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.


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 50 Modular Credits (MC) (Class of 2017 and Class of 2018) or 54 MC (Class of 2019 onwards) of Literature courses, which include a capstone project worth 10 MC. The electives must include:

Pro-seminar in Literary Studies (5 MC)

The proseminar in literary studies will have a different topic every time it is offered, and will focus on a methodological problem that is of interest to a broad range of students. The proseminar is required for both the major and the minor in Literature, but is not a prerequisite to any course in literature. Students outside the major may also take it as an elective. It is recommended that Literature majors take the proseminar in their junior years. A student may take the proseminar twice and have the second course count as an elective that fulfils the “theory and cultural criticism” requirement.

Distributional requirements

Each course offered in the Literature major will fulfil one or more distributional requirements. Before graduation, the Literature major is required to complete the following:

  • Historical Distribution: Students are required to complete 5 MC in the modern period, and at least 5 MC in the pre-modern period.
  • Cultural Traditions: Students are required to complete at least 5 MC in Western literature, and 5 MC in non-Western literature. Alternatively, a student can fulfil this requirement by completing 10 MC in courses that are designated as ‘cross-cultural’ studies.
  • Theory and Cultural Criticism: Students are required to complete 5 MC in a seminar specifically devoted to the study of theoretical paradigms, schools, or methodologies in literary and cultural studies.

Courses may be identified in the Registry list as fulfilling more than one distributional requirement. In all such cases, a student taking the course can decide, in consultation with the Head of Studies (HoS), the specific distributional requirement that the course will fulfil in her or his transcript: that is, a course may be cross-listed for more than one distributional category, but it can account in an academic transcript for only one of such distributional categories.

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.


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.


For students who wish to focus on Chinese Studies, we recommend the following courses:

  1. Third-year Chinese language study or equivalent level of competency.
  2. Introduction To Classical Chinese.
  3. At least two electives in Chinese literature, such as Modern Chinese Literature (Fall 14), Story Of The Stone (Spring 15), or Tales Of The Strange (Fall 15).


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.

Literary Activism: Texts, Aesthetics, & Politics: 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.

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.

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.  This course may be taken with a supplementary 2MC Language reading course in Latin.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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 cannot be counted toward the minor, and all courses must have a letter grade.