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About Our Program

revolving postersThe Literature Section's rich and diverse offerings aim to satisfy a range of different student needs and desires. For majors and minors, we provide a firm foundation in literary study that compares with Literature programs at other major universities or colleges. For concentrators, we offer a variety of combinations of subjects that can be tailored to the individual student's interests. Finally, the department welcomes the student interested in an occasional class or wishing to explore the study of literature and media – hoping, of course, that the strength and dynamism of faculty and curriculum will lead to further study and exploration.

The sidebar to the left contains links to more detailed descriptions of the Academic Program. It leads to the full descriptions and schedule of subjects currently being offered (with links to individual subject web pages), and to briefer descriptions of all the subjects comprising the Literature curriculum. Students may also use the links to move directly to our requirements for majoring, minoring, and concentrating; to find out how to transfer Literature credit from other institutions; and the names of faculty advisors responsible for these parts of the Academic Program.

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Overview of the Curriculum

To serve a diverse student body with diverse needs and intellectual foci, the Curriculum is organized in four tiers that build upon one another. Please note that all Introductory subjects (with the exceptions of 21L.000, 21L.010, and 21L.044) are subject to the HASS Lottery to ensure enrollment caps are met.

The Introductory Tier (21L.000 – 21L.048)

These subjects are foundational in emphasis: they open up a particular domain to students who may have no prior experience studying literature at the university level. The offerings include classes that introduce students to canonical texts and authors (Foundations of Western Literature or Shakespeare, for instance), or to a literary form (e.g., Reading Poetry), or to particular national literatures (e.g., American Literature), or to a fundamental idea in a variety of literary manifestations (The Art of the Probable, for example), or to the study of particular media (Introduction to Film).

In addition, these classes all fulfill the Communication Intensive and the HASS requirement aspects of the General Institute Requirements. This means that the reading of literary texts is accompanied by close attention to writing and speaking in the context of lively classroom discussion. The classes are mostly small in size and allow each student personal attention. CI-H subjects have a limited enrollment.

Samplings (21L.300 – 21L.325, 21L.338, 21L.339 & 21L.345 – 21L.355)

Introduced in Fall 2006, this category consists of half-subjects, taught either once a week throughout the term or twice a week for half the term. The specific topics for the subjects offered vary from year to year. For instance, the Samplings subject Prize Winners may focus on the Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott one term, and on Booker Prize Winners Salman Rushdie and Michael Ondaatje another term. Students may repeat a particular Samplings class, provided the topic covered is different.

Samplings serve a number of functions. For a student unable to sustain the commitment demanded by a regular twelve-unit class, they offer a less intensive, more discussion and reading oriented way of continuing literary study. Moreover, they allow the Literature Faculty to offer occasional subjects that cannot be permanently and regularly offered. Finally, they are a site of experimentation – a way of trying out new authors and new themes.

Samplings subjects may be used to satisfy Literature concentration, minor and major requirements: two Samplings subject count as the equivalent of one Intermediate tier subject. The number of Samplings subjects that can be used thus is limited to a maximum of four (or two, in the case of the concentration). Samplings subjects may also be used to fulfil part of the eight-subject Institute HASS requirement: to do so, a student must take two Sampling subjects and petition to have them count as one elective (up to four subjects may be combined in this manner). The petition process is straightforward.

The Intermediate Tier (21L.430 – 21L.512)

Intermediate subjects build on the Introductory and Samplings tiers. They generally combine breadth with a more focused attention to a type of literature or media; to a particular literary form (e.g. Comedy), to critical approaches (e.g., Literary Theory); to a historical period (e.g. Medieval Literature) or geographical domain (e.g. The Major Novel); or to a particular topic (e.g. Film and Literature). The particular topics generally vary from term to term, and most subjects may be repeated so long as the topic and texts studied are different. Thus, for instance, Contemporary Literature may focus on contemporary European poets one semester, and on the contemporary British novel in another.

These subjects are lively and discussion based, full of students who share a passion for literature; they offer the student the opportunity to explore a particular intellectual terrain without assuming an extensive knowledge of the specific subject area.

Subjects Taught in a Foreign Language (21L.611-21L.640)

The latest addition to the Literature subject offerings, these courses provide an opportunity to study the literature and other media of various foreign national cultures in the original language. These subjects are lively and discussion based, full of students who share a passion for literature; they offer the student the opportunity to explore a particular intellectual terrain without assuming an extensive knowledge of the specific subject area. Students acquire skills necessary for a serious examination of cultural issues in a foreign culture. As these subjects are taught entirely in the language of the culture being studied, language competence is essential, either through native fluency or previous study.

The Seminar Tier (21L.640 – 21L.715)

Seminars are designed for students who have completed two prior subjects in Literature. They are small classes (usually capped at twelve) that focus on particular topics, genres, historical periods, and so on, studying these with depth and intensity. They generally demand active student participation through intensive discussion and oral presentations, and also introduce students to research skills that more advanced work in literary and media study demands. Consequently, most Seminars also fulfill the CI-M requirements for a degree in Literature. The specific topics for each class vary widely from term to term, and students may repeat seminars for credit, so long as the topics and texts studied are different. Studies in Drama, for instance, may focus on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English drama one semester, and on contemporary British playwrights such as Caryl Churchill and Tom Stoppard another semester.

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