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Subject Guide to Literature

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A Masters Degree in Literature is usually studied over one year full time and two years part time. To apply for a course, candidates will need to hold a bachelors degree. It is not always a requisite that the undergraduate degree is in literature, but admissions departments will look for evidence of an interest in the subject from those who studied in another subject area, often in one of the other arts or humanities.

Students can follow the usual mode of study by attending lectures and seminars on campus, however some institutions offer online and distance learning options, and these often have the addition of a short residential component at the university.

Areas of study

Most Masters Degrees in Literature are taught degrees. Students are generally required to take one or two core modules – often focused on an overview of the relevant time period and enhancing research skills – as well as several optional modules from a list of choices, whose content is determined by the specialties of the academic staff in the department. Each module will require coursework, and in addition to this students will also submit a dissertation at the end of the masters program.

Individuals who opt to pursue a Masters Degree in Literature can opt to specialise in one of many areas. Here are some of the options:

Comparative literature: Students of comparative literature analyse literary texts from two or more distinct groups, be they nations, cultural communities or linguistic spheres. Some avenues for research include how texts are translated and communicated between cultures, how language relates to literary texts, and contrasting how historical and political movements have shaped literature

Medieval literature: This field looks at early written texts. These can include the Norse sagas, Old English verse or the works of Chaucer. As a rough guide, medieval literature spans texts written between 650 and 1550.

Literary theory: Those wishing to pursue studies in literary theory have a wide range of analytic techniques to choose from. From early conceptions such as aestheticism through the more political theories of cultural studies to the modern developments of deconstruction and structuralism, students can look at how literary theories have developed and been superseded, as well as undertaking analysis of a specific text through the lens of a certain theory to bring new aspects of the text to light.

Modern literature: Modern literature looks at texts produced in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries – a period of great change which is reflected in the literature of the day. Students may study the impact of modern warfare on literature, the legacy of colonialism, or the influence of modern art movements on written texts.

Drama: It is not only novels and poems that are available for study during the course of a Masters Degree in Literature. Students may wish to specialise in dramatic works, looking at how plays have been variously performed over time, or at the relation between written word and physical performance.

Contemporary literature: Generally referring to literary texts produced in the latter part of the 20th century up to the present day, contemporary literature looks predominantly at the work of living writers. Students will often engage with the concept of postmodernism, as well as the impact of new media, such as television and the internet on literary texts. 

Student case studies

Masters in Literature There are many reasons why candidates choose to study a Masters Degree in Literature, and different aspects of the course that appeal to them.

Giulia, studying for a Masters in Comparative Literature at King’s College, London, chose her course and institution for the academic staff. She explains that, “since my first meeting with them at a School of Humanities open day, and then throughout the whole program, they showed a genuine interest in my studies and helped me to gain the skills and knowledge I needed in order to make the most of my graduate year.”

For Bianca, studying a Masters in English Literature at the University of Nottingham helped her to achieve her ambitions. “My MA at Nottingham was my first step into an academic career! I am still in touch with some of the staff whose inspiring teaching and support encouraged me to take the next step. I have now completed my doctorate and am enjoying teaching a new generation of university students.”

While Jennifer, a recent graduate of the English 1850-present masters program at King’s College London chose her course “because it allows research across conventional period boundaries, enabling students to deepen their knowledge in the Victorian, Modernist and Post-modernist periods. The program's structure, comprising of optional modules and one core module, offers a great amount of flexibility and choice while providing a solid grounding in the theory, culture and literature of the time.”

Career opportunities

A Masters Degree in Literature also offers a range of possibilities for graduates in the world of work. Some of the areas that masters students have subsequently worked in include publishing, journalism, arts administration and communications. Obviously there is also the option to further postgraduate studies in the form of a DPhil and a PhD, and then pursuing an academic career.

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