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About the Major


Department/Program Description.

The College of Letters is a three-year, interdisciplinary major for the study of European literature, history, and philosophy, from antiquity to the present. During these three years, students participate as a cohort in a series of colloquia in which they read and discuss works together (in English), learn to think critically about texts in relation to their contexts and influences—both European and non-European—and in relation to the disciplines that shape and are shaped by those texts. Majors also become proficient in a foreign language and study abroad in order to deepen their knowledge of another culture. The COL, a unique college within the University, has its own library and workspace where students can attend lectures, study together, and meet informally with their professors, whose offices surround the library.

Major Requirements.

The College of Letters is a three-year interdisciplinary major for the study of European literature, history, and philosophy. The program consists of 5 components and leads to 11 course credits:

  • Five colloquia designed to acquaint students with works of predominantly European literature, history, and philosophy in (respectively)
    • The ancient world
    • The Middle Ages and Renaissance
    • The early modern period (16th-18th centuries)
    • The 19th century
    • The 20th century
  • Four electives minimum (one in history, one in philosophy, one in literature/representation, one in your target foreign language literature). These specialized seminars allow COL majors to shape their COL major around a particular interest
  • One semester abroad most often in Europe, Israel, or in a country where your selected foreign language is spoken, in the spring of your sophomore year
  • One comprehensive examination in April/May of your junior year
  • One senior thesis or essay that, along with the specialized seminars, allows COL students to further shape their major along their own interests.

In all these contexts, much emphasis is put on the development of skills in writing and speaking. For this reason, letter grades are not given in courses taken for COL major credit, and COL seminars do not generally have final examinations. Instead, tutors write detailed evaluations of their students' work at the end of each semester, and these are kept on record (and discussed with each student upon request). Our general goal is cultivation of “the educated imagination."

Additional Information.

Life in COL. The College of Letters attempts to integrate the social and intellectual lives of its members by inviting guest lecturers and by providing opportunities for students and faculty to meet such guests (and one another) informally. There are also informal social gatherings in the College of Letters library on a regular basis. The structure of the College of Letters and the smallness of its classes bring about a close rapport between tutors and students and a lively and continuing dialogue among students of different classes.

After graduation. The academic standards of the College of Letters are reflected in the fact that its graduates have consistently entered the best graduate and professional schools, including schools of law, medicine, and business administration, as well as communications and the liberal arts. They also have won national fellowships and scholarships.