The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Academics

Master of Arts in Comparative Literature

The M.A. in Comparative Literature

The M.A. in Comparative Literature at UMass Amherst is a rigorous two-year program designed to give students a strong grounding in literary and social theory; expert knowledge of one language and its literature; reading knowledge of three languages (including English); broad understanding of the literature of one main historical period; and familiarity in research methods, literary translation, and problems of criticism. Our M.A. students take courses alongside our Ph.D. students; together, they form an exceptionally supportive and dynamic community. M.A. students belong to OGSCL (the Organization of Graduate Students in Comparative Literature) and co-organize two national conferences, the Translation Studies Conference and the Crossroads Comparative Literature Conference.  

Requirements: Through their coursework and thesis, M.A. students develop three areas of concentration. In their primary literature or field of concentration, they are expected to achieve a broad historical understanding of how that literature has evolved from its earliest forms to the present, with emphasis either on one particular genre or a major period, and a thorough reading knowledge of the language. In their second and third fields, they are expected to focus on a related period or genre. Students are required to demonstrate advanced reading knowledge in a second language. Students are expected to do a semester of coursework at UMass or one of the Five Colleges in a third language if they do not already possess mastery of a third language upon enrolling. (Note: English may count as the first language.) Students must successfully complete 33 course credits and the M.A. thesis or project.

Course Requirements: A minimum of 33 credit hours is required for the M.A., 6 of which must be at the 600-800 level (excluding thesis credits). In addition, teaching assistants must take the one-credit Teaching Workshop.

  • Comparative Literature: 12 credits
  • First Concentration: 6 credits
  • Second Concentration: 6 credits
  • Elective: 3 credits
  • Thesis/Project: 6 credits

Please note the following requirements:

  1. A second graduate Comparative Literature course that combines theoretical perspectives with practical criticism.
  2. Students planning to write a translation thesis must take Comparative Literature 751 (Theory and Practice of Translation).
  3. For the M.A., up to three credits of Independent Study (one course) 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 not be counted towards the literature components of the Distribution Requirements unless special arrangements are made to complete required reading in the original language. This must be approved by the GPD.

The M.A. Committee: In the beginning of their second year, in consultation with the Graduate Program Director, students select the chair of the M.A. committee, who then becomes their 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 an expert in the literature/field of the student's primary concentration. The committee must be appointed by October 1 of the student's second year.

The M.A. 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, the student undergoes an oral examination in the form of a thesis defense. The thesis defense is open to the public and two hours in length. It must be 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 M.A. in Translation and Interpreting Studies 

The M.A. track in Translation and Interpreting Studies is an innovative two-year program designed to give students a strong grounding in translation, literary, and cultural theory; practical expertise in either translation or interpreting and grounding in the other; expert knowledge of at least two 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; familiarity with translation technologies; and training in research methods and problems of criticism.

Students are expected to demonstrate advanced competence reading knowledge in the language of the second literature/field. Students are required to do a semester of coursework at UMass or one of the Five Colleges in a third language if they do not already possess mastery of a third language upon enrolling. (Note that English may count as the first language.) Students must successfully complete 33 course credits and the M.A. thesis or project

M.A. students in the Translation and Interpreting Studies track take courses alongside our Ph.D. students; together, they form an exceptionally supportive and dynamic community and co-organize two national conferences, the Translation Studies Conference and the Crossroads Comparative Literature Conference

Course Distribution Requirements: A minimum of 33 credit hours is required for the M.A., 6 of which must be at the 600-800 level (excluding thesis credits). In addition, teaching assistants must take the one-credit Teaching Workshop.

  • Comparative Literature/Translation Studies: 12 credits
  • First Concentration: 6 credits
  • Second Concentration: 6 credits
  • Elective: 3 credits
  • Thesis: 6 credits

Please note the following course requirements:

  1. Comp Lit 751, Theory and Practice of Translation
  2. Comp Lit 550, Translation and Technology or demonstrated equivalent competence
  3. Comp Lit 681, Introduction to Interpreting and Translation Research and Practice I
  4. One advanced seminar in Translation Studies
  5. One graduate Comparative Literature course that combines theoretical perspective with practical criticism.

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. 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 and this has been approved by the GPD. 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 M.A. Committee: In the beginning of their second year, in consultation with the Graduate Program Director, students select the chair of the M.A. committee, who then becomes their 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.

The Thesis: By the beginning of the third semester, in consultation with their M.A. committee, the student chooses a thesis topic and writes a thesis prospectus. The prospectus must be approved 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.* A student may choose to write a descriptive, historical, or theoretical thesis of between 20,000 and 25,000 words, or to submit a translation and introduction. The translation option represents a translation into English of a collection of poems, literary essays, or short stories, a short novel, or a play, accompanied by a critical introduction of 25 pages (10,000-12,000 words) that sets the work in context. The introduction must address the structure and style of the source text, as well as the strategies and techniques adopted in the translation. The translation should demonstrate the student’s skill as a translator in dealing with a complex text and their capacity to make sound, conscientious decisions that respect the literary/aesthetic dimension of a text and the receiving culture. The thesis must include a critical introduction and a bibliography of works consulted.

The following are approximate guidelines for length, although quality and substance are more important than quantity: • for prose (fiction or nonfiction) or drama, the manuscript would normally comprise of 60-80 pages of translation • for poetry, the manuscript would comprise of 30-40 pages of translation The critical introduction must address the following: (a) the author, their works, their place in the contemporary literary context, relationship to the literary traditions, influences, etc.; (b) the work and its critical/aesthetic reception in its original cultural/literary/historical context; (c) the work in the context of the receiving culture. It should also include: (a) a discussion of your translation experience of this particular work and the main challenges/opportunities that make this work compelling to translate; (b) analysis of the key or most significant translation methods/strategies you have deployed to convey the significant characteristics of the text (its language, style, form, voice). Ideally, the critical introduction should provide a broad ‘thesis’ about the work and the translation, deploying critical or translation theories or secondary sources as relevant.

Thesis Defense: 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 the Translation Studies track. 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.

Terminal M.A. Degree: This M.A. track may be recommended to students based on performance in the program. A minimum of 11 courses or 33 credits is required with a GPA of 3.0 or above. In lieu of the thesis/translation, students must successfully complete two additional courses, subject to the approval of the Graduate Program Director.

Tips for 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.
  3. Make a plan.
  4. 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.
  5. Share your work. Participate in writing groups and share your work with peers. The Program has funding to assist in conference expenses.

Policy on Incompletes: Students should avoid taking any Incompletes (INC). Incompletes damage your chances for receiving university and outside fellowships. Even worse, they 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. 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.

Conference Funding: For domestic conferences, students can receive up to $300 in funding per event. For international conferences, students may receive up to $500 per event. All conference travel must be entered into the university online travel registry website PRIOR to 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.

MA Speaker Funding: The program allocates $300 per academic year to M.A. students towards inviting a guest speaker or organizing another event. Please contact the program director and GPD to apply for these funds.