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You are here: Home / Graduate Studies / Graduate Degrees / Specialization in Civilization

Specialization in Civilization


The Specialization in Civilization is designed for students who seek an academic or non-academic career in which they combine advanced training in culture, language, and literature with interdisciplinary study in a related field, such as anthropology, art, architecture, history, economics, philosophy, political science, or sociology.


French Civilization is an interdisciplinary area of study whose object is France and the Francophone world. It is situated at the confluence of several disciplines, among them history (cultural, intellectual, political, and social), cultural studies (including folklore and popular culture), and interarts studies (including art, architecture, film, and literature). The Specialization in Civilization is designed to develop the skills needed for the analysis and interpretation of a wide range of cultural artifacts in an historical and contextual perspective. Students will acquire a broad base of factual knowledge as well as the capacity to understand and apply a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches.

The goals of the Specialization in Civilization are:

1.    To provide students with an essential historical base, consisting of general knowledge of French history, culture, and politics from the Middle Ages to the Revolution, pursued in greater depth from the Revolution to the present.

2.    To introduce students to the most important methods of cultural analysis, including the semiotics and sociology of culture, cultural and social history, critical theory, and interarts discourse.

3.    To expose students to the diversity of objects encompassed by the term "French civilization." These objects are verbal and visual, material and symbolic, elite and popular.

4.    To offer students the opportunity to establish a link with a related area through courses taken within and/or outside the department.

5.    To train students to conduct research in French civilization, and to help them develop the skills needed to communicate the results of their research within the profession as future scholars and teachers. Students who are completing the Ph.D. with this specialization will generally be competitive candidates for positions whose primary or secondary area of specialization is French Civilization.


Students are required to take 30-36 credits of coursework.  FR 571, Literary Theory and Criticism, and FR 580, Approaches to French and Francophone Civilization, are required.  Other courses will be selected in consultation with the advisor.  

Candidates who have never spent an extended period of time in a Francophone country are strongly encouraged to spend at least one semester in France or a Francophone country/region.


Candidacy Examinations

At the beginning of the semester of the exam, and in no case later than four weeks before the exam, the candidate chooses a faculty member from the Department of French and Francophone Studies to serve as the Chair of the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination committee. With the help of the Chair, two additional members who are knowledgeable about the student’s field of specialization are selected and asked to serve on the committee. When appropriate, a fourth committee member from another department may serve in a consultative capacity. At the time of the constitution of the committee, if not before, the student will select two additional texts to prepare for the exam (see below), in conjunction with the committee chair. The Chair will submit the two texts to the other committee members for their approval.

The exam is expected to last approximately two hours but may be longer or shorter than that for a specific student. The exam will consist of two parts. The first part will be based on six theoretical texts read in advance by the student. The intent is to determine the student’s ability to deal with theoretical concepts and texts in a sufficiently knowledgeable and sophisticated way and to demonstrate their relevance or application to the student’s object or field(s) of study. Four of the texts will be selected from the list below. The remaining two will be chosen, in consultation with the committee Chair, by the student and will be specific to his/her field. The committee members will devise 4 questions related to one or several of these texts, and the student will have one hour to prepare responses to 2 of the question(s) prior to the oral exam. During the exam itself, the student will be expected to present and discuss responses orally and should be prepared to do so in either French or English. It is assumed that he/she will have made notes on the question(s) but will not read a prepared response.  Students will be provided with unmarked copies of the texts at the time of the exam.

A student who does not pass the exam will be terminated from the program unless the committee recommends that he or she be given the opportunity to retake the exam.  The examining committee may also request that the student rewrite the portion of the candidacy document related to the dissertation research area.

The following eight texts, chosen by the faculty, will be part of the exam for the next two years or more. The list may be revised thereafter; adequate notice will be given to students. Photocopies of the texts will be made available.

  1. Derrida, "La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines."
  2. Foucault, "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?"
  3. Jakobson, "Linguistique et poétique” from “Essais de linguistique générale”
  4. Wittig, “On ne naît pas femme” from La pensée straight
  5. Roger Chartier, “Le monde comme représentation” in Annales
  6. Pierre Bourdieu, “Le point de vue de l’auteur” in Les règles de l’art
  7. Michel de Certeau, “Marches dans la ville”, in L’Invention du quotidien 1
  8. Tzvetan Todorov, “Vers un humanisme tempéré,” in Nous et les autres

The two texts chosen by the student in consultation with his/her committee Chair should be primarily theoretical in nature, of moderate length (i.e. an article, section or chapter, not a book), and related to the student’s area of specialization.

The second part of the exam is a review of the candidate’s record (courses taken, requirements fulfilled etc.), of his/her plans for additional courses, and of the dissertation area and subject, insofar as they can be defined at the time. The intent is to determine the scope and feasibility of the proposed dissertation topic, and to assess the candidate’s preparation for undertaking the project. This portion of the exam is based on a document of about ten pages, prepared in advance in French by the candidate. Roughly three pages should document courses taken and those that, if available, the candidate will take; requirements still to be satisfied, and by what means; and other plans and needs such as applying for departmental teaching exchanges and for grants and fellowships; need to travel to libraries and/or archival collections etc. About five to five to eight pages should be devoted to the dissertation area and, to whatever extent possible, to the specific subject. A preliminary bibliography should accompany this portion of the proposal, as a supplement to the ten-page document prepared for this part of the exam. This section of the exam will be considered to be in part an advising session, though more formal and rigorous than are the usual discussions between students and their advisors.

Comprehensive Examinations 

The Comprehensive Examinations in French Civilization reflect both readings from coursework and from the preparation of the dissertation proposal, which comprises the fourth area of the examination.  The examination is taken upon completion of all course work and the fulfillment of all degree requirements (usually during the fifth semester of the Ph.D.).  The candidate, in consultation with his or her advisor, will assemble a four- or five-member Ph.D. committee by submitting a committee signature page to the Graduate School (see graduate staff assistant for form).  The committee reads the written examination as well as the dissertation proposal before proceeding to the oral examination.  In case of failure of the written examination, the oral exam is cancelled.

Areas of Examination and Schedule of Written Components:

Approximately two weeks prior to Day One (first segment) of the examination, the candidate will submit a copy of his or her completed dissertation proposal to the graduate staff assistant for distribution.

*Socio-Political History and Social Thought (historical and contemporary) (four-hour exam, student selects two out of four questions).

*Intellectual and Cultural History (historical and contemporary) (four-hour exam, student selects two out of four questions).

*Approaches to French and Francophone Civilization (two-hour exam, students selects one out of two questions).

The examinations include the option of a take-home in only one of the three components.

Oral Component:

Upon completion of the Written Comprehensive Examination, a Comprehensive Oral Examination will take place, lasting approximately two hours.  The purpose of the Oral Examination is both to probe further the comprehension of the candidate’s preparation in each of the three areas and to examine the dissertation proposal.