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Master of Arts Program in History and Literature
at Columbia University in Paris

  • Welcome
    to HILI!
  • About
    the Program
  • Why HILI?
    Why Paris?
  • Careers
    after the MA
  • Application

Welcome to Columbia University's MA in History and Literature, affectionately known as HILI.

Featured Faculty 2014-2015

We are delighted to announce that Marianne Hirsch (bio), current president of the Modern Languages Association and William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia will be teaching The Voice of the Witness for the HILI program in the fall of 2014. She will be joined by invited lecturer Leo Spitzer (bio), Vernon Professor Emeritus of History at Darmouth.

We are also pleased to announce that the program director, Joanna Stalnaker (bio), Associate Professor of French at Columbia, will be in residence in Paris for the 2014-2015 academic year and will teach the two core courses for the HILI program.

We are also delighted to welcome Eric Foner (bio), DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, back to the HILI program to teach The History and Literature of Slavery in the summer term of 2015.




About the Program

Columbia University’s M.A. in History and Literature is an innovative new program that explores the interconnections and intersections between history and literature, both as categories of cultural production and as scholarly disciplines. In the past thirty years the boundaries between history and literature have become usefully blurred, as literary scholars pursued the historical aspects of their texts and historians recognized the literary aspects of their narratives. The M.A. in History and Literature capitalizes on this propitious intellectual moment, enabling its students to address new methodological horizons that combine close reading of texts with expansive attention to historical context.

The program is held at Columbia’s Global Center for Europe, located at Reid Hall in the sixth arrondissement in Paris. Students are taught by eminent scholars in history and literature from Columbia University, and also choose from a wide variety of courses at France’s two top-tier graduate schools in the humanities and the social sciences: the Ecole normale supérieure and the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales.

An important part of the program is the consideration of literature itself as a field of moral, philosophical, sociological, and historical knowledge. Students develop a sophisticated awareness of theoretical and methodological issues. They also acquire the philological tools required for the interpretation of texts in print or manuscript form. This practical training includes hands-on sessions conducted at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Archives nationales de France. We expect many students to have an interest in French history and literature, but we also welcome students who wish to work on materials in other languages. M.A. courses are taught in English or French. Written work is normally done in English.



Why History and Literature?

There has been a convergence between the academic disciplines of history and literature in the past thirty years. Literary studies have become increasingly historical, while history has had its linguistic turn. The dialogue between literature and history has taken many different forms. In literary studies, there has been a re-evaluation of the traditional field of literary history, with greater attention paid to the historical evolution of genres and styles.

Now that a large corpus of literary texts is available and searchable online, the use of words and expressions in given contexts can be traced over time in great detail, which has led to a revival of philology as a key component of literary studies.  A great deal of attention is paid to the concrete conditions in which texts were written. This means looking at philosophical, rhetorical or poetic traditions, as well as material conditions, including the educational and social milieu, and the material constraints involved in committing something to writing. Historians have taken in the notion that history is a literary genre and are aware of the interplay between archival material and historical imagination.

There has been a remarkable development of the history of the book and the history of reading practices. The history of science has been transformed by the study of the rhetorical dimensions of scientific discourse. A similar evolution has characterized the field of intellectual history. Several thriving and inter-related fields like literary history, the history of the book, intellectual history, and the history of science are now history and literature hybrids. The MA in History and Literature introduces students to this set of fields by showing their interconnectedness.

Why Columbia in Paris?

As a Columbia degree taught in France, the MA in History and Literature offers an attractive and unusual combination of Ivy League and European academics. The curriculum is designed, administered, and for the most part taught by the Columbia faculty. It therefore reflects the intellectual values and standards of Columbia University. At the same time, the ability to take graduate courses at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and the Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) exposes students to a different style of teaching, which results in a broader and richer intellectual experience.

Paris is an ideal location for access to manuscripts and archival material, not only because of the collections located in Paris itself, but also because of the easy access by fast train to collections in other locations in France and Europe. A key component of the MA curriculum is an introduction to manuscript and archival research, which includes hands-on sessions held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Archives nationales de France, and the Institut mémoire de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC).

Literary history, the history of the book, and the history of science are very active fields in France, and some of the best and most innovative work in these fields is being conducted at our partner institutions, the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales and the Ecole normale supérieure. Students enrolled in the MA in History and Literature are given full access to graduate courses and seminars at EHESS and ENS, and full library privileges at ENS, which has the only open-stack research library in France.



The program provides sound footing for applications to professional schools in law, international affairs, journalism, or medicine. Graduates may seek positions in the United States or Europe in the diplomatic service, business, finance and banking, journalism, publishing, editing and translating, art and cultural organizations, international NGOs, and academic administration. The degree is also a valuable credential for students seeking admission to a doctoral program in history or literature


Application Deadlines for September 2014 Admission:

– Merit fellowship consideration deadline: January 31, 2014
– Regular decision application deadline: April 15, 2014.




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