The Master of Arts in Comparative Literature and Cultural studies requires passing a comprehensive exam. The exam is based on the students’ coursework and a list of readings approved by the advisor and the candidate’s committee. The exam for the nonthesis option of the Master’s degree concentrates on the students’ main areas of specialization and two areas in world literatures and cultures. The thesis option requires only the world literatures and cultures part of the comprehensive exams. If necessary, an oral exam addressing weak areas in the written exams will be scheduled. The exams should be taken at the end of the fourth semester of study. Early in that semester, students should contact the advisor to discuss the reading lists and schedule the exam. The comprehensive exams are graded on a pass/fail basis. If failed, the exams may be repeated once.
All students in the M.A. Program in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies must take courses in 1) two areas of specialization, 2) world literatures and cultures, and 3) literary and cultural theory. The reading lists for the comprehensive exams should reflect, complement, and strengthen the students’ knowledge in these areas of study. For the comprehensive exams, students must prepare and propose to the advisor and the program committee two main reading lists: a specialty list (non-thesis students) and a world literatures and cultures list.
Specialty List (Non-Thesis Students Only)
Students in the non-thesis option will prepare a list of works from their areas of specialty, divided into two sections: main area of specialization and critical approaches. The specialty list should include approximately 15 primary texts or works. The critical and cultural theory section should include about 10 texts covering at least two different critical approaches (i.e. feminism, postcolonial theory, psychoanalysis, etc.). The list must be approved by the advisor and the program committee.
World Literatures and Cultures List
Each student will prepare two areas in world literatures and cultures, covering different historical periods, geographical areas, and genres. One of these areas should be based on the Program’s Core List in World Literatures and Cultures. The second world literatures and cultures area is chosen by the student in consultation with his or her Advisory Committee. The elective area may be defined by period, geographical region, or genre (i.e. Pre-Hispanic literatures of the Americas, Caribbean literatures, francophone literatures, U.S. ethnic literatures, travel narratives, third world cinema). Each of the world literatures and cultures areas must cover approximately 15 works. It is recommended that students include at least one pre-modern and/or non-Western literatures and cultures area. The world literatures and cultures areas should not overlap with the two main areas in the specialty list. However, minor overlaps may be acceptable.
COMPREHENSIVE EXAM FORMAT
The comprehensive exam is taken over two days. The first day is for the areas of specialization. The second day is for the world literatures and cultures areas. If necessary, an oral exam will be scheduled to address weak areas in the written exams.
Specialty Areas Essays
The students will have to answer two essay questions based on their specialty list. This section is an open-book exam. Each essay should be at least five pages long, typed and double-spaced. Students will have three hours to comp lete each essay.
Essay 1: Transnational Literary and Cultural History
Essay 2: Critical Approaches Essay
World Literatures and Cultures Exam
In this exam, students will have to answer one essay question on the world literature and cultures areas selected. In addition, students will have to identify six works or authors. The format of the identification answers should be similar to a short encyclopedia entry, providing relevant factual information on the work, author, and period, as well as significant thematic, formal, and generic elements. Each identification should be about two pages long. The goal of the World Literatures and Cultures exam is to demonstrate familiarity with and competent reading of a variety of works from different historical periods and regions of the world. The time allowed for this exam is three hours for the essay and three hours for the identifications. No notes or texts are allowed in this part of the exam.
The Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies degree requires passing written and oral comprehensive exams. The written exam concentrates on 1) the candidate’s areas of specialization, and 2) three areas in world literatures and cultures. The oral exam will be focused on a defense of the candidate’s dissertation prospectus and related materials. The exams are based on the candidate’s coursework and a list of readings approved by the program director and the student’s examination committee. The exams should be taken during the last semester of required coursework or during the next spring or fall semester after that completion. Early in that semester in which the examinations will be taken, students should contact the program director to discuss the reading lists and schedule the exam. Each of the components of the comprehensive exams is graded on a pass/fail basis, and all three must be passed in order to move on to the writing of the dissertation. If failed, each of the component exams may be repeated once.
Prior to developing reading lists and taking the comprehensive examinations, each student must establish an examination committee consisting of a committee chair and two other faculty committee members, subject to the approval of the program director. The examination committee will typically also serve as the student’s dissertation committee, though changes can be made with the approval of the program director.
Each student in the doctoral program in the Program in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies must develop the following reading list in conjunction with his or her examination committee, subject to the approval of the program director.
Each student will prepare a list of works in each of two areas of specialization. Each area of specialization should include approximately 20-25 texts or works. The focus will be on primary works in the student’s fields of specialization, though crucial associated critical and theoretical works may be included as well. The lists must be approved by the program director and the student’s examination committee.
World Literatures and Cultures Lists
Each student will prepare readings lists in three areas in world literatures and cultures, covering different historical periods, geographical areas, or genres. These areas should be outside the student’s areas of specialization. However, minor overlaps may be acceptable. And the areas should be appropriately chosen to supplement the student’s specializations. Each of the three world literatures and cultures areas should cover approximately 15-20 primary works, though some key critical or theoretical works may be included as well. Candidates who completed the M.A. Program in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Arkansas must prepare two new areas in world literatures and cultures, though one of their areas can be repeated from that used in their MA comprehensive exams.
COMPREHENSIVE EXAM FORMAT
Each of the two written comprehensive exams will require the student to answer 1-2 essay questions in the form of a 72-hour, open-book, take-home examination. The World Literature examination questions will address the three World Literature lists together; the Specialty examination will address the two Specialty lists together. Students may take the exams in either order; however, most students will be best served by taking the World Literature essay exam first and the Specialty exam second, because the latter leads directly into the oral exam and into work on the dissertation. Unless given special approval by the program director, the two written exams should be taken within six weeks of each other. As a rough guideline, the student’s response to each of the two essay examinations should be a total of approximately 25-30 pages in length, typed and double-spaced, and should include a list of works cited within that length.
The oral exam will consist of a meeting of up to three hours between the candidate and the full examination committee. Prior to that exam, the student must submit to the committee a full dissertation prospectus, consisting of a proposed outline of the dissertation, 15-20 pages of explanatory text to support the outline, and a bibliography of associated works. Questioning in the exam will address all aspects of the prospectus and will be designed to ascertain whether the student is prepared to move forward with the actual writing of the dissertation. Unless given special approval by the program director, candidates should take the oral exam within six weeks of the completion of the written exams.
Prof. M. Keith Booker, Director of Program in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies
Department of English, 333 Kimpel Hall, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701