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How to Major

Majoring in Literature at MIT combines a broad coverage of a range of different literary and cultural fields with the in-depth exploration of particular domains. To ensure coverage, students organize their restricted electives in Literature according to one of two rubrics: Historical Periods or Thematic Complexes (see The Breadth Requirement below). More sustained exploration of specific domains is achieved by taking Seminars in areas of interest. In addition, students contemplating graduate work in Literature or a related field are encouraged to consider completing a Literature Thesis.

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Declaring a Literature Major

Majors LunchStudents considering majoring in Literature should first see our Undergraduate Administrator to declare interest and to arrange a Major Advisor. Students work closely thereafter with the Major Advisor to tailor the degree in accord with their own intellectual interests. The Undergraduate Administrator will assist throughout the process to matriculation, helping the student keep track of degree requirements, submission of relevant forms, etc.

Depending on the kind of Major a student desires to complete, he or she must meet with the selected Major Advisor to fill in and submit the appropriate Major Chart (see links below), on which the student enters both the subjects already completed and those proposed. Students are welcome to diverge from this initial plan, depending upon their changing interests, but should always discuss proposed changes with the Major Advisor. Upon completion of the requisite number of subjects, any changes or amendations to the original plan will be entered onto this form and approved by the Major Advisor, before being resubmitted to the Literature Office, which is responsible for ensuring that student receives the degree. This is normally done in the Spring of the student's senior year at MIT.

Students may major in Literature at MIT in one of three different ways, each of which has a different set of requirements (described in detail below):

  1. Full Major (21L): The program in Literature leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Literature is equivalent to the curricula in English (or literary studies) at other major liberal arts colleges and universities. In addition to providing a firm grounding in the fields and modes of knowledge fundamental to literary studies, the program encourages exploration of materials drawn from film and media, popular culture, and from minority and ethnic cultures.
  2. Joint Major (21E/L or 21S/L): This option is designed to provide a rigorous course of study in Literature in combination with substantial work in an Engineering or Science field. Students receive a single diploma corresponding to the Joint degree.
  3. Double Major: Students combine a Full (21L) or Joint (21E/21S) Major in Literature with a full Major in another field.
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Requirements for the Full Major (21L)

To fulfill the degree requirements in Literature, students must:

  • Complete at least 180 units beyond the GIRs, and
  • Take at least ten subjects in Literature.
  • Of the ten Literature subjects, no more than three may be Introductory subjects, and at least three must be Seminars.
  • Four of the ten Literature subjects must be distributed according to one of two available rubrics: Historical Periods or Thematic Complexes.

To download a Major Chart PDF, click here.

Please note the following Institute restrictions for students completing a Full Major in Literature:

  1. Students majoring only in Literature are not allowed to declare Literature as their HASS Concentration. The Concentration must be completed in a different HASS field.
  2. A maximum of 3 HASS GIR subjects may be counted toward the intellectual requirements for a Full Major. In other words, students may count up to 3 subjects from their 8-subject HASS GIR requirement as part of a Full Major in Literature in so far as those three subjects fit the internal requirements of the degree (as listed above). However, the actual units received for these three subjects only count toward fulfilling the HASS GIR requirement: Full Majors in Literature make up the requisite 180 units beyond the GIRs by taking additional elective credit (either in Literature or other fields). In effect, this requirement also means that five of the 8 HASS GIR subjects must be taken in HASS disciplines other than Literature. (Please refer to chart.)
  3. Freshman Seminars directed by faculty in Literature and Pass/Fail subjects (apart from those taken in the first semester of the Freshman year) cannot be counted towards requirements for the Full Major.
  4. While subjects receiving fewer than 9 units may generally not be counted towards the requirements for a full Major, two six-unit Sampling courses (up to a maximum of four) may be combined by petition to count as one twelve unit subject for the purpose of fulfilling Major requirements.
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Requirements for the Joint Major (21L/S or 21L/E)

To fulfill the degree requirements in Literature, students must:

  • Complete at least 180 units beyond the GIRs, and
  • Take at least eight subjects in Literature, along with at least six subjects in the science or engineering field of their choice. Students should consult with the appropriate science or engineering department for their regulations as to which six subjects are required.
  • Of the eight Literature subjects, no more than three may be Introductory subjects, and at least two must be Seminars.
  • Three of the eight Literature subjects must be distributed according to one of two available rubrics: Historical Periods or Thematic Complexes.

To download a Major Chart PDF, click here.

Please note the following Institute restrictions for students completing a Joint Major in Literature:

  1. Students may declare Literature as their HASS Concentration.
  2. A maximum of 6 HASS GIR subjects may be counted toward the intellectual requirements for a Joint Major, but only one of these may be a HASS-D. In other words, students may count up to 6 subjects (including at most one HASS-D) from their 8-subject HASS GIR requirement as part of a Joint Major in Literature in so far as those six subjects fit the internal requirements of the degree (as listed above). However, the actual units received for these six subjects only count toward fulfilling the HASS GIR requirement: Joint Majors in Literature make up the requisite 180 units beyond the GIRs by taking additional elective credit – in this case, the six subjects taken in the science or engineering portion of the Joint Major count as additional elective credit. In effect, this requirement also means that two of the 8 HASS GIR subjects must be taken in HASS disciplines other than Literature, and that two of the required HASS-D subjects must be taken in fields outside Literature. (Please refer to chart.)
  3. Freshman Seminars directed by faculty in Literature and Pass/Fail subjects (apart from those taken in the first semester of the Freshman year) cannot be counted towards requirements for the Full Major.
  4. While subjects receiving fewer than 9 units may generally not be counted towards the requirements for a Joint Major, two six-unit Sampling courses (up to a maximum of four) may be combined by petition to count as one twelve unit subject for the purpose of fulfilling Joint Major requirements.
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Requirements for the Double Major (21L plus an independent major in another field)

Since a Double Major includes a Full Major in Literature, its requirements are the same as for the Full Major. The Institute GIRs count towards both degrees.

  • Complete at least 180-198 units beyond the GIRs, and
  • Take at least ten subjects in Literature.
  • Of the ten Literature subjects, no more than three may be Introductory subjects, and at least three must be Seminars.
  • Four of the ten Literature subjects must be distributed according to one of two available rubrics: Historical Periods or Thematic Complexes.

To download a Major Chart PDF, click here.

Please see the Undergraduate Academic Administrator in Literature for more information on how to double major.
  1. Students double majoring in Literature may declare Literature as their HASS Concentration.
  2. Usually, a maximum of 6 HASS GIR subjects may be counted toward the intellectual requirements for a Full Major. In other words, students may count up to 6 subjects from their 8-subject HASS GIR requirement as part of the Major in Literature in so far as those six subjects fit the internal requirements of the degree (as listed above). However, only one may be a HASS-D subject. In addition, the actual units received for these six subjects only count toward fulfilling the HASS GIR requirement: Double Majors in Literature make up the requisite 180-198 units beyond the GIRs by taking additional elective credit in Literature or another field of study. (Please refer to chart.)
  3. Freshman Seminars directed by faculty in Literature and Pass/Fail subjects (apart from those taken in the first semester of the Freshman year) cannot be counted towards requirements for the Full Major.
  4. While subjects receiving fewer than 9 units may generally not be counted towards the requirements for a Double Major, two six-unit Sampling courses (up to a maximum of four) may be combined by petition to count as one twelve unit subject for the purpose of fulfilling the degree requirements.
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The Breadth Requirement

All majors are expected to have a sense of the range of literary/filmic texts and critical approaches. To this end, four of the ten courses for a Full or Double Major (or three of the eight for a Joint Major) must be distributed across one of two available rubrics: Historical Periods or Thematic Complexes.

Historical Periods

Students electing this option complete their Breadth Requirement by taking one course apiece in four of the five historical groups listed below. (Joint Majors choose three of the groups.) This distribution ensures a familiarity with literatures from different historical periods. In cases where a particular course cuts across two historical categories, the student may, in consultation with the Major advisor, elect to have it count for either one of the two.

  1. Ancient and Medieval
  2. Renaissance and Restoration
  3. Eighteenth Century and Enlightenment
  4. Romanticism and Nineteenth Century
  5. Twentieth Century and Contemporary Culture

Thematic Complexes

Alternatively, Full and Double majors may demonstrate their familiarity with a range of literary/filmic texts and periods by taking one course apiece in four of the five Thematic categories listed below (or three of the five categories, in the case of Joint Majors).

  1. Historical Period: A course focused on a single historical period (such as Medieval Literature, Victorian Literature, Modernism, and so on)
  2. Genre and Mode: A course that traces a single genre or mode across historical period (such as Comedy, Introduction to Drama, Tragedy, and so on)
  3. Film, Media, and Popular Culture: A course focusing on newer media and issues connected with them (such as Film Styles and Genres, Introduction to Media Studies, and so on)
  4. Gender and Ethnic Studies: A course that encourages engagement with alternative perspectives on the dominant traditions (such as World Literatures, Race and Identity in American Literature, and so on)
  5. Author Study: A course that focuses on the oeuvre of an individual author/director, or on the work of a closely related group of authors or directors (such as Jane Austen, the Brontës, Stoppard and Churchill, and so on)
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