Doctor of Philosophy Program Guide: Literature and Culture

The written examinations cover three areas: (1) major period of literary history; (2) second area or special topic; and (3) theory, methodology, or approach.

  1. Major Period. This exam area is intended to help students develop advanced competence within a period of literary history. The focus of the list is on primary sources, although secondary materials may be included.

    • A “period” implies a substantial stretch of time, at least 5 decades.
    • The selection of materials is frequently but not necessarily limited by genre and/or nationality.
    • The “major period” should be defined with an eye to the specialties currently recognized by the MLA’s annual job list.
  2. Second Area or Special Topic.This exam area is intended to help students develop a second area of specialty or to delve deeply into a more bounded topic. The focus of the list is on primary sources, although secondary materials may be included.
    • Second Area.
      • A “second area” can be:
        • A second period (significantly different from, but defined according to the same principles as, the major period).
        • A literary genre, approached transhistorically or with reference to a historical period or periods.
        • An interdisciplinary field;
        • Another comparable body of knowledge or disciplinary formation that enables a student to claim an additional and distinct specialty.
      • One source for possible “second areas” is the MLA list of “divisions” and “discussion groups.”
    • Special Topic
      • A “special topic” is a more narrowly delimited topic, sometimes a significantly augmented subset of the material covered in the Major Period list.
      • “Special topics” are sometimes intended as a future area of dissertation research.
  3. Theory, Methodology, or Approach. This exam area is intended to help students to elucidate how to think and write about selected topics. The focus is on gaining knowledge of one or more recognized theoretical approaches or philosophical developments that have influenced the study and understanding of literature, language, and culture. Ideally, the list should be broad enough to allow discussion of more than one theme or topic and should not exhibit the same narrowness as a “special topic” from List II.