Department of Germanic Languages
414 Hamilton Hall, Mail Code 2812
1130 Amsterdam Ave
New York, NY 10027
About the Graduate German Program
The Department of Germanic Languages at Columbia has long been considered one of the strongest German departments in the country. We offer a rich and comprehensive curriculum on the history of German literature and culture from 1750 to the present. In addition, we focus on literary theory, intellectual history, media history, film, literature and science, translation theory as well as German-Jewish culture. Courses offered by the department range from intense seminars to larger cross-disciplinary courses that also address students from cognate disciplines in the humanities. While emphasizing the careful analysis of literary texts in their historical and cultural contexts, we encourage students to combine their study of German literature and thought with coursework in neighboring programs and departments. In addition to close mentoring by our core faculty, students profit from working with our affiliated faculty from Art History, Comparative Literature and Society, History, Philosophy, Architecture, and Anthropology. Strong ties to our international partner institution, the Free University in Berlin, allow students to engage in graduate study and research abroad. Our Ph.D.s receive excellent training in language pedagogy, and we are proud of preparing them for a successful career. The department’s placement record has consistently been among the very best in the country. For more information, click here: Placement Record | Core Faculty | Affiliated Faculty.
The function of the M.A. Exam is to test a student's broad exposure to German literary and philosophical texts, genres, and movements from the medieval period to the present. More extensive knowledge is expected for the period after 1750. For a representative overview of the key works of German literary history, the department has prepared a reading list available to incoming students. The list is in no way intended to be exhaustive or static, but instead it should function as a guide.
To qualify to take the M.A. Exam, students must complete 10 courses. 7 of these 10 courses must be taken in the Department of Germanic Languages. 6 courses have to be taken for letter-grade credit, 4 can be for R credit. (See terminology explained below.) At least three of the letter-grade credits must be acquired through seminar papers. The remaining three can be met through various shorter paper formats or take-home exams. Students must also rewrite one seminar paper prior to taking the M. A. Exam. The function of the rewrite is not for students to write a Master's thesis, but to learn how to isolate key questions, introduce original arguments and research, and situate an argument within existing discussions of literary scholarship. Students are expected to have a thorough bibliography and familiarity with the critical literature on their topic.
In order to assist students in achieving these goals, a system of advising will be established to promote individualized feedback, communication, and clarification. In the first year of study, there will be three meetings. The first will be in the beginning of the fall semester to provide a general orientation. The second will be held in the beginning of the second semester to discuss the reading list for the M.A. Exam and other concerns. The third meeting will be at the end of the second semester to discuss summer preparation and the paper rewrite.
The M.A. Exam must be taken at the latest by the first week of the fourth semester. The exam consists of a written and an oral exam. The written exam includes five questions that test a student's knowledge of the terminology of literary criticism and one question that requires close analysis of a selected passage. The exam is expected to take approximately five hours.
The oral examination, conducted in German, takes place on a separate day after the written exam and lasts one hour. It is directed by two examiners. It is intended to test how students, in a more spontaneous setting, engage with more specific questions concerning literary history.
M. Phil. Exam
The function of the M. Phil Exam is not to test a broad exposure to German literary history as with the M.A. Exam, but instead to test students on their ability to isolate an area of research. The exam is intended to help students bridge the transition to the dissertation stage by identifying a set of research interests and a preliminary dissertation interest. In preparation for the exam, students are expected to develop two or three reading lists, one of which must be a theoretical field. Students are expected to be able to define the bounds of their project and argue why they have made those distinctions. They are expected to be able to articulate the theoretical positions that inform their methodology. Students must not only be able to defend why they have made certain choices, but also why they have excluded others. Finally, students are expected to situate their project within both the historical context of their field of interest and the bodyof relevant scholarship that surrounds it.
In order to take the exam, students are expected to produce two or three M. Phil reading lists depending on the nature of their proposed area of study. Students must also complete 8 courses, 5 for letter-grade credit and 3 for R credit. 5 of these 8 courses have to be taken in the Department of Germanic Languages (for students admitted with advanced standing 6 out of 8). At least 3 of the letter-grade credits must be acquired through seminar papers. The other two can be met through shorter paper formats or take-home exams. The deadline for the M. Phil. Exam is the end of semester 7. There will be one advising session for the M. Phil. Exam to be held at the end of the second year after the M. A. Exam has been completed.
The M. Phil. Exam consists in a take-home exam to be completed over the course of one weekend and a 90-minute oral examination. Both the take-home and the oral exam are directed by two examiners chosen by the student. The take-home portion of the exam covers the student's major field; the oral portion of the exam covers all three fields.
The dissertation prospectus contains a bibliography of relevant primary and secondary works and a relatively detailed overview over the proposed topic. The prospectus should give a working title for the thesis and each of its chapters. Wherever possible, precise information about chapter topics, existing critical debates and the student's particular line of argument should be included. The prospectus has to be defended before the end of semester 8 in a meeting with the first and second readers (who will usually be the examiners for the M. Phil.).
The department requires reading knowledge of a foreign language (other than German or English) for the M.A. and strongly suggests reading knowledge of an additional foreign language at the M. Phil. stage. Proficiency must be demonstrated by a written examination at the appropriate point during graduate study. Students admitted with advanced standing are required to have reading knowledge of at least one foreign language (other than German or English), while a second foreign language is strongly suggested.
Study and Research Abroad
The department strongly urges all non-native speakers to spend a full year in a German-speaking country for dissertation research, usually following completion of the M. Phil. degree. Students should apply for outside grants (DAAD, Fulbright, etc.) a year before the expected terms abroad; deadlines for most grants are in September. In addition, there are university funds allotted yearly for summer stipends which may be used toward study and research abroad.
Students are expected to teach in the language program as part of their training in the profession. Students teaching for the first time are required to take an introductory workshop before teaching and a language pedagogy course during their first semester of teaching. They are supervised by the director of the language program. Students are not expected to start teaching until the beginning of their second year of study. Conscientious participation in the language program is essential for continued funding as well as preparation for the academic job market.
Students are expected to write for at least two courses each semester and should turn in their written work before the start of the next semester. Incompletes, where unavoidable, must be completed by September 1st. First-year students must submit at least one paper per term.
The programs at Deutsches Haus are meant to supplement graduate education by exposing students to different perspectives and approaches of the discipline. Regular attendance is expected. In addition to the scheduled lectures during the academic year, the department has recently instituted a "colloquium" program for graduate students to present their work—for example, a dissertation chapter, dissertation prospectus, or seminar paper—to the entire department, students and faculty. The forum is meant to give students a wide range of feedback while providing an opportunity to practice elaborating their ideas, engaging questions, and responding to a public discussion of their work. Graduate students also have the opportunity to hold their own conferences with funding from GSAS, the department and the DAAD.
Max Kade Visiting Professors
Once per year in either the fall or spring semester, the department invites a visiting professor to offer undergraduate and graduate courses. Past Max Kade invitees include Reinhart Koselleck, Friedrich Kittler, Elisabeth Bronfen, Slavoj Zizek, Christoph Menke, Gerhard Neumann, and Gabriele Brandstetter. Students are encouraged to take courses and establish working relationships with visiting scholars during their time at Columbia.
The department typically offers incoming graduate students five years of full funding; for three of those years, the funding is given in the form of a teaching assistantship. There are possibilities for funding beyond the fifth year. The Graduate School of Columbia allows funding for up to seven years, depending on progress. Students are also encouraged to apply for outside fellowships and competitive two-year fellowships to teach in the university's Core Curriculum program. The university also provides summer stipends, contingent on progress.
* A note about Columbia's curricular jargon. A residence unit is obtained simply by being enrolled for classes and paying (or having the department pay) full tuition for one semester. One enrolls for a course for either letter-grade credit (full participation) or "R" credit (student do all the readings but usually no written work is required). All courses are numbered in the thousands: undergraduate courses from 1000 to 3000, 4000 for a mix of graduate and undergraduate, 6000 to 9000 for graduate students only. Thus introductory undergraduate courses (such as beginning German) have a 1000 ID number while dissertation seminars have 9000 numbers.