Programme Description

The Literature major refines students’ capacities to interpret human experiences creatively represented in the written word.  Poetry, drama, novels, and stories present a universe of human imagination for Literature students to explore critically.  Drawing on the unique linguistic diversity of the students and faculty at Yale-NUS, the Literature major features courses in world Anglophone literature and beyond: our students also pursue studies in Chinese languages, ancient Greek, and Latin in Singapore and abroad, often in conjunction with the Chinese Studies or Global Antiquity independent minors.  Graduates in Literature will exercise their versatile skills in attentive reading, persuasive writing, and cross-cultural criticism wherever sophisticated interpretative and rhetorical awareness is required, for instance, law, journalism, education, and marketing.  Training in Literature also enhances creative pursuits in writing, screenwriting, and game design.

The Literature minor complements the dual degree program in Law, and majors in many other disciplines, such as Arts and Humanities, History, Environmental Studies, Global Affairs, and Urban Studies.

Through the study of literature, students cultivate highly applicable skills, especially:

  • Aesthetic analysis: the ability to identify details in a text and relate them to the work as a whole.
  • Formulating arguments: the ability to craft debatable theses by using textual evidence appropriately, develop a confident authorial voice and identify the appropriate audience for their writing.
  • Historical and cultural knowledge: the ability to identify, describe and contrast the major authors, conventions, trends, themes and texts in world literature.
  • Critical reading: the ability to recognise, question and present alternatives to cultural assumptions, received ideas and normative values.



As of 29 November 2017, these apply to students from the class of 2019 onwards.  Class of 2018 still fulfill the original Literature major structure.

In consultation with the Head of Studies, the student in Literature will develop an individualised and intellectually rigorous programme. All Literature majors are required to complete 54 MC of Literature courses, which include a capstone project worth 10 MC. The structure is as follows:


  • Proseminar on critical methods and theory (5 MC)
  • At least two Literature courses at intermediate or 3000-level (10 MC)
  • At least two Literature courses at the advanced or 4000-level (10 MC)
  • Capstone project (10 MC)
  • Remaining Literature electives are open to student choice (19 MC).

Additional information:

  • Students should plan to take the proseminar as early as possible: ideally, in second semester of the sophomore year, or in the junior year.  The proseminar is offered once per academic year in alternating semesters: Semester 2 2017-18, Semester 1 2018-19, Semester 2 2019-20.  We expect students will schedule their study abroad plans accordingly.
  • In addition to the proseminar, we strongly recommend that students take an additional upper level course that emphasizes theoretical methods to enhance their critical skills in literary and cultural analysis in preparation for the capstone.
  • While building a specialization within the major, we recommend that students take advantage of our diverse faculty to work cross-culturally.
  • One advanced language course may count towards the major with approval from Head of Studies.

The major requirements for the Class of 2018 can be found here.

After the broad scope of the Common Curriculum, we encourage students to develop their own intellectual passions in the Literature major.  The diverse range of the literature faculty’s research expertise, from antiquity through the Renaissance to the post-colonial and the post-human, offers a uniquely rich opportunity to explore and eventually craft an individualized academic trajectory.  The independent Capstone project (see details below) undertaken in the senior year will showcase each student’s specialized research interests.

Beyond the required Proseminar course, which introduces students to a range of key methodologies (see details below), students are free to refine their own intellectual directions at Yale-NUS and in study abroad in close consultation with the Head of Studies and other mentors among literature faculty.  As an exceptionally diverse literature community, however, our faculty expects students to read and think comparatively beyond a limited literary tradition or period, and to take advantage of our unique range of course offerings. We also advise our students to cultivate the theoretical foundations they need to refine their critical approaches for the capstone.  Literature majors may wish to pursue language study to enhance their scholarly objectives; to this end, students may count one advanced language courses for credit toward the major with approval from the Head of Studies.

All courses must be taken for a letter grade, and at least 20 MC must be taken at Yale-NUS. Courses offered abroad must first be approved by the Centre of International & Professional Experience (CIPE) and Registry for credit transfer, and then receive approval from the HoS to count toward the major.



The proseminar introduces students to major problems, themes, and approaches in the study of literature. Faculty instructors and specific topics may vary from year to year, and they will cover topics such as critical translation, literary theories, literary history, formal analysis, or other methodologies useful for students of literature.  The proseminar is required for both the major and the minor in Literature, but is not a prerequisite to most literature courses. Students outside the major may also take it as an elective. We recommend that potential majors and minors take the required Proseminar course (offered once annually in alternating semesters) either in the second semester of the sophomore year, or in the first semester of the junior year.



Each student majoring in Literature may apply to have up to one advanced language course count toward the Literature major requirements. The course must have the prior approval of the Language Coordinator and the Literature HoS, whose decision will be based on (a) the approximate general parity of content, method and approach (along with whatever translation component is felt pedagogically necessary) across different advanced level courses in languages other than English, (b) a sufficiently literary orientation to content, method and approach.



Students majoring in Literature will attend a weekly Capstone Writing Seminar in the first semester of their senior year and complete a year-long project of directed reading and research under the supervision of a faculty advisor, leading to an undergraduate thesis of approximately fifty pages. More information on the capstone project is available here.



To complete the minor, a student completes 25 MC in electives approved for the Literature major, one of which must be the proseminar in literary studies. Courses taken for a different major (or independent minor) cannot be counted toward the minor, and all courses must have a letter grade.



The proseminar introduces students to major problems, themes, and approaches in the study of literature. Faculty instructors and specific topics may vary from year to year, and they will cover topics such as critical translation, literary theories, literary history, formal analysis, or other methodologies useful for students of literature.

The Literature major offers a diverse range of electives. Some examples:


The Afropolitans: Contemporary African Literature & Film

Examining works of fiction, criticism, art, and film, this course unpacks the controversial term “Afropolitan” (African Cosmopolitan), troubling certain stereotypes about Africa by studying African cities as global metropoles and African creators as international innovators. First used in 2005, the term “Afropolitan” has attracted criticism as being applicable only to a certain social class: the wealthy global elite. We will begin by looking at writing both critical and laudatory of this term, and continue on to study key creative works in depth.

No previous knowledge of African literature or arts is assumed, and students have the option of completing a creative final assignment.


China Beyond China

This course starts from the premise that what lies “beyond” China is not any purer, more authentic ideal but complex, heterogeneous, and even unsettling narratives of the historical and cultural entity. In addition to works by mainland writers, we will examine art, literature, and film produced by overseas Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysian, the U.S.. These fictional and non-fictional works, drawn mostly from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, explore ways in which Chinese cultural identity was impacted by and continues to impact foreign cultures both within and without. Readings are divided into four sections. Each section takes on a popular conception or received notion about China and Chineseness: harmony and uniformity; clichés of overseas Chinese; and the image of the Chinese dissident. We will reevaluate such stereotypes with the help of literary and cinematic texts that either challenge or reinforce them, less with the aim of simply dismissing stereotypes but of understanding the particular historical contexts from which they emerge and why they continue to have such a strong hold over our common imagination.


Dante and the European Middle Ages

This course is a slow and complete reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, an undisputed masterwork of world literature. As the Italian poet narrates his vision of the world beyond, we will journey with him through Hell to Purgatory and ascend to Paradise and finally return to earth. We will pay special attention to the historical, intellectual and social world of the European Middle Ages and the fraught legacy of the classical tradition. We will experience the sublime and terrifying grandeur of his cosmic vision, discuss theology and revelation, the state of souls in the afterlife, the primacy of poetry as an intellectual and spiritual activity, the nature of art and beauty, the relationship between pagan myths and Christian mysteries, and the medieval encyclopaedia of classical learning and religious doctrine.


Global Science Fiction: Their Worlds, Ourselves

At its core, science fiction, unlike other literary genres, represents alternative, non-existent worlds and peoples whose existence might be possible in some other part of the universe or at some other time. It may then appear somewhat irrelevant that we still regard science fiction as a “Western” tradition when the very nature of the genre exceeds the “global” in its inter-species, inter-galactic, and trans-temporal ways. Yet, precisely because science fiction is the art of impossible possibilities, its “worlds of if” (to borrow from a Stanley G. Weinbaum short story) hold up a strange mirror to reality where prejudices, structured inequalities, and alienation between different people persist at the same time as they share similar hopes, fears, and dreams. This course then, starts from the premise that we have always occupied multiple worlds: the point is to understand how science fiction allows us to re-world our multiplicities.


Literary Activism: Texts, Aesthetics, & Politics

Honestly, what’s the use of novels, poems, and plays, when the history happening outside our doors is so troubling and immediate and seems to demand action and activism, not fiction and film? This question, or a version of it, has occasioned much debate ever since Plato decided to banish poets from his ideal Republic as useless liars. Certain historical moments have made this issue even more important, though, and authors of literary works have often sought to alter the political landscape by intervening directly or indirectly in the pressing issues of the day. From antebellum slavery in the USA to 20th-century apartheid in South Africa, from 19th-century industrial exploitation to the contemporary exploitation of immigrant labor, from the Holocaust to Hiroshima, writers have attempted to highlight injustices and affect society and social policy. In this class, we’ll ask how and why, reading a number of “politically engaged” texts and theories of political aesthetics in order to: understand why the phrase “politically engaged” might be up for debate in this sentence; understand the aesthetic, political, ethical, and social contexts to which these texts respond; suggest possible stances taken by or within the texts, or possible solutions to political problems posed by these texts; become familiar with some of the radically different strategies adopted by politically engaged writers, from avant-garde experimentalism to descriptive realism; and critically reflect on the role that these texts, and literature or literary intellectuals in general, can play as a force for political transformation.


Literature and “New” Media

Like communities, all media are partly real and often times imagined. As ‘new media’ becomes increasingly ubiquitous in popular and scholarly discourse, it is all the more important to excavate layers of early and obsolete technologies of communication, in both theory and practice, which continue to inspire actually emergent media. This course studies the ways in which media come to be written about, imagined, used, preserved and sometimes discarded, from early representations of the telegraph, to writings on the magic lantern a precursor to motion pictures, and fictional devices of proto-computers imagined in science fiction. Through literary narratives, artworks, history, and media theory, students will discover where the relics of past media are stored, what these alternative paths not taken are, and how now forgotten futures of media say about different historical moments and the present.


Love in Antiquity: Eros in Translation

This course examines how Roman poets adapted and developed Greek erotic poetry.  How did love elegy become the dominant new genre in the Roman literary scene of the mid first century BCE?  How did Roman poets transform Greek models such as Sappho? What does love elegy tell us about sexual identities and expectations in Rome?  Students will read Greek and Roman love elegy in translation with scholarship to understand the generic conventions and innovations of the Roman elegists.  Students will also work with the texts in Latin, and examine the translation tradition in English and theoretical discourses surrounding translation.Students enrolled in this course may opt to add a 2MC Independent Language Module to read the texts in the original Latin.


Ovid the Innovator

This course focuses on the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – AD 17) via a detailed study of four innovative poetic works: Heroides (‘letters’ from mythical heroines to their absent lovers); Ars Amatoria (a didactic poem on how to find a lover in Rome); Tristia (epistles from the poet in exile on the Black Sea); and Fasti (a poetic treatise on the Roman calendar). Nothing is quite as it seems with Ovid. The mythical heroines in Heroides invite us to question the ‘authority’ behind familiar myths; Ars Amatoria outwardly excludes the married woman from, and subtly invites her into, the target readership of the poem; the poems in Tristia are so full of poetic flair and mythical allusion as to cast doubt as to whether Ovid was ever exiled at all; and Fasti outwardly celebrates and subtly criticises Augustan Rome in equal measure. These poems are studied in their own right and, more generally, as a means of assessing Ovid’s skill at manipulating myth, his creative engagement with literary predecessors, his exile and exilic persona, and his troubled relationship with Augustus and Augustan Rome.Students enrolled in this course may opt to add a 2MC Independent Language Module to read the texts in the original Latin.


Queer Writing: Twentieth Century Narratives of Homosexuality

This course focuses on twentieth-century queer narratives, examining sexuality and gender issues in their socio-historical contexts, alongside key ideas in gay and lesbian studies. It familiarises students with debates on sexual identities and politics through analyses of texts from the US, the UK, Europe, and Asia, offering a vocabulary for queer existence and experience, and perspectives that illuminate queer interiority and same-sex relations. Overall, the course reflects on and challenges fictions and critical approaches that are essentially “queer,” enabling students to explore in practice queer expression.