Professors: Ethan Kleinberg, History; Khachig Tölölyan

Associate Professor: Typhaine Leservot, Romance Languages and Literatures

Assistant Professors: Ludmila Guenova, Philosophy; Tushar Irani, Philosophy; Jesse Torgerson

Instructor: Gabrielle Ponce

University Professor: Kari Weil, Chair

Departmental Advising Experts: Ludmila Guenova; Tushar Irani; Typhaine Leservot; Ethan Kleinberg; Laurie Nussdorfer; Ulrich Plass; Khachig Tölölyan; Kari Weil 

Department/Program Home Page

Department/Program Description.

The College of Letters (COL) 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 five colloquia in which they read and discuss (in English) major literary, philosophical and historical texts and concepts drawn from the three disciplinary fields, and also from monotheistic religious traditions. Majors are invited 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 to deepen their knowledge of another culture. As a unique college within the University, the COL has its own library and workspace where students can study together, attend talks, and meet informally with their professors, whose offices surround the library.

Admission to the Major.

Students wishing to major in the College of Letters must submit an application in the spring semester of their first year, immediately after Spring Break. Sophomore transfer students may apply before or during orientation.  Applicants must show a certain level of proficiency in a foreign language.  Application forms and information can be found on the COL website under “Apply to the Major.

Major Requirements.

The program consists of five components and leads to eleven course credits:

Five colloquia designed to acquaint students with works of predominantly European literature, history, and philosophy in this sequence:

  • The ancient world
  • The Middle Ages and Renaissance
  • The early modern period (16th-18th centuries)
  • The 19th century
  • The 20th-21st century

Four electives The minimum required is one in history, one in philosophy, one in literature/representation, and one in the major’s target foreign language-literature). These specialized seminars allow students to shape their COL major around a particular interest.

One semester abroad, in the spring semester of the sophomore year, usually in Europe, Israel, or in another country (if approved by the Director of the COL) where the major’s selected foreign language is spoken.

One comprehensive examination in April/May of the junior year, covering the texts read in the first three colloquia.

One senior thesis or essay, whose topic can be chosen from a very wide range of disciplines. This work, 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, speaking and analytical argument. Students are encouraged to take intellectual risks, and for this reason, letter grades are not given in courses taken for COL major credit; also, COL seminars generally require papers rather than final examinations. Instead of giving grades, 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 regular informal social gatherings in the College of Letters library. 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.