Comprehensive Exam: Publishing & Print Culture Emphasis

The comprehensive examination for the M.A. in English with Emphasis on Publishing and Print Culture is administered by the candidate's examining committee. Traditionally, the examining committee consists of three members from the Department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies and one related field/minor examiner from outside the departments. (Candidates offering linguistics as an internal related field or a designated minor should familiarize themselves with the description of Linguistics as an internal related field or designated minor.)

The comprehensive examination consists of a six-hour written portion and a one-hour oral component.

Written Portion

The written exam is a three-part test taken on two days.

Part One: Primary Text with Selected Secondary Texts (Two Hours)

One part, lasting two hours, is based on an approved text (a literary work, critical/theoretical work, or electronic text such as a web site). The text must be selected and the examining committee approve it at least four weeks before the examination.

A list of 5-8 secondary works read in conjunction with the preparation of the text is to be submitted at the same time; complete bibliographical information should be included for these works.

A copy of the primary text and notes on the secondary texts may be used during this part of the examination. All other portions of the exam are closed-book.

Part Two: Literature, Criticism/Theory/History, Media (Three Hours)

The second part, lasting three hours, is based on a reading list approved by the examining committee. The list must be approved at least four weeks prior to the examination; ideally, reading lists should be prepared by the candidate gradually and more or less continuously as courses are completed. In devising the list, the student should observe the following:

  1. The list should consist of whole works, substantial parts of whole works, or groups of work, and collectively total at least 25-30 texts from a diverse group of authors and/or genres.
  2. The authors should be chosen from the three following categories, with some representation for each one:
    • Literature
    • Criticism/Theory/History
    • Media

In the reading list part of the examination there will be some choice of questions. They will assume the student's general familiarity with three major categories as well as detailed knowledge of the chosen works.

Part Three: Related Field or Minor (1 Hour)

The third part, lasting an hour, is based on the student's work in the related field or minor. The questions are usually prepared by a representative of the related field or minor on the examining committee. Texts and notes are not allowed for the second and third parts of the examination unless an individual's committee decrees otherwise. 

All parts of the written examination will test the candidate's writing ability.

Oral Portion

On the fourth working day after successful completion of the written exam portion, the candidate will meet with the examining committee for the one-hour oral component. See "Principles and Procedures For Conducting the Oral Component of the Comprehensive Exam".

Samples of Primary Texts and Critical Readings for the First Part of the Exam

Example 1

Primary Text

  • Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage


  • Binder, Henry. The Red Badge of Courage, Newly Edited from Crane's Original Manuscript. New York: Norton, 1982.
  • Bowers, Fredson. "The Text: History and Analysis." The University of Virginia Edition of The Works of Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1975. 183-252.
  • Mailloux, Steven. "The Red Badge of Courage and Interpretive Conventions: Critical Response to a Maimed Text." Studies in the Novel 10 (Spring 1978): 48-63.
  • Nordloh. David J. "On Crane Now Edited: The University of Virginia Edition of The Works of Stephen Crane.Studies in the Novel (Spring 1978): 103-19.
  • Parker, Hershel. "Getting Used to the 'Original Form' of The Red Badge of Courage." New Essays on The Red Badge of Courage. Ed. Lee Clark Mitchell. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. 25-47.
  • Pizer, Donald. "'The Red Badge of Courage Nobody Knows': A Brief Rejoinder." Studies in the Novel 11 (Spring 1979): 77-81.
  • -----. "The Red Badge of Courage: Text, Theme, and Form." South Atlantic Quarterly 84 (Summer 1985): 302-13.
  • -----. "Self-Censorship and Textual Editing." Textual Criticism and Literary Interpretation. Ed. Jerome J. McGann. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985. Pp. 144-61.

Example 2

Primary Text

  • The Ellesmere Manuscript [of Geoffrey Chaucer¹s Canterbury Tales]: selected pages.


  • A.I. Doyle & M.B. Parkes, "The production of copies of the Canterbury Tales and the Confessio Amantis in the early fifteenth century," in Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts & Libraries: Essays presented to N.R. Ker, eds. M.B. Parkes and A.G. Watson. Scholar Press, London: 1978.
  • Maidie Hilmo,"Framing the Canterbury Pilgrims for the Aristocratic Readers of the Ellesmere Manuscript." in The Medieval Professional Reader at Work: Evidence from Manuscripts of Chaucer, Langland, Kempe, and Gower, eds. K. Kerby-Fulton and M. Hilmo, ELS Monograph Series 85, 2001.
  • Katheryn Kerby-Fulton and Steven Justice, "Scribe D and the Marketing of Ricardian Literature," in The Medieval Professional Reader at Work: Evidence from Manuscripts of Chaucer, Langland, Kempe, and Gower, eds. K. Kerby-Fulton and M. Hilmo, ELS Monograph Series 85, 2001.
  • Seth Lerer, Chaucer and his Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England. Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • Jill Mann, "Chaucer¹s Meter and the Myth of the Ellesmere Editor of The Canterbury Tales." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 23 (2001).
  • Paul G. Ruggiers, ed., The Canterbury Tales: A facsimile and transcription of the Hengwrt Manuscript with Variants from the Ellesmere Manuscript. University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.
  • Barbara A. Shailor, The Medieval Book. University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Sample of the Kinds of Readings for the Second Part of the Exam

(Students should select 25-30 works, with some representation from each of the three major categories.)

1. Literature

  • Oliver Twist—Charles Dickens
  • The Nigger of the Narcissus –Joseph Conrad
  • Jacob’s Room –Virginia Woolf
  • The Yellow Book
  • Letter from “The Yellow Dwarf,” April 1897
  • Poetry Magazine, May 1914
  • Imagisme, A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste
  • The Little Review, December 1919, February 1915
  • The Egoist
  • Ulysses 1-4, Blast

2. Criticism/Theory

  • A History of Reading –Alberto Manguel
  • The English Common Reader –R. Altick
  • “When is a Book Not a Book?” –R. Patten
  • “What is the History of Books?” –Robert Darnton
  • “The Sociology of a Text” –D.F. McKenzie
  • “The Practical Impact of Writing” –Roger Chartier
  • “Criticism and the Experience of Interiority” –George Poulet
  • “What is an Author?” –Michel Foucault/”Death of the Author” –Roland Barthes
  • “A Feeling for Books” –Janice Radway
  • “Becoming Noncanonical-The Case Against Willa Cather” –Sharon O’Brien/“Masterpiece Theater” – Jane Tompkins
  • The Public Face of Modernism–Mark Morrison
  • Women Editing Modernism–Jane Marek
  • The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography– Frederick J. Hoffman, Charles Allen, Carolyn F. Ulrich
  • “The Literary Field of the 1890’s”—Peter McDonald
  • “Men of Letters and Children of the Sea” –Peter McDonald
  • Shakespeare and Company – Sylvia Beach
  • Downhill All the Way– Leonard Woolf

3. Media

  • Understanding Comics—Scott McCloud
  • Invisible Rendezvous—Rob Wittig
  • Hamlet on the Holodeck –Janet Murray
  • Reading Digital Culture–David Trend
  • “Towards a New Media Aesthetic”—Timothy Allen Jackson
  • “Collective Intelligence” –Pierre Levy
  • “Who Am We?”—Sherry Turkle
  • “Computers as Theatre”—Brenda Laurel
  • The New Media Reader (selections)
  • The Garden of Forking Paths Jorge Luis Borges, 1941
  • As We May Think Vannevar Bush, 1945
  • Computing Machinery and Intelligence Alan Turing, 1950
  • 'Happenings' in the New York Scene Allan Kaprow, 1961
  • A File Structure for The Complex, The Changing, and the Indeterminate Theodor H. Nelson, 1965
  • Six Selections by the Oulipo
  • One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, Raymond Queneau, 1961
  • Yours for the Telling, Raymond Queneau, 1967
  • Brief History of the Oulipo, Jean Lescure, 1967
  • For a Potential Analysis of Combinatory Literature, Claude Berge, 1973
  • Computer and Writer: The Centre Pompidou Experiment, Paul Forunel,1981
  • Prose and Anticombinatorics, Italo Calvino, 1981
  • Two Selections by Marshall McLuhan
  • The Medium is the Message (from Understanding Media), 1964
  • The Galaxy Reconfigured or the Plight of Mass Man in an Individualist
  • Society (from The Gutenberg Galaxy), 1969
  • Responsive Environments Myron Krueger, 1977
  • From A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, 1980
  • Proposal for a Universal Electronic Publishing System and Archive (from Literary Machines), Theodor H. Nelson, 1981
  • A Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway, 1985
  • Seeing and Writing (from Writing Space), J. David Bolter, 1991
  • The End of Books Robert Coover, 1992
  • Nomadic Power and Cultural Resistance, Critical Art Ensemble, 1994