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Master of Arts in Comparative Literature

Statement of Procedure | Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Fall 2018)

University Entrance Requirements and other Graduate School regulations marked in the text with an asterisk (*) can be found in the Graduate School Bulletin.

The Graduate Program in Comparative Literature is designed for students who are committed to the study of languages and literatures in a context broader than that of a single national literature program and who wish to prepare themselves for professional work in comparative, interdisciplinary, and cultural studies.  Our program encourages the study of literature in its historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts as an international phenomenon; stimulates the development and refinement of new theoretical and curricular paradigms; and promotes imaginative approaches to the analysis of literary and visual texts in several languages.

The Graduate Program in Comparative Literature offers opportunities for graduate study leading to the degrees of Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy.  Areas of curricular emphasis include theories of literature and interpretation, theory and practice of translation and interpreting, narrative and discourse theory, theories of literary history, canon and world literature, psychoanalytic theory, film analysis, gender studies, and a range of cross-cultural studies, from Orientalism/Occidentalism to multi-culturalism in the Americas.

Courses or seminars are regularly offered in literary theory and criticism, cross-cultural literary relations, theory and practice of translation and interpreting, translation history, children's literature, psychoanalysis and literature, science fiction, gender studies, and film and literature.  Graduate courses in Comparative Literature are open to all qualified graduate students and may, with prior approval of the other department or program concerned, be taken to meet a foreign language requirement.


Prerequisites (Beyond the usual requirements of the Graduate School.)

Undergraduate Degree

Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree or a recognized foreign equivalent, either with a major in a language-literature field or with substantial literary studies.

Languages

All applicants must demonstrate proficiency in English and advanced proficiency in one language other than English; they should have an intermediate level in a third language.  Generally, applicants have completed at least three years of their first foreign language and at least one year of their second.  Knowledge of classical and non-European languages is encouraged.

An entering M.A. student who does not show language competence by previous study may demonstrate competence in the first and second languages by coursework or by passing a language test administered by the program, as specified in the program's Statement of Procedure. (Note that langauge courses at the undergraduate level to gain competency do not count towards the degree requirements. Students without adequate langauge preparation may require an extended time to degree.)

Grade Point Average

The applicant should have a grade point average equivalent to at least 3.00 out of possible 4.00.

Examinations

Applicants are required to have taken the Graduate Record Examination within five years before applying. Non-native speakers of English who are not U.S. citizens are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination.

Written Work

Applicants are required to submit directly to Comparative Literature a sample of their written work with their application.  This should demonstrate critical handling of literary material, preferably including non-English texts.  The paper need not be written in English.  Essays written in a language other than English should be accompanied by an English translation done by the candidate.  For a Translation Studies application, a candidate may submit a sample translation with an introductory translator's note.

The critical essay required of applicants to the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Comparative Literature should be sent directly to Comparative Literature at Herter Hall, 161 Presidents Drive, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003-9312.  All other application materials must be sent to the Graduate School.

Transfer Credits

Subject to the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee, M.A. candidates may transfer from other institutions up to six hours of graduate credit graded "B" or higher, and taken within three years before admission.*  Students are strongly encouraged to request transfer of credits within the first semester after admission.


Academic Standing

Advising and Review of Progress

  1. The Graduate Program Director serves as adviser to newly admitted students.  During the first year, in consultation with the Director, students select an adviser according to their academic interests.
  2. Each academic year, members of the Graduate Studies Committee review the progress of all students. Students are expected to maintain standing in accordance with the General Regulations of the Graduate School.* 
  3. The Graduate Studies Committee, in consultation with the student's adviser, may place a student on probation for a one semester to one year when:
    1. the student's  record shows more than two grades of incomplete (excluding thesis or dissertation credits); or
    2. the cumulative grade point average falls below 3.0.
    3. the student fails to make appropriate progress toward degree as defined in the Statement of Procedure.

In any of these cases, the Graduate Program Director writes the student a memorandum describing the steps to be taken to remove probationary status. Probationary status jeopardizes a student's eligibility for financial support, whether by funding through the Department, the University (fellowship programs) or Continuing Education. Failure to meet stipulated obligations in the ensuing one-year period may result in termination of graduate studies. Any student placed on probation may appeal in writing to the Graduate Studies Committee no later than thirty days after the beginning of the semester following the notice of probation. This appeal will be granted only in cases of unusual hardship.

Waivers, Exemptions, Modifications

A student may petition the Graduate Studies Committee for a waiver or modification of any requirement in this Statement of Procedure, except for those mandated by the Graduate School.*  The Graduate Studies Committee will provide written notice of its decision in a timely fashion.


The MA Degree

There are two MA tracks in the Comparative Literature graduate program: the MA in Comparative Literature and the MA in Translation framed within a comparatist perspective. The two programs follow similar patterns, each having an option with or without thesis. The specifics of the MA in Translation are given following the MA in Comparative Literature. Both degrees are outlined below as a two-year program, but if a student studies full time, each can be completed in three semesters or even 12 months with extremely careful planning.

The MA In Comparative Literature

Program of Study

The balance among the main constituent elements of a candidate's course of study will vary with individual circumstances.  The following kinds of competence, however, are taken to characterize the holder of a M.A. in Comparative Literature: a grounding in literary and social theory; a knowledge of one language and its literature sufficient to warrant the respect of specialists; a reading knowledge of three languages (ancient or modern); a wide command of the literature of one main historical period; and training in research methods, literary translation, and problems of criticism.

Requirements

Work in one literature, as construed in the broad sense described on page one, requires historical coverage from the earliest literary forms of the language to the present, with emphasis either on a genre or on a major period, and a thorough reading knowledge of the language.  Work in the second and third literatures requires coverage of the period or genre related to the field of emphasis in the first literature.  Reading knowledge of the languages involved should be very good in the second literature, and good in the third.

Requirements include 33 graduate credits (for distribution see below), 6 of which must be at the 600-800 level (excluding thesis credits), demonstration of foreign language facility, demonstration of bibliographic skills in Comparative Literature and the appropriate related disciplines, and the satisfactory completion of the M.A. thesis or project.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 33 credit hours is required in all cases, distributed as follows for the M.A. in Comparative Literature.  In addition, teaching assistants must take the one-credit Teaching Workshop.

 

MA with Thesis or Project

Comparative Literature

12

First Concentration

6

Second Concentration

6

Elective

3

Thesis/Project

6

Please note the following requirements:

  1. A second graduate Comparative Literature course that combines theoretical perspectives with practical criticism.
  2. In addition, for students planning to write a translation thesis: CompLit 751 Theory and Practice of Translation and CompLit 681.
  3. For the M.A. up to three credits of Independent Study may be counted towards the fulfillment of the requirements for the degree. Additional Independent Studies require the approval of the Graduate Program Director.
  4. Literature in translation courses may notbe counted towards the literature components of the Distribution Requirements unless special arrangements are made to complete required reading in the original language.

The MA Committee

By the beginning of the third semester, the student selects, in consultation with the Graduate Program Director, the chair of the M.A. committee, who then becomes the student's primary adviser.  The committee chair and the candidate then select the rest of the committee, which consists of at least three members of the graduate faculty:  at least two from the Program of Comparative Literature and at least one from another department.*  The committee must include a member who is expert in the literature of the student's primary concentration.  The committee must be appointed by October 1 of the student's second year.

MA with Thesis

By the beginning of the third semester, in consultation with the student's M.A. committee, the student chooses a thesis topic and writes a thesis prospectus. The prospectus must be defended by the end of the student's third semester, so as to allow a four-month time period between the acceptance of the prospectus and the defense of the thesis.* 

The thesis for the M.A. in Comparative Literature is between 20,000 and 25,000 words. Theses must include bibliographies of all works read in conjunction with the research undertaken for the thesis. 

After the thesis has been completed and submitted to all committee members, there is a thesis defense of two hours.  The thesis defense is public and announced at least two weeks in advance to all members of the Comparative Literature faculty and graduate program.  Questions at the thesis defense may also address the scope of the student's entire course of study for the M.A.

Immediately after the defense, the M.A. committee decides whether the student has submitted an acceptable thesis and defended it adequately, thus fulfilling the final requirements for the M.A. in Comparative Literature.  The decision is based on both the written thesis and the oral defense.  The examiners choose from two possible outcomes:  pass or fail.  The recommendation of all but one member of the M.A. committee is required for the student to be eligible for receiving the M.A.  The decision of the committee is made known immediately after the committee has conferred.

In the event of a negative decision by the committee, the M.A. committee consults with the Graduate Program Director during the week following the thesis defense.  The Graduate Program Director thereupon informs the student either that permission to resubmit the thesis and to have a second and final defense has been granted or that termination of graduate studies will be recommended.


The MA In Translation Studies

Program of Study

The balance among the main constituent elements of a candidate's course of study will vary with individual circumstances.  The following kinds of competence, however, are taken to characterize the holder of a M.A. in Translation Studies framed within the Comparative Literature Program of the University of Massachusetts Amherst: a grounding in translation, literary, and cultural theory; practical expertise in either translation or interpreting and a grounding in the other; knowledge of three languages and familiarity with the literary, cultural, and translation traditions of at least one of those languages; expertise in critical reading and textual analysis of complex written and spoken language; grounding in translation technologies; and training in research methods and problems of criticism.

Requirements

Requirements include 33 graduate credits (for distribution see below), 6 of which must be at the 600-800 level (excluding thesis credits); demonstration of foreign language facility; demonstration of bibliographic skills in Translation and Interpreting Studies, Comparative Literature, and the appropriate related disciplines; and the satisfactory completion of either a thesis or the M.A. examination.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 33 credit hours is required in all cases, distributed as follows for the M.A. in Translation Studies.  In addition, teaching assistants must take the one-credit Teaching Workshop.

 

M.A. with Thesis

Comparative Literature/Translation Studies

12

First Concentration

6

Second Concentration

6

Elective

3

Thesis

6

 

Please note the following requirements:

  1. CompLit 751 Theory and Practice of Translation
  2. CompLit 681
  3. One advanced seminar in Translation Studies
  4. One graduate Comparative Literature course that combines theoretical perspective with practical criticism.
  5. For the M.A. with thesis, up to three credits of Special Problems Courses may be counted towards the fulfillment of the requirements for the degree.
  6. Literature in translation courses may not be counted towards the literature components of the Distribution Requirements unless special arrangements are made to complete required readings in the original language.
  7. With the approval of the Graduate Program Director and the student's adviser, a student may substitute a course in Comparative Literature for a course in the first or second concentration.

The MA Committee

By the beginning of the third semester, the student selects, in consultation with the Graduate Program Director, the chair of the MA committee, who then becomes the student's primary adviser. The committee chair and the candidate then select the rest of the committee, which consists of at least three members of the graduate faculty:  at least two from the Program of Comparative Literature (one of whom must be a specialist in Translation Studies) and at least one from another department.* The committee must include a member who is expert in the literature of the student's primary concentration.

MA with Thesis

By the beginning of the third semester, in consultation with the student's MA committee, the student chooses a thesis topic and writes a thesis prospectus. The prospectus must be defended by the end of the student's third semester, so as to allow a four-month time period between the acceptance of the prospectus and the defense of the thesis.* 

The thesis for the M.A. in Translation Studies is between 20,000 and 25,000 words if the student chooses to do a descriptive, historical, or theoretical topic.  If a student elects to do a translation as the thesis, the translation is 10,000-15,000 words (or other appropriate size to be determined by the committee, depending on form and content), plus a translator's introduction of approximately 10,000-12,000 words.  Theses must include bibliographies of all works read in conjunction with the research undertaken for the thesis. 

After the thesis has been completed and submitted to all committee members, there is a thesis defense of two hours.  The thesis defense is public and announced at least two weeks in advance to all members of the Comparative Literature faculty and graduate program.  Questions at the thesis defense may also address the scope of the student's entire course of study for the MA.

Immediately after the defense, the MA committee decides whether the student has submitted an acceptable thesis and defended it adequately, thus fulfilling the final requirements for the MA in Translation Studies. The decision is based on both the written thesis and the oral defense.  The examiners choose from two possible outcomes:  pass or fail.  The recommendation of all but one member of the MA committee is required for the student to be eligible for receiving the MA  The decision of the committee is made known immediately after the committee has conferred.

In the event of a negative decision by the committee, the MA committee consults with the Graduate Program Director during the week following the thesis defense.  The Graduate Program Director thereupon informs the student either that permission to resubmit the thesis and to have a second and final defense has been granted or that termination of graduate studies will be recommended.

Working on the M.A. Thesis

The thesis is the culmination of your M.A. studies, and the months you spend on it can be the best of times or the worst of times, if not both. You should have the satisfaction of drawing on much that you have been learning in the past semesters, and of finding or refining your scholarly voice and entering fully into the debates in your field; at the same time, you face the challenges of managing a scale of work than anything you have likely experienced before. How can you best structure your days, weeks, and semesters to keep yourself working productively at a pace suited to the length of the project, neither burning out nor letting the project extend into an indefinite horizon? Individual projects and schedules vary greatly, but a few basic guidelines can help make this the best of times for you, yielding an excellent written product within the time – and the funding – available.

  1. Break it down. The best way to write a thesis (and, generally, a book as well) is one chapter at a time. You often will write chapters in the order in which they will appear in the finished manuscript, but this is not always the case. Usually the introduction and conclusion are best written at the end.
  2. Pace yourself. For a typical four- or five-chapter thesis, a good output (and the rate of progress expected by the program) is one chapter per semester or summer. This may seem a daunting pace, but you have been writing 50 to 60 pages per semester all through graduate school, which is just the rate you should aim for in the dissertation. True, you are supposed to accomplish more in the thesis than in a set of seminar papers, but you know more than you did before, and the extended work on your prospectus yielded a viable topic, which you now have the challenge of developing at full length.
  1. Make a plan. Upon approval of your prospectus, you should work out an overall plan for the coming months of thesis work. Show these plans to your advisers and get their input, then proceed accordingly, modifying the plans from time to time as needed.
  2. Meet regularly with your committee. Your Chair and other committee members are there for you, but it is your responsibility to take the initiative to meet with them. If faculty members don’t answer your emails, email them again or go to their office hours. In the rare cases when you cannot reach one of your advisers, speak with the GPD as soon as possible.
  3. Share your work. Beyond campus, you should present your work at one or two conferences a year (more than that adds little and can slow your dissertation writing); the ACLA annual meeting is particularly recommended. The Program has funding to assist in conference travel (see below). The Program also very strongly recommends that while in graduate school you send out two articles for publication, one derived from your dissertation chapters and another drawing from work separate from the dissertation, which can show the breadth of your knowledge.

Circumstances arise that can alter your plans, such as adding a period of research abroad, but a workable plan is a highly advisable starting point.

Incompletes

Students should avoid taking any Incompletes (INC). Incompletes damage your chances for receiving university and outside fellowships. Even worse, Incompletes often cause students to fall further behind in their coursework and other requirements in the following semester.

With the exception of medical, family, or other emergencies, students in Comparative Literature are not permitted to take more than one Incomplete per semester. Students who take two or more Incompletes in any given semester will automatically be put on Probation, which will render them ineligible for a teaching assistantship in the following semester. Such students will lose their teaching fellowships and other grants while on Probation. Students who are carrying two or more Incompletes at any given time will face the same penalties. They also risk being required to take a leave of absence or to withdraw from the program.

If confronted by medical or family emergencies or other extraordinary circumstances that prevent you from completing your coursework in the semester in which the course is taken, you are expected, before the end of the semester, to inform the GPD that you need additional time; the GPD will work with such students on a schedule for resolving INC that can be modified as circumstances warrant.

Incompletes must be completed before the end of the semester that follows the one in which the Incomplete was taken, unless the professor sets an earlier deadline. In the absence of extenuating circumstances, students who do not resolve their INC within this timeframe will be placed on Probation. See the section on Probation below.

Students will not be permitted to take the Comprehensive Examinations if they have INC in courses being used to fulfill requirements. As in all cases, students having academic difficulties should see the GPD at their earliest opportunity.

Note: Often students take Incompletes because they believe the extra time will allow them to write better seminar papers. Paradoxically, this is usually not the case; sometimes an extra week or two may be necessary to produce higher quality work, but any more time than that quickly becomes counterproductive. Perfectionism often hinders academic progress. Balancing several papers (deadlines) and exams per semester is excellent training for the academic life, where you will find yourself juggling far more responsibilities at once.

Conference Funding

Students are encouraged to attend one or two conferences a year and the program is pleased to provide some funding support to facilitate this. Students are required to notify the GPD in September of any conferences they plan to attend in the academic year as funding allocations are made in the early fall to ensure a fair distribution of available funds. For domestic conferences, students can receive up to $300 in funding. For international conferences, students may receive up to $500. All conference travel must be entered into the university online travel registry website PRIORto travel for approval by the GPD. Students are required to send a brief email to the GPD if they decide not to attend a conference for which they requested funding so that the funding can become available to other students. Likewise, students must notify the GPD by email upon their return from a conference, confirming their attendance for program records.

 


For further information, call (413) 545-0929, or write to the Graduate Program Director, Comparative Literature Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst MA 01003.