned by the Department.  The Director of Graduate Studies must allow readers a minimum of one month in which to produce their reports, and the Graduate School requires that the reports be submitted as part of the online degree application process a minimum of two weeks before the desired defense date.  Thus the Readers’ Reports on an approved dissertation must be requested at least six weeks before the dissertation defense date.  At the same time, the Director of Graduate Studies will appoint at least two additional Examiners, in consultation with the candidate and the dissertation committee.
  4. Online Submission of the Degree Application Form.  A completed paperless Degree Application Form, available through the TIGERHUB system, must be submitted online by the degree candidate to the Graduate School’s Office of Academic Affairs a minimum of two and a half weeks prior to the desired dissertation defense date.  The student is responsible for uploading or attaching the Title Page of the dissertation and the required Dissertation Abstract (350 words maximum), in addition to a PDF of the correctly formatted dissertation itself.  The graduate administrator will gather and upload other necessary documents, such as the Readers’ Reports and the Prior Presentation and Publication form.
  5. Display of the Dissertation.  According to the requirements of the Graduate School, “The one bound and / or final copy of your dissertation is due in your department at least two full weeks prior to your defense date in order to be available for inspection and reading prior to the final public oral exam.”  The department customarily prefers two copies; these should be unbound to allow for minor corrections.
  6. Final Public Oral Examination.  The authorization memo from the Dean of the Graduate School approving the final public oral exam will be sent to the department automatically when the Graduate School has approved the Advanced Degree Application.  The FPOE authorization memo (“posting form”) must be posted publicly in the department at least three full working days prior to the defense date.  For details concerning the nature of the Final Public Oral Examination (or dissertation defense) itself, students should consult the separate section below.
  7. Corrections.  After the Final Public Oral Examination, the adviser and examining committee may recommend that minor, non-substantive changes be made in the text, or that the candidate repeat the Final Public Oral Examination.  According to the requirements of the Graduate School, “the student must submit the corrected final copies within two weeks of successfully completing the FPOE.”
  8. Binding and ProQuest Publishing.  The candidate has completed all degree requirements after one bound copy of the dissertation has been deposited to the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library archives, as required by the Graduate School.  This step normally takes place immediately after the successful completion of the final public oral examination, but in all cases it must occur within two weeks of the successful defense.  At this point the candidate must also present confirmation to Mudd of having successfully uploaded the dissertation to ProQuest/UMI ETD.

Dissertation Defense (Final Public Oral Examination)

Format of the FPO.  Candidates present a summary of their dissertation in a formal presentation lasting roughly thirty minutes; they explicate the subject and critical approach informing the dissertation, additionally describing their future plans for the project.  Presentations are followed by questions about the dissertation and its ramifications by the examiners and other faculty and graduate students present.  Questioning usually lasts an additional hour.

Examiners.  As required by the Graduate School, “there must be at least three principal examiners, all of them normally members of the Princeton Faculty at the rank of assistant professor or higher, at least two of whom have not been principal readers of the dissertation.“ It is departmental policy to invite, in addition, all members of the dissertation committee and the Department to attend the final oral examination.  Since this is a public exercise, all interested persons, including the candidate’s family and friends, may attend.

Timing.  The Trustees of the University do not confer doctoral degrees between the first week of June and the last week of September.  The current schedule for the awarding of advanced degrees is available here.

Therefore final public oral examinations are not offered in June, July, or August, with certain unusual exceptions: When a candidate’s hiring or promotion is contingent upon the successful completion of all degree requirements before a deadline falling within the summer months, and this summer deadline can be satisfied without the formal conferral of the doctoral degree by the Trustees, in such cases every reasonable effort will be made to schedule a summer dissertation defense.  Nevertheless, students are advised that full participation of their advisers cannot be expected during the summer months.  In order to derive the greatest benefit from this final exercise, all candidates for the doctoral degree should make every effort to schedule their final public oral examinations during the regular academic year, September through May.