Visit the Graduate School for admission information and the online application to the Ph.D. program. Please note that only online applications are accepted. Any difficulties or special requests for paper applications should be addressed directly to the Graduate School. Questions of a general nature relating to the Department of Romance Studies may be directed to the Graduate Field Assistant.

Program Overview

While graduate studies in French at Cornell are attuned to all the trends and schools of thought that constitute the study of the humanities today (from psychoanalysis and new historicism to cultural studies, gender studies, postcolonial studies and visual and media studies), the graduate program in French is linked to a certain intellectual history. At its origins, it was bound up with the development of textual criticism and literary theory in this country. This historical link is still represented by the publication of diacritics, a journal of theory and criticism founded more than thirty years ago by members of the graduate field. diacritics, currently housed in the Department of Romance Studies and overseen by its three sections, became one of the first American academic journals to draw serious attention to the intellectual ferment occurring in France in the wake of the structuralist movement, and to translate its works into English. In particular, it was among the very first to translate and explicate the works of Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida, with whom it has long been identified; it was also one of the earliest journals to devote special issues to the influential field of French feminism. Over the years, diacritics has become one of the principle academic resources, here and abroad, for the study of—predominantly—French theoretical writing.

Graduate Field and Interdisciplinarity

The graduate field now extends beyond the confines of the Romance Studies Department. Its composition reflects the commitment to interdisciplinarity that characterizes the humanities at Cornell. It includes faculty specializing in European intellectual and cultural history, visual studies, linguistics, comparative literature, English, and Africana studies.

The opportunity to do interdisciplinary research is enhanced by the structure of the program which allows the students to complete a concentration in a minor field. Typical concentrations have included linguistics, gender studies (FGSS), art history, visual studies, and comparative literature.

To further their intellectual experience at Cornell, graduate students are encouraged to take advantage of other interdisciplinary and specialized programs at Cornell:

  • Society for the Humanities
  • School of Criticism and Theory
  • Cornell Cinema
  • Medieval Studies
  • Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Institute for European Studies

The Society for the Humanities, the Institute for European Studies, the interdisciplinary program in French Studies, the Cornell Council for the Arts, and the Professors-at-Large program cooperate with the field’s participating faculty in bringing distinguished writers and scholars to Cornell for extended visits. Our students and faculty have been able to cultivate valuable contacts with such creative artists and critics as: Mieke Bal, Judith Butler, Cathy Caruth, Tom Conley, Helene Cixous, Joan Dejean, Jacques Derrida, Assia Djebar and Jean-Luc Nancy.


The following list of recent graduate courses offered by members of the core French faculty gives a good idea of faculty interests and of the kinds of subjects prospective students can expect to study at Cornell:

Recent Courses

  • Exquisite Corpses of the Middle Ages
  • Poetry and Poverty: 19th Century French Lyricism and the Times of Indigence
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Femininity, Ethics and Aesthetics
  • Montaigne
  • Francophone Postcolonial Discourse
  • Baroque Bodies
  • (Un)romantic Sexualities
  • Theorizing Film
  • Exoticism and Eroticism: Figures of the Other in the French Enlightenment
  • Literature after the Death of God: In and Around the Collège de Sociologie
  • The Novel as Masterwork
  • French Feminisms
  • From Object to Event: Postcolonial Francophone Cinema
  • Psychoanalytic Theory
  • Edouard Glissant
  • Literary Histories of the Saints
  • Proust and his Critics
  • Oulipo
  • Racine: Myth and Melancholia
  • Biblical Diasporas in French Thought
  • 19th Century French Women Writers
  • Love and Hate in the Middle Ages
  • Anthropology and Genealogy
  • Baudelaire and Modern Criticism
  • Marguerite Duras
  • Movements of Identity

Course Descriptions

Please refer to the French section within the Romance Studies course offerings for detailed descriptions about the language and literature courses we offer.  Note that bracketed courses are not being taught this academic year.

Ph.D. Program

Graduate Panel Panel Discussion

The graduate program is structured to avoid the dangers of premature specialization, by encouraging both broad and precise knowledge of the field of French literature and of the critical and theoretical discourses that have helped to define the discipline. The student of recent literature should be aware of the long, continually evolving traditions of France and the Francophone world, just as the student of earlier periods should be acquainted with the literary, critical, and theoretical trends of our day. Courses and seminars seek to provide broad and detailed familiarity with major periods and authors.

The student’s field of study need not be bounded by the history of one national literature, however. The graduate plan encourages students to define the field flexibly and broadly, in relation to such disciplines as linguistics and semiotics, philosophy, anthropology, visual studies, history of art or music, medieval studies, psychology or psychoanalysis, and the study of classical literatures or other modern national literatures. The student’s field of study is defined by consultation with the Special Committee rather than by a set of general requirements.

The Special Committee and Minor Subject

Each doctoral student chooses, by the end of the third semester, a three-member Special Committee consisting of a chair and two other faculty members. The chair must be a member of the Romance Studies Graduate Field, but need not be a member of the department. Students should feel free to reconstitute their committee as their interests evolve and develop. It is the student’s responsibility to convene the members of the Special Committee at least once a year to discuss courses, preparation of exams, and the general direction of his or her academic program.

According to Graduate School regulations, at least one member of the Special Committee must represent an area of concentration other than that of the student’s major. Most doctoral students choose only one minor, although Graduate School regulations allow the election of two, in which case two of the committee members represent areas of concentration other than French literature. Normally, the chair and one other member of the committee represent the major subject.

Members of the Graduate Field from the Department of Romance Studies:

Members of the Graduate Field from Other Departments:

Graduate School Professors:

Coursework and Second Foreign Language Requirement

Students entering the program without an M.A. normally take a total of sixteen courses over a three-year period. There are no specific course requirements, although students are required to take a total of three courses in each of three historical areas: Medieval/Renaissance, 17th/18th centuries, and 19th/20th centuries. The remaining courses are electives to be chosen at the student’s discretion, in consultation with his or her advisor. Students who have taken graduate courses at another institution prior to coming to Cornell are generally allowed to count those courses toward the requirement.

The student must also demonstrate or acquire proficiency in a second foreign language (one that complements the student’s course of study) prior to taking the “A” exam. Proficiency can be demonstrated through coursework or by written examination.

“Q” Exam

The purpose of the “Q” exam is to evaluate the quality of the student’s written work and skill at detailed textual analysis. After completing the first year of the program (or the first semester, for students entering with an M.A.), the student selects—from among the seminar papers he or she has written—the essay that best reflects his or her scholarly interests and abilities. The student will then discuss the paper with the chair of the graduate committee (as well as the faculty member for whom it was written) in order to determine how the paper might best be revised and reworked to develop its argument and scholarly apparatus. These revisions will normally be undertaken during the summer after the first year of graduate study, during which time the student is encouraged to solicit feedback on the essay from members of the faculty. No later than the third semester in the program (or second semester, for students entering with an M.A.), the student submits the final version of the essay to the members of the committee and schedules a one-hour exam. During the exam, the committee members will ask questions about the paper, identify its strengths and weaknesses, and discuss possible directions the student’s work might take in the future. If the committee is satisfied with the quality of the student’s work, he or she can begin preparing for the “A” exam. But if the committee finds that the paper does not meet the standard for graduate work, the student may be asked to further revise the paper or, if the work is especially poor, advised to seek a terminal M.A. degree rather than continue in the doctoral program.

“A” Exam

Prior to taking the “A” exam, the student must complete all required coursework (and outstanding incompletes) and fulfill the second foreign language requirement.

In consultation with the members of the Special Committee (including one member from the student’s minor field), the student devises three different exam topics, each with its own problematic and reading list. Students are free to compose lists based on their interests; however, the reading list as a whole must demonstrate both historical breadth and attention to different genres. Although the exact number of texts on each list may vary widely, according to the nature of the problematic and the difficulty or complexity of the works read, each topic will include a substantial list of primary works (which may include literary or historical texts, works of criticism, theory, or philosophy, or films or other media) in addition to relevant secondary criticism. The objective of the “A” exam is to test the student’s knowledge of the scope and genealogy of each problem, and his or her conceptual understanding of—and skill at reading—the selected texts. It is expected that at least one of these topics will represent a preliminary exploration of the student’s dissertation topic.

About a month prior to the beginning of the examination period, the student will distribute to the committee a final reading list for each topic, preceded by a brief (1/2-1 page) description of the problematic for that topic and some of the questions or problems the student proposes to explore. In general, one committee member is responsible for each topic; however, the student and the committee may decide to apportion this responsibility differently depending on the circumstances.

The exam has two components: three timed essay examinations (one on each topic) and an oral examination (lasting no more than two hours) to discuss the results of the written exams. Although the schedule for the written exams may be determined by the student in consultation with the committee, all three exams must be completed within a two-week period. Each exam period lasts 24 hours, beginning at the time the student picks up the question.

The exam can have one of three outcomes: pass, fail, or conditional pass. In the case of a conditional pass, the student may be asked to do some additional work to satisfy the committee’s concerns. In the case of failure, the student may be asked to re-take the exam at a later time or, if the quality of the work is especially poor, advised to seek a terminal M.A.

Dissertation Prospectus

Within three months of completing the “A” exam, the student will submit to the committee a brief (7-15 page) prospectus of the dissertation, outlining the problems or questions he or she proposes to explore in the dissertation, how they will be approached, and a preliminary outline of the contents of individual chapters. If approved, a copy of the prospectus will be filed with the department.

“B” Exam

The “B” exam is the oral defense of the dissertation, and allows for a serious discussion of the student’s work with the members of the Special Committee, each of whom normally prepares a brief written judgment and critique of the dissertation in addition to asking oral questions and engaging the candidate in discussion of his or her work.

Research Abroad

Students have many opportunities to study abroad and are encouraged to spend one of their fellowship years in France or in a Francophone area. Alternatively, they can take advantage of our exchange programs with French academic institutions. While graduate students on fellowship can with the consent of their graduate committee attend a university of their choice abroad, the Graduate program in French currently has two exchange agreements with such institutions: one with Universitè Paris VIII, and the other with L’École Normale Supérieure, Ulm, Paris.