Graduate Study in Literature

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."

- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)


American & British Literature Concentration

  1. A minimum of thirty-six semester hours of credit is required beyond the bachelor’s degree with a grade of "A" or "B", to include EH 501: Intro to Literary Theory and EH 502: Graduate Writing in English, in the first year of course work. Two courses from literary periods pre-1800 and two courses from literary periods post-1800 are also required for the degree. No more than 18 hours of dual-listed courses (400 and 500 level listing for the same course) may be counted towards meeting the minimum hours required for a degree. Graduate students will receive graduate credit only for the 500 level versions of dual-listed courses.

  2. At least one semester before graduation, literature students must successfully complete a literature thesis and oral thesis defense to meet their comprehensive examination requirement. Students write a thesis, which may draw on a student's previous written work in courses, but which must also involve substantial further research under the supervision of a thesis director. Students take three to six semester hours of credit toward the graduation requirement, which will be granted upon successful completion and defense of the thesis, thus leaving a minimum of thirty hours of credit to be accomplished in course work. An oral exam or defense, which will situate the thesis in the comprehensive objectives of the literature concentration, will be required one to two weeks prior to the Thesis First Submission Deadline for the Graduate School. [Note that the English department no longer offers the comprehensive exam as an end-of-degree option, except for students who are grandfathered due to admission date. Please speak with the graduate coordinator for more information.]

  3. Demonstrated proficiency in a foreign language is required.

The Literature Thesis

English Thesis Deadlines 2015-16

  • Fall Thesis Deadline: Defend by 10/16/15
  • Spring Thesis Deadline: Defend by 3/11/16
  • Summer Thesis Deadline: Defend by 6/10/16

Candidates for the M.A. in English with a concentration in literature must write a thesis, an extensive research project which may draw on students' previous written work in courses, but which must also involve substantial further research under the supervision of the thesis director. Students must take three to six credit hours of thesis work towards the graduation requirement, in addition to a minimum of 30 credit hours of course work, for a total of 36 hours.

The thesis should be a sustained piece of writing, at least 50 pages, containing original scholarly work and an explicit discussion of methodology and of relevant critical history.   After completion of the thesis, an oral examination will be scheduled with the thesis committee, to serve as a defense of the thesis and to demonstrate that the student's M.A. work has fulfilled the comprehensive objectives for the literature concentration. In addition to articulating the assumptions and objectives of the thesis project, the thesis writer should be prepared to demonstrate a broad knowledge of the fields relevant to the thesis at her/his defense.

According to the graduate school’s Guide for Preparing Theses and Dissertations,

The master’s thesis and the doctoral dissertation represent major achievements in graduate study. The thesis/dissertation is a learning experience for the student and contributes to the body of existing knowledge in a given field. Students completing the thesis/dissertation research project or creative endeavor demonstrate a mastery of their fields that reflects the ability to function effectively and independently in the creative or problem solving process.

The quality of the thesis/dissertation is a reflection of the standards of the Graduate School and the University. While creativity and individuality are encouraged, there is a need for the format to be internally consistent.


The thesis is generally undertaken after the student has completed most course work. After identifying a thesis director who can support the thesis project, the student will write a prospectus, which must be approved in a prospectus meeting by the thesis committee, made up of three members from the English department, including the thesis director, and one outside member. In addition to a description of the thesis project and an outline of research, the prospectus should include a justification of the contribution the thesis will make to the field of study in which it participates, and a discussion of how the thesis addresses the stated goals of the literature concentration

When the student is actually ready to begin devoting regular work to the thesis, thesis hours are taken as a course, three to six semester hours, which may be taken in any combination over a period of four semesters. Thesis credit ceases to be current after two years, and the student must be registered for at least one hour of credit during the semester in which the oral defense is conducted.

Registration for Thesis Hours Credit

First Semester of Thesis Hours

  1. In order to register for thesis credit, students must first obtain authorization from their supervising faculty member, then the approval of the Graduate Coordinator and Department Chair by submitting Thesis Hours EH 599 Request Form. Once approval is given, the student will receive an override to register for thesis hours in PAWS.
  2. The English department also requires that the Thesis Committee Form be completed in order for any M.A. student to sign up for thesis hours. The form is available here.
  3. To get information on Graduate Faculty status and date of appointment for the form, check here.

Second Semester of Thesis Hours

  1. File a new Thesis Hours EH 599 Request Form. Once approval is given, the student will receive an override to register for thesis hours in PAWS.
  2. The English Department requires that the Prospectus and the Prospectus Signature Sheet be completed in order for any M.A. student to sign up for a second semester of thesis hours. Each student must schedule a prospectus meeting at which the three English faculty members on the committee discuss the thesis and approve the prospectus. The Thesis Checklist contains specifications for the prospectus. Information on formatting your signature sheet is available here.

Submission Procedures and Deadlines

The departmental oral defense must be completed at least two weeks in advance of the Graduate School deadline for thesis submission. To that end, copies of the thesis must be in the hands of all committee members at least two weeks prior to the oral defense.