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MIT Course Catalog 2014-2015

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The Literature Section's mission is to maintain a level of excellence and innovation consistent with the best universities while remaining responsive to MIT's distinctive intellectual environment. The curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary approaches to literary texts as well as theoretical, generic, and thematic subjects that range across geographical and historical boundaries.

The Literature Section accommodates students with a wide variety of interests and diverse career choices. The major provides a solid grounding in the discipline but remains flexible enough to allow students to explore the particular domains that most interest them. Students graduating from the MIT Literature program have in recent years been admitted into the best doctoral programs in the country and abroad. For those not pursuing literature as a career, the program nonetheless develops transferable skills in writing, comprehension, and analysis relevant to a variety of different professional paths—from journalism, law, and medical school to work in the gourmet food industry or computer game design.

Depending on the depth of one's engagement, a student may major, minor, or concentrate in Literature. Regardless of the individual choice, our courses will introduce you to the pleasures of reading and interpretation, expose you to different ways of thinking about the world, and lead to a competence in writing and communication that will remain with you the rest of your life.

A supplement to this catalog is available before each semester, either online ( or from Literature Headquarters, Room 14N-407. It offers detailed descriptions of all subjects being taught that term and includes specific information about subject content and required texts.

The Literature curriculum is arranged in four graduated categories:

  • Introductory subjects (21L.000–21L.048) focus on major literary texts grouped in broad historical and generic sequences; all introductory subjects carry HASS and Communication Intensive credit.
  • Samplings (21L.301–21L.339, 21L.345–21L.355) are 6-unit subjects that provide both an alternative route into literary and filmic study and a less intensive means for students to sustain a commitment to reading and textual interpretation. Their focus is on critical exploration, comprehension, and group discussion, with less sustained attention to analytic writing skills. Students can combine most 6-unit Samplings subjects to count as a HASS subject in the Humanities category and the equivalent of a subject in the Intermediate tier. However, no more than four 6-unit subjects may be combined in this manner. See and contact Literature Headquarters for details.
  • Intermediate subjects (21L.430–21L.518) explore literary and visual forms as well as critical analysis in greater depth. Some subjects center on historical periods, literary themes, or genres; others focus on media studies, comparative cultural studies, or national literatures.
  • Seminar subjects (21L.640–21L.715) are usually restricted to students who have taken at least two previous subjects in Literature and encourage a greater degree of independent work, such as oral reports and other special projects. Enrollment in seminars is strictly limited to a maximum of 12 students.

The Literature Section also offers subjects in a foreign language (21L.611-21L.640) for students with adequate preparation. If appropriate, they may count toward the Literature major and minor requirements after consultation with the major/minor advisor.

In addition, the Literature Section often offers 6-unit special subjects for credit during IAP. Students may also choose to take special subjects (21L.S88–21L.S97) and independent study or research supervised by a faculty member (21L.900–21L.901) during the fall and spring terms.

Concentrations in Literature are available in particular genres (e.g., poetry, drama, fiction) and in historical periods (e.g., ancient studies, 19th-century literature, modern and contemporary literature), as well as in media and film studies, world literatures and cultures, popular culture, minority and ethnic studies, literary theory, and a range of national literatures.

Bachelor of Science in Literature/Course 21L
[see degree chart]

The program in Literature leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Literature is equivalent to the curricula in English (or literary studies) of the major liberal arts universities. The Literature curriculum is notable also for its inclusion, along with traditional literary themes and texts, of materials drawn from film and media, popular culture, and minority and ethnic cultures.

Majors are required to take a minimum of 10 subjects, three of which must be seminars and no more than three of which may be introductory subjects. Students develop an appropriate course of study in consultation with a faculty advisor; majors choose from one of two areas in organizing four of their restricted electives (three for joint majors): historical periods or thematic complexes.

Minor in Literature

The minor aims to lay a foundation for advanced study and to enhance a student's appreciation of major narrative, poetic, and dramatic texts in relation to the cultures that produced them.

The Minor in Literature consists of six subjects arranged into three levels of study as follows:

Tier I   Introductory Level
At least one and no more than two subjects from 21L.000–21L.048

Tier II   Intermediate Level
Two or three subjects from 21L.430–21L.518; Note: In most cases, two 6-unit Samplings subjects may be combined to substitute for an intermediate level subject.

Tier III   Seminar Level
At least two subjects from 21L.640–21L.715

At least two subjects must focus primarily on material from before 1900.

Joint Degree Programs

Joint degree programs are offered in Literature in combination with a field in engineering or science (21E, 21S). See the joint degree programs listed under Humanities.

Subjects in Literature are described in the online MIT Subject Listing & Schedule, Further information on subjects and programs may be obtained from Literature Headquarters, Room 14N-407, 617-253-3581,

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Faculty and Staff

Faculty and Teaching Staff

Mary C. Fuller, PhD
Professor of Literature
Section Head


James Buzard, PhD
Professor of Literature
(On leave, fall)

Peter S. Donaldson, PhD
Professor of Literature
Ford Foundation Professor in the Humanities

Diana Henderson, PhD
Professor of Literature
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support

Alvin Charles Kibel, PhD
Professor of Literature

Ruth Perry, PhD
Professor of Literature
Ann Friedlaender Professor in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
(On leave, spring)

Shankar Raman, PhD
Professor of Literature

Stephen James Tapscott, PhD
Professor of Literature
MacVicar Faculty Fellow

David Thorburn, PhD
Professor of Literature

Associate Professors

Sandy Alexandre, PhD
Associate Professor of Literature

Arthur W. Bahr, PhD
Associate Professor of Literature
(On leave)

Eugenie A. Brinkema, PhD
Associate Professor of Contemporary Literature and Media

Marah Gubar, PhD
Associate Professor of Literature

Noel B. Jackson, PhD
Associate Professor of Literature

Margery Resnick, PhD
Associate Professor of Literature

Assistant Professor

Stephanie Frampton, PhD
Assistant Professor of Literature

Senior Lecturer

Wyn Kelley, PhD


Ina Lipkowitz, PhD

Professors Emeriti

Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr., MFA
Professor of Literature, Emeritus

John Hildebidle, PhD
Professor of Literature, Emeritus

Louis Kampf, BA
Professor of English, Emeritus

Irene Tayler, PhD
Professor of Literature, Emerita


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