Romance Languages and Literatures

The First Two Years of the PhD Program

The first two years of graduate study are spent in coursework. Students begin teaching after the second year. Normally, students take sixteen four-credit courses during the first two years, with the possibility of credit given for previous graduate work done elsewhere.

Required Courses

The sixteen four-credit courses must include:

  • Three 200-level courses in the major Romance literature. (A 100-level course can be counted as a 200-level course if the work done is at graduate level and the faculty teaching the course agrees to do so). 
  • One four-credit course in the history of the major Romance language or a course deemed equivalent by the section. 
  • Romance Studies 201. This is a seminar on approaches to literary and cultural theory specifically designed for all the graduate students in Romance Languages and Literatures (RLL), and normally taken in the fall term of the first year.
  • Two four-credit courses entailing advanced literary study of one or more Romance languages (other than the language of specialization), or Latin.
    • Depending on the student’s proposed field of research, other European or world languages may be substituted.
    • Students specializing in literature before 1800 take one four-credit Latin course at an advanced level.
    • Students specializing in Portuguese take one four-credit course in the Hispanic literatures. Students specializing in Spanish take one four-credit course in Portuguese, Brazilian or Lusophone literature.
    • If the courses are taught in English, primary readings should be done in the language under study.
    • Language courses or equivalent study, as well as elementary Latin courses do not receive credit toward the graduate language requirement.
    • Romance Studies courses taught by faculty outside the student’s specialization may be proposed for credit toward the language requirement, provided primary readings are done in the language or languages presented for the graduate language requirement.

Elective Courses

Supervised Reading and Research (320-level)

Students must obtain the formal approval of their advisors before registering for 320-level courses. Only one 320-level course will count toward the sixteen four-credit courses required for the PhD. However, if a 320-level course is being tailored to satisfy a specific requirement not offered that year, the instructor should provide documentation of this to the graduate coordinator. Students taking 320 courses as requirements may still take an additional 320 course for credit.

Courses taken outside RLL and secondary fields

Graduate students not pursuing a secondary PhD field will be allowed to take a maximum of four courses outside the department over their first two years; that is, an average of one course per term.

Those students who choose to complete a secondary PhD field during the first two years in the program will not be allowed to take courses outside the department other than those taken for the secondary field. Students pursuing secondary fields must take a minimum of twelve courses in Romance Languages and Literatures.

Credit for Graduate Courses Taken Elsewhere

At the conclusion of the first year of studies, and upon completion of the first-year examination, students may submit a request for credit for up to four semester-long courses taken elsewhere to their primary advisor and the DGS. Such requests will be accepted on the basis of need and plan. If the advisor and DGS accept the request, students may then formally request that the registrar record these credits. With registrar approval, and after the successful completion of one term of graduate studies at Harvard, these courses will be counted among their sixteen four-credit courses. Students may request graduate language requirement credit for course work done at another university or equivalent study done prior to arrival at Harvard. They may also request credit for 200-level courses in their major Romance literature. Advisors who approve these credits indicate in the advising journal which requirements are met by the transfer credit.

The First Year

Courses

Normally students take eight four-credit courses, including Romance Studies 201. If students need to take elementary-level language courses in order to enroll in an advanced course fulfilling their language requirement, they should take these courses during their first year.

Assignments

Graduate students in Romance Languages and Literatures may commit to writing a maximum of three article-length research papers per term. Students assigned such papers in 100-level courses may request an alternate assignment, such as an examination, a series of shorter papers, etc.

First-Year Examination

All students are examined at the end of their second term of study in the department by faculty members of their section. The goal of the examination is to check the student's progress and provide advice on strengths and weaknesses. It is also part of the requirements for an AM degree. In exceptional cases, the examination may determine whether the student should continue in the program. If the examining board so recommends, a student may take all or part of the first-year examination a second time (normally within one year of the first attempt).

Incompletes

The department faculty strongly discourages students from taking an Incomplete in a course. The Department of Romance Languages and Literatures adheres strictly to the policies established by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences regarding unfinished coursework. A grade of Incomplete (INC) must be converted to a letter grade before the end of the registration period following the one in which the course was taken. Otherwise, it will become permanent unless the student has successfully petitioned the GSAS Dean’s Office for an extension of time.

The Second Year

Courses

Students should take all the remaining courses needed to fulfill their requirements.

Incompletes

Students must make up all Incomplete grades in required courses before sitting for general examinations.

Toward the General Exams

By the end of the second year, students should begin discussing plans and preparations for their general exams which they must complete by the end of their third year.

Master of Arts (AM)

Students do not enroll in the graduate program for the sole purpose of obtaining a master’s degree, and there is no AM program separate from the PhD. However, students who came into the program without a Master of Arts may apply to the master's degree. The AM degree is not conferred automatically.

In exceptional cases, faculty may decide to confer a terminal AM on students who will not complete requirements for the PhD.

To be eligible for the AM degree, students must complete one year of residency, eight four-credit courses, and the first-year examination, as described in the First Year section.

Successful completion of all AM academic requirements is a prerequisite for the PhD program.

Students who have not met all the academic requirements for the AM degree may not hold appointments as teaching fellows.

Teaching

Support through teaching is guaranteed to graduate students in their third and fourth years provided they have met the necessary requirements. Possible teaching assignments include a section of an undergraduate language course or a discussion section of a literature course. Teaching opportunities in the Core program and in other departments may sometimes be available as well. Note: the two-year guaranteed support through teaching can be moved to the fifth and sixth years, for instance if a student obtains other funding for research abroad in their third or fourth year.

Romance Language 210, to be taken at the beginning of the first year of teaching, is a requirement for all graduate students but does not count as one of the sixteen courses toward the doctorate. Graduate students with previous teaching experience who have already taken a course in pedagogy through another graduate degree program may petition to be exempt from Romance Languages 210. To do so, they must submit a dossier, including the syllabus, and papers or projects completed for the course. After considering the dossier, the Director of Language Programs and the DGS will choose one of three options: a) exemption from the Romance Languages 210 requirement; b) completion of some of the work for the course as an independent project in addition to the sixteen courses required for the PhD; or c) enrollment in Romance Languages 210.

Advising

While specific procedures may vary from section to section, the general procedure for advising is as follows:

In the first year of graduate study, all students are assigned a faculty advisor in the specialty stated in their dossiers or elsewhere. This faculty advisor may work with the student until the end of their general examinations, and beyond. However, a student may change advisors at any point, provided the student obtains the agreement of the newly selected advisor. Once this agreement is obtained, the student should notify both previous and new advisors, the DGS and the coordinator. This information will be incorporated in the student record on my.harvard. After the PhD general examination, the dissertation director serves as the student’s advisor, in consultation with the other members of the dissertation committee. Students who have questions about advising are welcome to reach out to the DGS or the department chair.

PhD General Examinations

Students must complete the general exam by the end of the third year of graduate studies.

Purpose

Candidates are expected to demonstrate breadth of knowledge and acquaintance with their field, to define their area of specialization and show their mastery of it, and to present their methodology and perspective. 

Timing

The general examination is taken in May, during the spring term of the third year in the graduate program. In some cases, and with approval of advisors, it may be taken in December of the fall term of the third year.

Examination Committee

The DGS constitutes an examination committee for each student at the end of their second year. Its role is to advise candidates as they constitute their lists and draft their essays, and to administer the examination. Normally the academic advisor of the candidate chairs the committee. It comprises at least two RLL faculty members, and at least one faculty member who represents the candidate's field. When possible, the committee should include more than two RLL faculty, including faculty members representing other areas of specialization than the student's chosen area. It is also recommended that one faculty member from another section be included whenever possible. In some cases, a faculty member from another department may join the committee.

Lists of Materials

After the end of their second year, each candidate starts creating three lists, comprising in total about 90 to 100 items.

The first list constitutes the "field" covering a wide chronological and spatial array including several subfields (subfields are defined by each section). It comprises about 50 to 60 items.

The second list constitutes the "area" and represents the specialization of the student. It comprises about 30 to 40 items.

The third list constitutes the "prospectus list" and introduces the problem and specific sub-areas the candidate will address in the dissertation. It comprises about 10 items.

Examples:

1) Field list: Spanish studies; area list: contemporary Latin American cultures; prospectus list: literature written by women between the 1960s and 1990s

2) Field: Italian studies; area: Medieval literature; prospectus list: theories of language, discourses about language in the 13th and 14th c.

3) Field: French studies; area: 20th and 21st c. francophone literature; prospectus list: literature and law

4) Field: Brazilian and Portuguese studies; area: 16th-17th c Portuguese literature; prospectus list: gender and genres in poetry

The lists are structured chronologically or geographically. They are expected to be balanced in such a way that the field list complements the area and prospectus lists rather than overlapping with them. Therefore, the field list should mostly comprise subfields that are not the area of specialization of the candidate.

Sections may decide to substitute course work for a subfield, which then may not be represented in their lists. This should be clearly explained to new students entering the program, so they can choose their courses judiciously. It is up to the sections to decide how many subfields need to be represented in the lists, and how many courses can be accepted as substitutes. It is also up to the sections to decide what texts or items need to be present on the lists of all students.

Written Component of the Examination

As they establish their lists, students work on two essays (8-10 page for each) presenting two large themes broad enough to be relevant to the different subfields represented on the list. Through examples selected in all subfields, candidates demonstrate the breadth of their knowledge and their ability to read critically across time, space, and genres, using their themes as points of entry. The essays include references to theoretical and critical works, and give the committee a sense of the methodologies used by the candidates. The essays should not be a mini-dissertation prospectus, but a broad map helping to structure the lists and constitute the indispensable background for the prospectus. Of the two essays, one is written in English and the other in the Romance language of the field.

Candidates start working on the essays in consultation with their main advisor, and eventually with the other members of their committee.

Examples of themes:

Memory and history; Encounters with strangers; Displacements; Aesthetics of hybridity; Illnesses and their cures; Heroes and heroism; Food and meaning; Poetic of the sea; Mapping knowledge; Dreams, fantasies, illusions; Utopias and heresies; Real and imaginary libraries.

Both the three lists and the two essays need to be finalized, approved and shared with all members of the committee three weeks before the date of the examination.

The graduate coordinator keeps examples of lists and themes for consultation.       

Oral Examination

The examination lasts no less than two and no more than three hours. It starts with a brief presentation in English of the essays, followed by questions on the essays and on any item of the lists that faculty members decide to address. The questions are informed by the two themes proposed in the essays. Follow-up questions may address other topics or matters. The questions are not seen in advance by the candidates. Their goal is to assess the knowledge and familiarity candidates have with the field, their ability to think on their feet, and to go back and forth between concepts and particular traits of the works they have studied. The conversation is divided between English and the Romance language of the field. The examination concludes with the candidates presenting a brief oral account of their dissertation project.

Beside the prescribed opening and conclusion, sections may structure the oral examination differently, either around the themes in the essays, or by subfields, or by lists. They may decide to divide the exam equally between a part in English and a part in the Romance language, or to move back and forth between languages. In any case, each faculty member present should have the opportunity to ask more than one or two questions. The expectations of the section and their particular way of carrying out the examination should be made clear to candidates in advance.

Grades and Feedback

The members of the examination committee evaluate and comment on the essays and the oral examination immediately after it has been administered, and the committee communicates its feedback right away to candidates. The scale used is: Distinction; high pass; pass; fail. The assessment and grade are recorded in a written report signed by all members of the committee. The graduate coordinator is in charge of filing the report in the candidate's dossier. If the committee judges that the examination does not earn a "pass," the candidate is asked to take the examination again within six months. If the candidate fails a second time, they are not authorized to continue in the PhD program.

Dissertation

Committee

Students have six weeks following formal written notification of their general examination grade in which to constitute their dissertation committee. Ordinarily, two members of the committee represent the student’s major language and field; a third may come from another language or discipline. Two of the committee members must come from Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Visiting professors with renewable appointments may serve on dissertation committees, but may not chair them. Note: The Dissertation Acceptance Certificate must be signed by no fewer than three dissertation readers.

Prospectus

A prospectus is a ten double-spaced pages essay (roughly 2500-3000 words) followed by about ten further pages of bibliography. It provides a preliminary description of the dissertation and includes a provisional chapter outline. In order to maintain eligibility for dissertation research fellowships at GSAS and elsewhere, students must obtain prospectus approval within six months of the date on which they receive notice of a passing generals grade.

Mandatory Dissertation Meetings

The Graduate Coordinator contacts student and committee members five months after the General Examination to schedule a prospectus meeting within three weeks. The goal of the prospectus meeting is for all advisors to discuss and approve the prospectus, to provide feedback on the general scope of the project, and to advise the student on the next phases of the dissertation process.

The second meeting takes place within two weeks of the adviser’s approval of the student’s application for the Dissertation Completion Fellowship (DCF) in February. The goal of this meeting is to check the student’s progress, discuss any difficulties, and plan for the final phases of dissertation writing.

The Graduate Coordinator schedules the two meetings, to include all members of the student’s committee. Faculty members on leave or abroad participate via Skype. In order to facilitate the scheduling and to keep track of student progress, the student should copy the Graduate Coordinator when submitting the DCF application to the committee and the main advisor should copy the Graduate Coordinator when approving the prospectus or the DCF application.

Dissertation

An RLL dissertation is a substantial, original scholarly contribution to the student’s field of specialization that typically assumes the form of an extended, in-depth written argument, supported by a comprehensive apparatus and bibliography that demonstrates mastery of the field in question.

An RLL dissertation may incorporate substantial work in other media so long as such media is integral to the nature of the scholarly argument and/or serves as a support. Such media may include interactive maps, databases, data visualizations, video documentaries, stage and set designs, curated archives, and digital editions or translations. Artistic productions in various media may also be included so long as they contribute to the scholarly argument.

Multimedia components of RLL dissertations must be documented and justified within the argumentative portions of the dissertation and be developed in accord with best practices in long-term preservation and access.

The dissertation may be written in English or in the appropriate Romance language.

Defense

PhD candidates are required to make a public oral presentation, or defense, of the dissertation, followed by a question-and-answer period. The defense is usually scheduled at least ten days before the deadline for submission.

Submission

The final manuscript must conform to the requirements described in the Dissertation section of GSAS Policies. It should be submitted electronically by the posted deadline.

PhD Tracks Across Sections

Hispanic Literature with a Minor in Portuguese

Candidates for a degree in this specialty must prove oral and written proficiency in the Portuguese language. They must complete a minimum of eighteen four-credit courses (instead of the standard sixteen). These are to be distributed as follows: fourteen courses in or related to Spanish literature, including the required course of history of the language; four courses in Portuguese. At least two of those four should be graduate seminars (200-level); the other two may be advanced undergraduate courses (100-level). Candidates are required to complete a general reading list of twenty-four Portuguese texts. Reading lists of Hispanic texts will remain the same for all students. The general examination will include an additional two-hour component of Portuguese. The dissertation topic must address significant issues from both Hispanic and Portuguese literature.

Other Major/Minor Literature Combinations

Other programs in one Romance literature with a minor in a second may be arranged in consultation with the DGS and advisors in both languages, generally following the model of the Portuguese minor.

Joint Track in Romance Languages and Literatures

The Joint Track in Romance Languages offers highly-qualified students a PhD in two Romance languages and literatures, exploring the two fields more in depth than a major/minor program allows them to do. Students pursuing the Joint Track should have equal command of the two languages and literatures, and have a sufficiently clear idea of their fields of interest to design an appropriate, consistent, and feasible individualized course of study that explores various intellectual paths and establishes links across languages. Qualified students may be directly admitted into the Joint Track program or after one year of proven academic excellence in their single track graduate program in the Department. Candidates must explain to both of the relevant sections and to the Director of Graduate Studies, their intellectual reasons for combining two languages and define the areas of interest they wish to explore in their course of study. Criteria for selection into the Joint Track include language proficiency, strong literary and cultural foundations in both literatures and languages, and intellectual focus. A Joint Track student may revert back to a single track if it appears that this is not the best plan of graduate study for them.

Course Requirements for the joint track:

Eighteen courses (that is, two more than in the single track), to be completed in two years. The course distribution between the two languages should be fairly balanced, e.g.: 9:9 or 8:10, and may include Romance Studies courses. (It must include Romance Studies 201.) Students may take a maximum of two courses outside of the Department.

Students must satisfy mandatory course requirements in each of their two languages.

Advising:

Each Joint Track student has one faculty advisor in each language. Advisors are designated prior to enrollment, according to the student’s chosen field and stated interests. Students may change advisors later on after discussion with their respective section head. Advisors are in charge of supervising the plan of studies and organizing the General Examinations.

Joint Track General Examinations

Purpose

Candidates are expected to demonstrate breadth of knowledge and acquaintance with their fields, to define the area of specialization and show their mastery of it, and to present their methodology and perspective.

Timing

The general examination is taken in May, during the spring term of the third year in the graduate program. In some cases, and with approval of advisers, it may be taken in December of the fall term of the third year.

Examination Committee

The DGS constitutes an examination committee for each student at the end of their second year. The committee's role is to advise candidates as they constitute their lists and draft their essays, and to administer the examination. Normally one of the two academic advisors of the candidate chairs the committee. The committee comprises at least two RLL faculty members, and at least one faculty member who represents each of the candidate’s fields. When possible, the committee should include more than two RLL faculty, including faculty members representing other areas of specialization than the student’s chosen area. In some cases, a faculty member from another department may join the committee.

Lists of Materials

After the end of their second year, each candidate starts creating three lists, comprising in total about 100 to 120 items. The three lists should involve materials coming from both fields.

The first list constitutes the “field” covering a wide chronological and spatial array including several subfields (subfields are defined by each section). It comprises about 60 to 70 items and provides coverage in the two romance languages and literatures chosen.

The second list constitutes the “area” and represents the specialization of the student. It comprises about 30 to 40 items.

The third list constitutes the “prospectus list” and introduces the problem and specific sub-areas the candidate will address in the dissertation. It comprises about 10 items.

The lists are structured chronologically and geographically. They are expected to be balanced in such a way that the field list complements the area and prospectus lists rather than overlapping with them. Therefore, the field list should mostly comprise subfields that are not the area of specialization of the candidate.

Sections may decide to substitute course work for a subfield, which then may not be represented in their lists. This should be clearly explained to new students entering the program, so they can choose their courses judiciously. It is up to the sections to decide how many subfields need to be represented in the lists, and how many courses can be accepted as substitutes. It is also up to the sections to decide what texts or items need to be present on the lists of all students.

Joint Track Dissertation

The successful Joint Track dissertation should be deeply informed by issues pertinent to both literatures.

Latinx Studies Track

Latinx Studies is a transnational and transdisciplinary field, grounded on the examination of cultural, historical, political, and scholarly knowledge that stem from Latinidad. By centering a Latinx episteme, history, or literature to answer larger intellectual questions, Latinx Studies seeks archival justice and possibilities for the decolonization of knowledge.

Latinx Studies is the study of Latinx peoples, histories, experiences, and cultures. It is also an epistemological approach and a method of researching. For instance, in teaching a class on modernity, students would be encouraged to locate the “modern moment” in the Haitian Revolution rather than the French Revolution. This geo-temporal switch would require students to directly engage with race, slavery, and the plantation economy in rethinking modernity, which leads to different ways of understanding what is modern and who is modern. It also leads to engaging a different set of archival and cultural materials produced often outside the dominant European archives.

Candidates for a degree in this specialty must prove oral and written proficiency in Spanish, Portuguese, French, or Italian. They must complete a minimum of 16 4-credit courses, satisfying mandatory course requirements for the PhD in Spanish or Portuguese, and including at least three graduate-level courses in Latinx Studies:

  • A course that introduces key methodological and theoretical questions in the area of Latinx Studies, such as “Global Latinidad” (SPAN 228, offered every other year); “Latinx Theory: Being and Knowing” (SPAN 242, offered every other year).
  • Courses selected from among graduate courses (or upper-level seminars) across the University. These courses may be used to satisfy the Spanish, Portuguese, French, or Italian requirements. For courses numbered below 200 (primarily for undergraduates), graduate students must complete the designated graduate-level requirements.

For their language requirement, the two advanced level literature/culture in another language than their main one will be in one or two languages that are relevant to their field of interest (another romance language or any other language).

General examination will follow the common examination model. The dissertation topic must address significant issues in Latinx Studies.

Double Doctorate in Italian Studies and Renaissance Culture

This program, introduced in 2009, allows students to complete both a doctorate in Italian Studies at Harvard University and a doctorate in Renaissance Culture at the Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento (INSR) in Florence, Italy within a period of five to six years. After successful a dissertation defense, Harvard awards students a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures, while the INSR grants a “Diploma di perfezionamento in civiltà dell’Umanesimo e del Rinascimento.” The INSR Diploma is legally equivalent to a doctorate awarded by an Italian university.

Secondary field in Romance Languages and Literatures

Please see the description of the secondary field in Romance Languages and Literatures.