The Long-Awaited Comps List Post!

Okay, at long last I am sitting to compose the comps list post I have been promising since…..April? May? Time flies when you’re reading a few hundred texts!

The first thing I should explain, for those who don’t know much about it yet, is the purpose of this exam and the criteria that go into deciding which texts to include on your lists. After a brief introduction to the subject, I’ll turn to my various list iterations and the thinking that went into all of them, so you can see how my lists developed from beginning to final versions. I’ll include my rationales for the lists as well (yes, as with everything else, if you write your own lists you will be expected to justify your choices!)

As always, I am only speaking from the point of view of someone working on a doctoral degree in the humanities; I understand that Master’s level and science comps can be very different. And of course, every program has its own rules and regulations governing the comps process. Make sure you clarify what’s expected of you with your advisor, fairly early in the process, to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

The purpose of comprehensive examinations

Essentially, the comprehensive exam determines that you know what you can reasonably be expected to know upon exiting the degree program you have entered. In this goal, it can be construed as being akin to the Mac-Daddy of final exams. Of course, it is also much more than that. As a doctoral student hoping to embark upon a professorial career, your comprehensive exams will serve as evidence that you have acquired the body of knowledge necessary to stand in front of a class full of college students and competently instruct them in your discipline. In some cases, the doctoral exam also serves as preparation for writing your dissertation.

So…What Should I Read?

Everything. (That’s kind of a joke, and kind of not a joke.)

Some programs, especially at the Master’s level, have set exam lists, in which case you have your lists already; all you have to do is come up with a reasonable reading schedule and an effective note-taking system. For everyone else, now is the time at which you have to come up with your own reading lists for the exams.

If you have read my earlier posts in this blog, or done research on graduate school in general, then you know that you are really preparing for this examination and what comes after it from the moment you set foot in your first graduate class. You have studied methodology, theory, and critical thinking and analysis. You have read the work of many important scholars in your field, and many of the important primary texts associated with your discipline. Step one is to review the syllabi for the classes you have taken. Are there texts that have shown up more than once? You may want to put those on your list. What texts did your professors especially focus on? If they are germane to your subject tests, consider including those as well. Review your notes from classes and directed readings associated with your exam subject areas. Pull up a few sample lists, either from peers and classmates or from the internet. Then, start thinking about where the holes are in your preparation, what texts you want to read and what texts you think are most important. If you were going to write a syllabus in your subject area, what texts would YOU include on that syllabus? What order would you read them in? What secondary texts would you use with them? Why?

Once you have done this kind of preliminary thinking, take your lists to your advisor and talk with him or her about them. See what s/he says about your choices, and make sure you take note of any titles s/he suggests you add to your list (these are usually not really suggestions. READ THOSE TEXTS.) You will want to meet separately with each of the people on your committee at first, to work on the individual lists; then you will have a series of meetings with your whole committee to go over everything and make sure everyone is on the same page concerning what you need to read, how carefully you need to read each item, what editions you need to use, and similar. Once your lists are finalized, you will write rationales for each explaining what you included and why you included it.

This all probably sounds very matter-of-fact and straightforward and easy, even. In actuality, writing the comps lists is a delicate dance between including what you want to read, what you think you need to read, what your committee members want you to read and think you should read, and what is currently important in your field. There’s quite a bit of negotiating that ends up going on. For instance, in my primary area (medieval literature) there are some absolute givens: I’m certainly going to be expected to know and be able to teach Chaucer, for instance. But what else? I’m not specifically an Anglo-Saxonist, but certainly I ought to know Beowulf at least. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, the Book of Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, and the Morte Darthur are on every sample list I looked at. But now what? Now it’s time to think clearly and strategically about the kinds of classes I like and want to teach and the kind of research I like and want to do. I have a friend whose list includes almost every debate poem in the Middle English canon; I have another whose list focuses on mystical and devotional literature; a third friend focuses mainly on political texts, and a fourth, on translations.

I chose to have a fairly balanced list that includes “a little of everything” but ultimately, I ended up focusing primarily on romance and chronicle, both because that’s what my advisor is most familiar with, and also because quite honestly, that’s where much of my research focuses. It’s an area that is always in demand on the job market, and it’s an area that lends itself well to comparative thinking and writing. Most importantly, I can demonstrate my proficiency in a variety of languages and cultures, since romances were translated and adapted regularly throughout the period I’m focusing on, and as that’s one of the kinds of work I’ll be doing in my dissertation, this is as good a time as any to begin seriously considering how I would tackle that sort of thinking. It took me a while to arrive at this determination, however. Originally, I wanted to read several texts from each major culture I intended to work with. My list was impossibly long. Here’s the original iteration in all its unwieldy glory:

Preliminary list, Fall 2013

Primary Texts (36)

Epics and Sagas (just listing the sagas as an individual category frees two spaces) — 2


Saga of the Volsungs

Njal’s Saga

Grettir’s Saga

Anglo Saxon Elegies (collapse categories = 3 spaces) — 1

The Wanderer

The Seafarer

The Wife’s Lament

The Husband’s Message

Chronicles — 6 — I might be able to lose one or two of these?

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (excerpts)

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s HRB (excerpts)

Bede’s History of the English People (excerpts)

Gerald of Wales, History & Topography of Ireland

Layamon’s Brut (excerpts

Mandeville’s Travels

Philosophy & Religion — 4

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy

The Dream of the Rood


Caedmon’s Hymn (I’m not really MARRIED to Judish and Caedmon’s Hymn, and losing these would bring the total “official” number of texts to 54…)

Conduct Manuals — 2

Caxton’s Book of the Order of Chivalry

Medieval Conduct Literature, An Anthology (selections)

Anglo Norman & Welsh/ Celtic texts –5

Marie de France, lais & Life of St. Patrick (select fables to read against Chaucer’s NPT?)

Voyage of St. Brendan

Roman de Brut (excerpts)

The Mabinogion

the Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend, ed./trans. Jon Coe & Simon Young

Romances (Matter of Britain) (collapse to Middle English Romances, frees up 9 spaces) — 1

The Tale of Emare

Havelok the Dane

Arthur and Gorlagon


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell

The Awntyrs of Arthur

The Alliterative Morte Arthure

The Stanzaic Morte Arthur

Sir Launfal

Sir Orfeo

Arthour and Merlin

Outlaw Tales (Anglo Saxon Romances/ Matter of England) (collapse categories, frees 4 spaces) — 1

Geste of Robin Hood

Eustace the Monk

Earl Godwin

Fouke Fitz Warin


Debate Poems –2

The Owl and the Nightingale

Wynnere and Wastoure

Querelle des Femmes — 2

Roman de la Rose

City of Ladies

Saints’ Lives/ Mystic Tradition — 6 (Is there anything here we could collapse further?)

Julian of Norwich, Showings

The Cloud of Unknowing

Legenda Aurea (selections)

South England Legendary (selections)

Old English Saints’ Lives (Leslie Donavan edition; from Aelfric’s Lives of Saints)

The Katherine Group (St. Katherine, St. Margeret, Ancrene Wisse, Ancrene Rule, Hali Meiđhad & etc.)

Longer Works — 4

Malory, Morte Darthur

Langland, Piers Plowman B Text, Passus 11 of the A text (alchemy), Autobiographical passage of the C text (identity/authority)

Chaucer — Canterbury Tales, Book of the Duchess, Parliament of Fowles, Legend of Good Women

Gower, Confessio Amantis Book 4 (alchemy leads into TCB on Early Modern list

Secondary Texts (20)

The Arthur of the English (Wales Up)

The Arthur of the Welsh (Wales Up)

Helen Fulton, ed. A Companion to Arthurian Literature

A Companion to Anglo-Saxon England, eds. Treharne & Pulsiano

A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World, Harper Bill & Van Houts

A Companion to the Gawain Poet, Ed. D.S. Brewer

A Companion to Chaucer, ed. Brown

Beowulf: Basic Readings, Baker

The Idea of Anglo Saxon England in Middle English Romance, Rouse

The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs From Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare, Cooper

Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic, Bill Griffiths

Magic in Medieval Romance, Michelle Sweeney

Magic in the Middle Ages, Richard Kiekhefer

Medieval Conduct, Ashley & Clark, eds.

Chivalry, Maurice Keen

Chivalry & Violence in Medieval Europe, Richard Kaeuper

Forging Chivalric Communities in Malory’s Morte Darthur, Kenneth Hodges

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Monster Culture, Seven Theses & Of Giants

Tony Davenport, Medieval Narrative

Thorlac Turville-Petre, England, the Nation


Fortunately, I have a wonderful advisor who reminded me that I have TWO OTHER LISTS to read in addition to this one and I might–I MIGHT–want to think about comps not as the time to read everything ever written in the medieval period, but rather as an institutional hoop to jump through using strategically-chosen texts that demonstrate breadth without sacrificing my sanity and every spare second of time between December and October. More fortunately, I listened to her. Here’s the final version of the primary list:

Primary Texts

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy ( 5th c. Latin), Langston translation (Norton, 2010)

“Caedmon’s Hymn” (731 Latin), Treharne, Old & Middle English, An Anthology

Elegies (10 th century Anglo-Saxon): “The Wanderer”; “The Seafarer”; “The Wife’s Lament” (Norton Anthology of English Literature , Volume One, 8th edition) “The Husband’s Message” (Treharne, Old & Middle English, An Anthology)

“The Dream of the Rood” (10 th c. Anglo-Saxon), Treharne, Old & Middle English, An Anthology

“Judith” (10 th century Anglo-Saxon), (Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume One, 8th edition)

Beowulf (10th century Anglo-Saxon), Heaney translation (Farrar Strauss, 2000)

The Mabinogion, (c. 11/12th c. Welsh), “Branches 1-4”; “The Lady of the Well”; “Culhwch and Olwen,” Davies translation (Oxford UP, 2007)

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittaniae (1136 Latin), Part One [Brutus/Albion], pp. 53-74; Parts 6-8 [Arthur], pp. 186-261), Thorpe translation (Penguin 1966)

Chretien de Troyes (12 th c. French), “Knight of the Cart,” “Knight of the Lion”, Burton Raffel translations (Yale 1997; 1987)

Marie de France (12 th century Anglo-Norman), “Prologue,” “Bisclavret,” “Lanval,” “Guigemar” (Hanning & Ferrante translation, 1978)

The Owl and the Nightingale (12/early 13th c. English), Caitlidge ed (Exeter UP, 2001)

Cotton Nero A.x, A Facsimile [“Pearl,” “Cleanness,” “Patience,” “Sir Gawain”], (EETS o.s. 162)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, (13th c. English), Borroff edition (Norton, 2010)

“Patience” & “Pearl,” (13 th c. English), Borroff translations (Norton, 2001)

“Cleanness” (13 th c. English), (Broadview, 2010)

“Havelok the Dane,” (13 th c. English), from Four Romances of England (TEAMS, 1997)

Saga of the Volsungs (13th century Norse Icelandic), Byock translation (Penguin, 1990)

Lazamon’s Arthur (13th c. English), Barron & Weinburg edition (Exeter UP, 2001)

Silence (13th c. French) , Roche-Madi translation (Michigan State UP, 2007)

“Wynnere and Wastoure,” (c. 1353 English), excerpt in Norton Critical edition of Piers

Plowman (2006), pp. 446-452

The Cloud of Unknowing (14th c. English), Hodgson ed. (Exeter, 1982)

“Sir Orfeo,” (late 13/early 14 th c. English), in Middle English Breton Lais (TEAMS, 2001)

Prose Brut (Albion; Arthur), Friedrich Brie, EETS os 131, 136 pp. 1-4; 66-91

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1356 French), Mosely translation (Penguin 1983)

“The Tale of Emare,” (late 14 th c. English), in Middle English Breton Lais (TEAMS, 2001)

William Langland, Piers Plowman B Text (late 14th c. English), Passus 11 of the A text, Autobiographical passage of the C text, Norton Critical edition of Piers Plowman (2006)

Geoffrey Chaucer (late 14 th c. English) — Canterbury Tales, Book of the Duchess, Parliament of Fowles, Legend of Good Women, Troilius and Cresseyde, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, 1987

John Gower, Confessio Amantis (late 14th c. English)“Prologue,” Confessio Amantis Volume 1 (TEAMS, 2006); “Book 4 (Sloth)”, Confessio Amantis Volume 2 (TEAMS, 2013)

The Alliterative Morte Arthure (c. 1400 English), Ed. Edmund Brock. EETS o.s. 8 (1961)

“Gest of Robyn Hode,” (c. 1400? English) and “Tale of Gamelyn” (14 th c.? English), in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales (TEAMS, 2000)

“The Awntyrs off Arthure,” (14/15 th c. English), in Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales (TEAMS, 1995)

Nicholas Love, Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ (early 15 th c. English), ed. Michael Sargent (Garland 1992)

“Sir Launfal,” (15 th c. English), in Middle English Breton Lais (TEAMS, 2001)

John Russell’s BoKe of Nurture (c. 1460-70 English) & Book of Curtasye (c. 1460 English), Furnivall, Ed. Early English Meals and Manners (London, 1969)

“Croxton Play of the Sacrament” (c. 1461 English), Bevington, Medieval Drama (1975)

William Caxton, Book of Curtesye (1483-85 English; EETS ES 111) and Ordre of Chyvalry(1477/78 English; EETS o.s. 168)

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur (1485 English), Vinaver 2nd edition (1967)

“Second Shepherd’s Play” (c. 1500 English), Bevington, Medieval Drama (1975)

Secondary Texts

The Arthur of the English (Wales UP), ed. W.R.J. Barron (“Introduction”; “The Celtic Tradition”; “Arthur in English History”; “The Romance Tradition”)

The Arthur of the Welsh (Wales UP), ed. Rachel Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman, Brynley F. Roberts (“Introduction”; “The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems”; “First Transmission in England and France”)

Helen Fulton, ed. A Companion to Arthurian Literature (Blackwell, 2012), “The Chronicle Tradition”; “The Historical Context: Wales & England, 800-1200”

A Companion to the Gawain Poet, ed. D.S. Brewer (D.S. Brewer, 1997), “Introduction”; “Theories of Authorship”; “The Historical Background”; “The Materials of Culture”; “The Manuscript: British Library Cotton Nero A.x”; “Courtesy and Chivalry in SGGK”

Robert Rouse, The Idea of Anglo Saxon England in Middle English Romance (D.S. Brewer, 2005)

Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs From Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford UP, 2004)

Phillip Pulsiano and Elaine Treharne, eds. A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature (Blackwell, 2008), Part I: Contexts and Perspectives; Part 2: Cultural Framework and Heritage

Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic, Bill Griffiths (Anglo Saxon Books, 2006)

Magic in Medieval Romance, Michelle Sweeney (Four Courts Press, 2000)

Magic in the Middle Ages , Richard Kiekhefer (Canto, 2000)

Chivalry, Maurice Keen (Yale UP 1984)

Chivalry & Violence in Medieval Europe , Richard Kaeuper (Oxford, 1999)

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture, Seven Theses” in Monster Theory (Minnesota UP,1996) & Of Giants (Minnesota UP, 1999)

Thorlac Turville-Petre, England, the Nation (Oxford UP, 1996)

Cambridge History of Medieval Literature , ed. David Wallace, Part I: After the Norman Conquest, Part II: Writing in the British Isles, Part IV: After the Black Death and “Romance After 1400) from Part V.

Blackwell Companion to Medieval Literature and Culture , ed. Peter Brown (2009), Part V: Special Themes and Part VI: Genres

Judith Weiss, “The power and the weakness of women in Anglo-Norman romance” in Meale,

Carol, ed. Women and Literature in Britain, 1150-1500 (Cambridge UP, 1993)

It’s still long–but it’s organized, it includes a little of everything, and most importantly, you can see a clear line of thinking and clear parallels between the readings just by looking at the titles, which makes reading for connections and synthesis much, much easier. Also, as my advisor pointed out when I pouted over losing some of the texts from the earlier list, just because texts are not on your list doesn’t mean you can’t use them or reference them if you need to during the exam. What matters is that you demonstrate a wide range of competence and a clear understanding of some of the major strands of critical thought and reception in your field. This is the kind of thinking a good advisor will push you towards when you are writing up your lists.

But, what if you and your advisor don’t agree on your list AT ALL and s/he wants you to redo the whole thing from scratch? Well, luckily for you, this happened to me so I can give you an example of how to handle it (advance warning: as the Rolling Stones tell us, in this instance you are not going to get what you want. But, you will get what you need.)

For my negotiated list, I initially planned to do women’s patronage and history of the book. This would marry (I thought) my interest in women’s and gender studies with my interest in manuscript culture. I did a directed reading on the subject that persuaded me that this was not only a viable, but also a fantastic exams list choice. Here’s the initial list I offered up for critique:

Manuscript Culture and History of the Book

Beal, Peter. A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology 1450–2000 . (Oxford UP, 2008): consult liberally

Bland, Mark. A Guide to Early Printed Books and Manuscripts . (Wiley- Blackwell, 2010): consult liberally

Brown, Michelle P. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994): consult liberally

Clemens, Raymond. Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Cornell UP, 2007): preface; ch. 5-10

Connolly & Mooney eds. Design and Distribution of Late Medieval Manuscripts in England (York UP and Boydell, 2008)

Eisentstein, Elizabeth. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge UP, 1979)

Eliot and Rose, eds. A Companion to the History of the Book (Blackwell, 2007): Introduction; ch. 13-15; ch. 32 & 33; ch. 34-36; ch. 40

Griffiths & Pearsall, eds. Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375-1475 (Cambridge UP, 1989): Intro; Chapter 4; Chapters 8 & 9; Chapters 11-13

Hanna, Ralph III. Pursuing History: Middle English Manuscripts and Their Texts (Stanford UP, 1996): Intro; Chapt 1; Chapt 7; Chapt 9

Howsam, Leslie. Old Books & New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture. (Toronto UP, 2006

Kerby-Fulton, Hilmo, and Olson, eds. Opening Up Middle English Manuscripts (Cornell UP, 2012): Preface; Chapter 1, sections II-IV; Chapter 2; Chapter 3; Chapter 6

Kleinhenz, Christopher. Medieval Manuscripts and Textual Criticism (UNC Chapel Hill, 1976)

Morse, Doob & Woods, eds. The Uses of Manuscripts in Literary Studies (Kalamazoo, Medieval Institute Publications, 1992): Essays by Irvine; Baswell; Tarvers

Nicholls and Wenzell, eds. The Whole Book: Cultural Perspectives on the Medieval Miscellany (Michigan UP, 1996): Huot essay

Shailor, Barbara. The Medieval Book (Toronto UP, 1991)

Summit, Jennifer. Memory’s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England. (Chicago UP, 2008)

Wilcox, J. Scraped, Stroked, and Bound: Materially Engaged Readings of Medieval Manuscripts (Brepols, 2013)

Women and the Book

Mary C. Erler, Women, Reading, and Piety in Late Medieval England
Chapter 1; see Appendices for helpful MSS!

Erler & Kowaleski, eds. Gendering the Master Narrative: Women & Power in the Middle Ages Intro; Chapters 3 & 4

Erler & Kowaleski, eds. Women and Power in the Middle Ages
Intro; Susan Groag Bell essay (important!); Hanawalt essay; Ferrante essay; Hansen essay

Ferrante, Joan. To The Glory of her Sex
Intro; Chapts 3 & 4; Chapt 6

Krug, Rebecca. Reading Families: Women’s Literate Practice in Late Medieval England Intro; Chapt 2; Chapt 4 (skim)

McAvoy & Watt, eds. The History of British Women’s Writing, 700-1500, vol. 1
Intro; Chapters 2, 6, 10-13

McCash, June Hall, ed. The Cultural Patronage of Medieval Women
McCash “overview”; Jambeck essay; Hanna essay

Meale, Carol, ed. Women and Literature in Britain, 1150-1500
Intro; Chapter 6 & 7

Smith & Taylor, Women, the Book, and the Worldly
Goodman essay; Willard essay; Beer essay; Jambeck essay (skim); Summit essay (important!)

Taylor & Smith, Women and the Book: Assessing the Visual Evidence
Introduction; Chapt 4; Chapt 7; Chapt 13

While I wasn’t there to see the initial response, I’m pretty sure it consisted of their throwing their hands in the air and collectively despairing that I would ever come to my senses. The only coherent thinking in this list is that I like reading about manuscripts, and that I like reading about medieval women’s experiences. Not exactly choice fodder for a comprehensive examination intended to show my understanding of connections and my ability to synthesize a large body of primary and secondary materials. As one of my committee members put it, “This is supposed to be a list that anyone on your committee can ask you questions about. But there are no primary sources on this list. What am I going to ask you about–what year a manuscript was written in?” Finally, in our program the negotiated list is supposed to clearly cross at least two time periods and while I had a little on the early modern print culture, this wasn’t going to cut it. I was asked to re-think my position and get rid of the manuscript materials, focusing on women and patronage instead.

I was pretty stubborn on this one, to be honest. I argued eloquently for the importance of manuscripts to the study of medieval literature, the desirability of showing a knowledge of codicology and at least a little paleography, that primary sources in my field were really manuscripts and not the editions we were using; I asked friends working on history of the book to share their lists–but, in the end, I had to admit (partial) defeat. We do not have a text technologies/history of the book/ paleography and codicology program, course, or even specialist at our university. My list did nothing to show clear connections between texts and scholarship on those texts, or how studying manuscript culture could contribute to our understanding of medieval texts. It would take me several months to concoct a list that satisfied all requirements and made sense within the context of my overall program of study. With time a-ticking and no clear exemplars for what I was trying to do, my committee pressed for a shift in thinking “just for the comps” which are “an institutional requirements, and not the sole determiner of what you can do” and I finally capitulated. I pushed for women’s reading and writing practices over patronage; they pushed back a little and reminded me that I, myself, had suggested there was a connection between the two, and suddenly, things clicked and voila! It was women’s literate activity. Here’s the re-negotiated list:

Primary Texts

Women as Writers

Christine de Pisan, The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), trans. Jeffrey Richards (Persea Books, 1998); A Medieval Woman’s Mirror of Honor: The Treasury of the City of Ladies (1405), Willard & Cossman ed. (Persea Books, 1989)

Marie de France, “Prologue” and “Epilogue” to the Fables (c. 1160-1215), Spiegel translation, 1987

Julian of Norwich, Showings, ed. Denise Baker (Norton, 2005)

The Book of Margery Kempe (early 15th c.), ed. Lynn Staley (Norton, 2001)

Amelia Lanyer, “Salve Deus Rex Judeorum” and “Description of Cooke-Ham,” (1611), ed.

Suzanne Woods (Oxford UP, 1993)

Elizabeth Cary, The Tragedy of Miriam (1613), in English Renaissance Drama, ed. David Bevington (Norton, 2002)

Mary Herbert Sidney, “The Doleful Lay” (1595), “A Dialogue Between Two Shepherds” (1599), “Even Now Who Care” (1599) and “The Triumph of Death” (before 1600), in The Collected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Volume One, eds. Hannay, Kinnamon, Brennan (Oxford UP, 1998)

Mary Wroth, Sonnets 1, 16, 28, 39, 40, 68, 74 from Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621), in

Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume One, 8th Edition (2006)

Jane Anger, “Jane Anger Her Protection For Women” (1589) in Women’s Sharp Revenge, ed. Simon Shepherd (St. Martin’s Press, 1985)

Rachel Speght: “A Muzzle for Melastomus” (1617), in Early Modern Women on the Fall , ed. Michelle Dowd and Thomas Festa (ACMRS, 2012)

Esther Sowernam: Selections from “ Esther Hath Hanged Haman” (1617), in Early Modern Women on the Fall, ed. Michelle Dowd and Thomas Festa (ACMRS, 2012)

Women’s Readership

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves [Facsimile, original of 1430] Braziller, 1966

Les Heures de Margaret D’Orleans [Facsimile, original of 1430] Les Éditions du Cerf, 1991

Jean de la Meun, Roman de la Rose (1275) Robbins trans. (Dutton, 1962)

The Katherine Group (St. Katherine, St. Margeret, Ancrene Wi sse, Hali Meiđhad, early 13th c.) in Medieval English Prose for Women, ed. Bella Millett & Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (Clarendon, 1990)

The Book of the Knight of the Tower
(1372), Oxford UP, 1971

Osbern Bokenham, “Life of Saint Margaret Virgin and Martyr”; “St. Katherine’s Life”; “St. Cecilia’s Life” from Legends of Holy Women , trans. Sheila Delany, Notre Dame UP, 1992.

John Capgrave, Life of St. Katherine of Alexandria (15th c.), Karen Winstead ed. (TEAMS, 1999)

Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Legend of Good Women” (1386-1388), in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, 1987

John Foxe, “Anne Askew” from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), William Byron Forbush ed. (Zondervan, 1967).

Joseph Swetnam, “Epistle”; excerpts from Chapter 1, 2; & p. 28, from The Araignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and unconstant Women (1619), available online at

Secondary Texts

Mary C. Erler, Women, Reading, and Piety in Late Medieval England (Cambridge UP, 2002) Ch. 1: “Ownership and Transmission of Books: Women’s Religious Communities”

Erler & Kowaleski, eds. Gendering the Master Narrative: Women & Power in the Middle Ages, (Cornell UP, 2003): “Introduction”; Ch. 3: “With the Heat of the Hungry Heart”, Nicholas Watson; Ch. 4: “Powers of Record, Powers of Example: Hagiography and Women’s History”, Jocelyn Wogan-Browne

Erler & Kowaleski, eds. Women and Power in the Middle Ages (Georgia UP, 1988) Introduction; Susan Groag Bell, “Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture”; Barbara Hanawalt, “Lady Honor Lisle’s Networks of Influence”; Joan Ferrante, “Public Postures and Private Maneuvers: Roles Medieval Women Play”; Elaine Tuttle Hansen, “The Powers of Silence: The Case of the Clerk’s Griselda”

Ferrante, Joan. To The Glory of her Sex (Indiana UP, 1997): Introduction; Ch. 3: “Women and the writing of history”; Ch. 4: “Courtly literature”; Ch. 6: “Women representing women”.

Krug, Rebecca. Reading Families: Women’s Literate Practice in Late Medieval England (Cornell UP, 2002): Intro; Ch. 2: “Margaret Beaufort’s literate practice: service and self-inscription”; Ch. 4: “Reading at Syon Abbey”

McAvoy & Watt, eds. The History of British Women’s Writing, 700-1500, vol. 1(Palgrave, 2012) Introduction; Ch. 2: Catherine Clarke, “Literary Production Before and After the Conquest”; ch. 6: Corinne Saunders, “Romance”; ch. 10: Myra Seaman, “Late-Medieval Conduct Literature”; ch. 11: Carole Meale, “Women and their Manuscripts”; ch. 12: Lara Farina, “Women and Reading”; ch. 13: Elizabeth Robertson, “Women and Networks of Literary Production”

Meale, Carol, ed. Women and Literature in Britain, 1150-1500 (Cambridge UP, 1993) Introduction; Carol Meale, “’ … alle the bokes that I haue of latyn, englisch, and frensch’ : laywomen and their books in late medieval England”; Julia Boffey, “Women authors and women’s literacy in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England”

Smith & Taylor, Women, the Book, and the Worldly (D.S. Brewer, 1995)

Jennifer Goodman, “Mothers and Daughters Reading Chivalric Romances”; Charity Cannon Willard, “Christine de Pizan’s Faits d’Armes et de Chevalerie”; Jeannette Beer, “Women, Authority and the Book in the Middle Ages”; Karen Jambeck, “Reclaiming the Woman in the Book: Marie de France and the Fables”; Jennifer Summit, “William Caxton, Margaret Beaufort and the Romance of Female Patronage”

Taylor & Smith, Women and the Book: Assessing the Visual Evidence
Introduction; Ch. 4: Martha Driver, “Mirrors of a Collective Past: Reconsidering Images of Medieval Women” Ch. 7: Marie-Luise Ehrenschwendtner, “A Library Collected by and for the Use of Nuns: St Catherine’s Convent, Nuremberg”; Ch. 14: Sandra Penketh, “Women and Books of Hours”

Barbara Newman, “What Did It Mean to Say “I Saw”? The Clash between Theory and Practice
in Medieval Visionary Culture” in Speculum Jan 2005, Vol. 80 Issue 1

Victoria E. Burke, “Reading Friends: Women’s Participation in ‘Masculine’ Literary Culture” in Early Modern Women’s Manuscript Writing (Ashgate, 2004), pp. 75-90

Paul Salzman, Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing (Oxford UP, 2006)
Introduction (“Were They That Name? Categorizing Early Modern Women’s Writing”); chapter one (“The Scope of Early Modern Women’s Writing”); chapter two (“Poets High and Low, Visible and Invisible”)

Jane Donawerth, “Women’s Poetry and the Tudor-Stuart System of Gift Exchange” in Women, Writing and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart Britain (Syracuse UP, 2000)

Cristina Malcolmson, “Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies in Early Modern England” in
Debating Gender in Early Modern England, 1500-1700 (Palgrave, 2002) pp. 15-36

Barbara McManus, “Eve’s Dowry: Genesis and the Pamphlet Controversy About Women” in
Women, Writing and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart Britain (Syracuse UP, 2000)

Bicks & Summit, eds. The History of British Women’s Writing, 1500-1610 (Palgrave, 2010) Introduction; Parts I (“Reading and Writing”, ch. 1-3) & II (“Writing Places”, ch. 4-6)

Suzuki, ed. The History of British Women’s Writing, 1610-1690 (Palgrave, 2011)
Introduction, Paul Salzman, “Identifying as (Women) Writers”; Megan Matchinske, “Channeling the Gender Debate: Legitimization and Agency in Seventeenth Century Tracts and Women’s Poetry”; Victoria E. Burke, “Seventeenth Century Women’s Manuscript Writing”

I mean, let’s be very honest–even if you know absolutely nothing about this subject, you can see just from the titles of the texts on this list that they all interact with one another somehow. It’s a comprehensive, coherent, legible list that includes texts from the medieval through the early modern period and relevant scholarship on such. You’ll notice that I DO still get some manuscript action in there, but it is specific, intentional manuscript action–manuscripts created specifically for women readers–which fits neatly and contextually as exemplars of the kind of thinking I want to do on the matter and within the overall subject field. It’s much more deliberate and intentional, less “throw all the darts at the same time and see what sticks”, if you will. Most importantly, it will demonstrate my ability to construct and teach a topical course on gender and writing in the medieval and early modern period–which is, of course, the point of the comprehensive examination in the first place.

So, my advice is to go with what your committee tells you to do. They are the experts and they know what they are about. You are the student with all the ideas and energy and enthusiasm in the world–and honestly, no clue what you are getting yourself into with these lists until you’ve started actually reading for them. Err on the side of “less is more” — particularly when your advisor specifically tells you to. Make the changes that are asked of you, understanding that these are not arbitrary changes but suggestions based on knowledge you don’t yet possess about this thing you have not yet done. At the same time, be willing to fight for what you really believe in. As I said–it’s a carefully-negotiated, delicate dance between what you want and need and what your committee wants and needs you to read.

On the plus side, my early modern reading list didn’t change very much at all; she wanted me to rearrange and order things, but generally we agreed in terms of the texts I chose. Here’s that list:


Ascham, Roger. “The Schoolmaster” (1570), From The Renaissance in England: Non-Dramatic Prose and Verse, Hyder Rollins and Herschel Baker eds. (Boston, MA: Heath, 1954).

Ashmole, selections from Theatrum chemicum britannum (1652), Vaughan & Cross 1999 edition (EEBO): “Prologue”; Thomas Norton, The Ordinall of Alchimy; George Ripley. The Compound of Alchymie; Verse beginning “In the name of the holy Triniti”; Verse beginning “Iyfe thow wilt thys warke begyn.”; Anonymous. Hermes Bird; Geoffrey Chaucer. The Tale of the Chanans Yeoman; Abraham Andrews. The Hunting of the Greene Lyon; Thomas Charnock. The Breviary of naturall Philosophy; John Gower. John Gower concerning the Philosophers Stone; George Ripley. The Mistery of alchymists, Composed by Sir Geo: Ripley Chanon of Bridlington; Anonymous. The Hermet’s Tale; Anonymous. A Discription of the Stone

Castiglione, Balthazar. The Book of the Courtier (1528), Singleton translation (Norton Critical Edition, 2002)

Dee, John, Five Books of Mystery (1581-83), Peterson, Ed., (Boston: Weiser Books, 2003)

Elizabeth I, selections: “First Speech Before Parliament” (1559); “Speech at Tilbury” (1588); “Golden Speech” (1601), Elizabeth I’s Selected Works, eds. Marcus, Mueller & Rose (Chicago UP, 2000)

Erasmus, The Praise of Folly (1511), Adams translation (Norton, 1989); selections from Moria Encomiun and Colloquies (1518), Thompson translation (Chicago UP, 1997): “Beggar Talk,” “Alchemy,” “The Profane Feast,” “The Godly Feast,” “The Poetic Feast,” “The Fabulous Feast,” “A Feast of Many Courses” “The Knight Without a Horse (Faked Nobility)” and “The Art of Learning”

Selections from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563): “Persecutions of the Christians in Persia” “John Wycliffe” from Fox’s Book of Martyrs, William Byron Forbush ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967).

Selections from Hakluyt, Voyages and Discoveries (1616), Penguin 1982 edition: John Hawkins; Francis Drake

Selections from Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577): “Albina”; “Edward II”; “Macbeth”; “Henry V,” from AMS 1967 edition

Macchiavelli, Nicolo The Prince (1532), Adams ed. (Norton, 1992)

Milton, John. Aeropagatica (1644), Riverside Milton, 1998

More, Thomas. Utopia (1516), Norton 2011

Nashe, Thomas, selections from The Unfortunate Traveler (1594)

Sidney, Philip. The Defence of Poesy (1595), Katherine Duncan-Jones ed., Oxford UP, 1989.


Donne, John. Selections (published in 1633): “Love’s Alchemy”; “The Flea”; “Valediction: Forbidden Mourning”; “Death Be Not Proud”, Norton Anthology of English Literature , 8th Edition, Volume One, 2006

Herbert, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, Selections (1599?): “Even Now That Care”; “Angel Spirit”; “A Dialogue between Two Shepherds, Thenot and Piers, in Praise of Astrea”, in The Collected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, eds. Hannay, Kinnamon, & Brennan, Oxford UP 1998

Herrick, Robert, selections from Hesperides (published in 1648): “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”; “Corinna’s Gone a-Maying”; “Delight in Disorder”, Norton Anthology of English Literature , 8th Edition, Volume One, 2006

Marlowe Christopher. “Hero and Leander” (1593/8?); “The Passionate Shepherd to His

Love” (1599), Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8 th Edition, Volume One, 2006

Marvell, Andrew, selections (1681): “To His Coy Mistress”; “An Horatian Ode”; “The

Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn”; “The Garden”; “The

Mower Against Gardens”, Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8 th Edition, Volume One, 2006

Milton, John, selections from Paradise Lost (1667/74): Books 1, 2, 4, 9, 12, Riverside Milton, 1998

Ralegh, Walter. Selections: “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” (1600); “Sir Walter Ralegh To His Son” (1600); “Methought I Saw The Grave Where Laura Lay” (1590); “The Author’s Epigraph, Made By Himself” (1628), Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8 th Edition, Volume One, 2006

Sidney, Philip, selections from Astrophil and Stella (1582-91/98?): Sonnets 1,2, 20, 31, 33, 41, 49, 106, Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8 th Edition, Volume One, 2006

Spenser, Edward. The Faerie Queene (1590-1596), Hamilton, second edition (Pearson Longman, 2007)

Wyatt the Elder, Thomas. Selections (published in 1557): “Whoso List to Hunt”; “They Flee From Me”; “The Lover Showeth How He Is Forsaken of Such as He Sometime Enjoyed”, Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th Edition, Volume One, 2006


Jonson, Ben. “The Alchemyst” (1610), Bevington, ed. Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama, 2002

Kyd, Thomas. “The Spanish Tragedy” (1587), Mulryne, ed. (Methuen, 2009)

Marlowe, Christopher. “Edward II” (1593); “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” (1592), Bevington, ed. Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama, 2002

Shakespeare, William. “Titus Andronicus” (1594); “Macbeth” (1611); “Midsummer Night’s

Dream” (1605); “Henry V” (1599?); “The Tempest” (1611), The Riverside Shakespeare.

You’ll notice that there are no secondary sources on this list. The professor I am working with on early modern literature said “just read widely.” Her focus for this exam is on my ability to construct arguments centered around the primary sources, in preparation for teaching in, say, a Brit Lit I survey course. Since this is not my primary field of study, it’s not necessary for me to build serious expertise in research and scholarship–just enough to be able to construct meaningful pedagogy based on the overarching ideas of a class.

So, those are my lists. Why are those my lists? Well, in large part, simply because I wanted them to be. But, as I have shown, there was also a good deal of advisorial input in their construction, particularly in terms of the negotiated list. In the end, reviewing them, I was able to see clear and rational reasons,for the choices I made, however, and this is what you need to articulate in your comps list rationales.

Generally, the comps list rationale is a document of approximately 700-1000 words that explains your choices of texts. As this post is already quite long, I’ll skip to the final draft of my rationales. Reading through them, and then again through my final comps lists, should be sufficient to give you an idea of how I was thinking about my lists when I wrote these documents.

Comprehensive Examination Primary List Rationale
Spring 2014

In my dissertation project, tentatively entitled “Feasts and Feasting as Rhetorical Acts and Cultural Artifacts in Medieval British Texts” – I intend to conduct a broad and interdisciplinary comparative study of how feasts and feasting are presented and function as acts of seduction in British literature from the post-Conquest through fifteenth centuries. Aside from two, unpublished dissertations on the subject (Mary Zambreno’s 1988 dissertation on feasts in medieval literature from the University of Chicago and Aaron Hostetter’s 2011 “The Politics of Eating and Cooking in Medieval English Romance”) the topic of medieval feasts and feasting has not been the subject of a full-length study in English. To my knowledge it has never been examined in interdisciplinary fashion making use not only of literary theory but also anthropological, art historical, and archaeological methods; nor has anyone considered the seductive nature of the feast and its implications for readers of texts in which feasts appear.

For the purposes of the dissertation, I define ”British literature” as comprising works penned in the various languages of the British Isles, with focus on those languages commonly found in England proper during my focal period: Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Latin, Welsh, and Middle English. I will be looking at the presence of feasts and feasting in multiple genres, including epic, saga, romance, lai, chronicle, saint’s lives/hagiography, mystic texts, and long narrative poetry. My primary reading list for the comprehensive examination, presented chronologically, comprises works from each of these cultures and genres in preparation for this project.

Further, as a medievalist I will be expected to demonstrate my ability to teach broadly within this subject field, particularly for smaller academic departments where I may find myself the only medievalist on faculty. In order to achieve this level of broad knowledge, I have included on this list both well-known works and also some works that are less-often taught but that have direct connections with my interests both in and beyond feasts—magic and the supernatural, constructions of identity and alterity, the formation and manipulation of a nascent sense of nationalism, and chivalry and conduct. These subjects are not only topics that are personally engaging for me as a scholar; they also reflect the types of scholarship currently being conducted in medieval literature, rendering my list immediately relevant to the ongoing discussions in my field. Pedagogically, reading broadly in texts that feature these themes will ensure that I am able not only to offer general courses in medieval literature but also special topics and thematically-organized classes as well. I will be reading the works, for the most part, in their language of origin. Exceptions to this will include the Chronicles – from which I will read brief selections in the original language, but otherwise in translation – and the Anglo-Norman, Welsh, and Norse texts, which will be read in translation as per my committee’s request (and because while I can read Anglo-Norman and medieval Welsh with a dictionary, I do not yet read Old Norse.)

Within the broader field of feasts and feasting, my particular area of specialization is Arthuriana, and my list is heavily inflected towards the Arthurian tradition across cultures and genres, looking at chronicle and romance alike, both in terms of primary and of secondary sources. I have, however, sought to balance this emphasis with the inclusion of other well-known literary figures I might be expected to know and teach, including Beowulf, Havelok, and Robin Hood. Additionally, while my list is heavy on romance, within that is a wide range of types—the historical romance, the Breton lai, the alliterative romance, and the Middle English romance—which provides rich context for the consideration of how romance motifs such as the feast function in different ways and for different purposes dependent upon the character of the text in which they are found.

As regards the secondary sources, beyond Arthuriana I have chosen an assortment of wide-ranging, general scholarly monographs and essay collections that provide strong contextual support for my primary sources and interests as noted above. I have sought to balance this primary reading list between what will be immediately useful for my dissertation project, what will be important for me to have read and considered when moving into a teaching position at another university, and what is – beyond the dissertation — of personal interest and importance to me as a scholar. I believe that the texts that I have selected will provide me with the wide-ranging contextual background and broad reading knowledge of the geographical and cultural areas in which I wish to engage that will prepare me to begin my dissertation project, as well as ensuring that I remain current in my knowledge of the greater conversations in medieval studies to which my dissertation will need to speak in order to constitute an original and important contribution to medieval literary scholarship.

Comprehensive Examination Negotiated Reading List Rationale
Spring 2014

While my primary reading list focuses predominantly on texts in support of this dissertation project, and my secondary list comprises early modern literature in broad terms, my negotiated list has been designed to provide me with a number of specific practical and theoretical lenses with which I might consider working in my dissertation project. It also includes targeted primary sources in support of my women’s and gender studies graduate certificate, specifically concerning my research interests in women’s literate practices in medieval Britain. This subject is personally engaging for me as a scholar and also reflects the kind of scholarship currently being conducted in the intersection between women’s studies and medieval literature.

Focusing on women’s literate activity in the Middle Ages, the texts on this negotiated list provide a broadly comprehensive look at how acts of literacy—writing, reading, patronizing, owning, translating, and gifting or bequeathing manuscripts—served as various means of constructing women’s authority and allowing women to exercise social and political power and influence throughout the medieval period. The list is grouped broadly around two main subjects: “Women’s Writing” and “Women’s Readership.” Within these broader groups I have sought to balance primary texts that speak to the construction of authority for the self—as in the case of Margery Kempe and Marie de France—the construction of female identity for a female audience—as in the case of the Book of the Knight of the Tower—and more generally the practices of writing and reading by and for women, with works that participate more specifically in the ongoing debate known as the querelle des femmes. I have chosen texts that span the medieval and early modern periods in order to examine continuities and differences across multiple periods in this ongoing debate; for instance, among the early modern women present on my list are Jane Anger, Rachel Speght, and Esther Sowernam, responding to the anti-woman writing of Joseph Swetnam in ways similar to—and also, markedly different from—the response of Christine de Pisan to Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose. Reading these figures together will provide me with an idea of how the debate carried over from one era to the next. Beyond this, I have included the poetry of women associated with several of the figures on my early modern list, such as Mary Sidney Herbert, sister of Philip Sidney, which hopefully will enrich and contextualize my reading on both lists through different associations and connections.

Additionally, this list comprises works that are secular, devotional, and mystical in nature, which is a deliberate choice intended to convey the many circles in which women’s literacy became important throughout the medieval and early modern periods. It is my hope to find intersections of belief and interests, means of exploring the world and the self within that world, and the construction of identity through literate practices in these different modes.

I have also included on this list two facsimiles of Books of Hours commissioned for and by women in the fifteenth century, those of Catherine of Cleves and Margaret of Orleans. As a medievalist, I believe it is imperative to develop and demonstrate skill in manuscript study, or what is often called “text technologies.” For this negotiated list on women’s literate practice, examining these books of hours for their arrangement, organization, the types and subjects of illustrations, and marginalia when present, and reading them against the relevant secondary sources included such as the essays by Susan Groag Bell, Carol Meale, and Sandra Penketh, permits me to put the theories of women’s ownership, patronage, and use of manuscripts which underscore this list to work in context, demonstrating my aptitude in the intersection between gender and manuscript studies that this list is intended to help me develop.

My secondary texts are designed to provide me with a broad contextual background in women’s influence and authority achieved through literate practices in support of my understanding and analysis of the issues of women’s authority and identity raised in the primary sources. Overall, the list has been chosen with pedagogical needs in mind, rendering me prepared to teach courses on representations of women in medieval texts, writing by and for medieval women, and other such special topics classes.

Comprehensive Examination Secondary Reading List Rationale
Spring 2014

While my primary reading list focuses predominantly on texts in support of this dissertation project, my secondary reading list has been designed both to support my work on feasts and feasting, and with my future pedagogical needs and other ongoing research interests in mind. Texts such as Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and Midsummer Night’s Dream all include scenes of feasting that might support my dissertation; but further, they comprise works that I will likely use in the classroom. As a medievalist, I may find myself tasked with teaching the British Literature Survey course–or even, in smaller departments at liberal arts colleges, with teaching early modern literature courses, most likely organized around Shakespeare and/or the Elizabethan era. To this end, I add to Spenser and Shakespeare a number of the important writers and thinkers most commonly found in the introductory course offerings for this time period: Ascham, Elizabeth I, Erasmus, Donne, Foxe, Herrick, Kyd, Macchiavelli, Marlowe, Marvell, Milton, More, Marvell, Ralegh, Sidney, and Wyatt the Elder. To broaden my pedagogical scope beyond England in order to take into account the nascent “British Empire” I have also included selections from Hakluyt’s Voyages, and I round out my pedagogical selections by including those sections from Holinshed’s Chronicles that served as source material for those of Shakespeare’s plays which I have chosen for my list. Beyond these more basic pedagogical needs, I have also taken into consideration my own ongoing scholarly interests in alchemy and alchemical imagery in literature. In support of this work, I have included some of the most substantial and influential alchemical texts of the period–selections from Ashmole’s Theatrum chemicum britannum and John Dee’s conversations with angels—and also some of the secular works associated with literary alchemy, including Donne’s “Love’s Alchemy”, Jonson’s “The Alchemist”, and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

I have included on this list both well-known works and also some works that are less-often taught but that have direct connections with my interests both in and beyond feasts—magic and the supernatural, constructions of identity and alterity, the formation and manipulation of a nascent sense of nationalism, and chivalry and conduct. These subjects are not only topics that are personally engaging for me as a scholar; they also reflect the types of scholarship currently being conducted in medieval literature, rendering my list immediately relevant to my own ongoing work by extending my reading in these matters into the period directly following my primary area of interest. This list will permit me to see how the themes and cultural aspects that interest me develop, shift, and change from the medieval through the early modern period.


And, there it is: the comps lists and rationales I am working with from now through October. What about you? What process did you use to create your lists? What did you focus on in your rationales, and why? How is the work coming along?


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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5 Responses to The Long-Awaited Comps List Post!

  1. Samantha says:

    I confess I’m somewhat jealous of your comps process! In my musicology program (which is admittedly only one university’s practice), while a suggested reading list from many years passed is often circulated between graduate students, we aren’t given any faculty advice nor do we put together an official reading list. Instead, we’re simply told to go forth and learn the entirety of Western classical music history, which is great practice for teaching the standard undergraduate sequence, but quite overwhelming, particularly when you’re never told whether to focus on primary or secondary sources. Your nice, neat, organized lists of directed study look very comforting (though I recognize you’ll still have an insane amount of work to do, just like us…it’s simply a different sort of work). It was really interesting to read about the process of putting your lists together – I quite liked seeing the different iterations, and I think the idea of writing a short statement about the rationale is a fantastic idea.

    • Melissa Ridley Elmes says:

      Oh my goodness! That sounds like an insanely daunting process as well! How are you going about it? I think I’d start with a timeline and start listing composers and major works, looking for any and all connections to help my brain retain it all!

      • Samantha says:

        Happily, I passed quals this past January! Timelines definitely helped, as did reading multi-volume histories that were more detailed than the standard textbooks (and taking many notes!). The best advice I got regarding these long sets was to read one with whom you often disagreed – not on the facts, but on the interpretation. Being able to yell at a book about something not only helps you retain the information but also keep your mind engaged as you spend hours upon hours reading!

        I read a number of the recommended books, but not all of them, plus a number of other secondary sources as well that I thought were important (though most of them weren’t, in the end). Plus the added difficulty of music! Besides the essays, we had to identify scores (at least the composer’s name and approximate date, if not the actual title of the work), so it was helpful to spend some time just looking at scores and listening to recordings.

        However, I didn’t have to read anything in Anglo-Norman, so there’s that. 🙂

  2. melissa says:

    So helpful! I thought I was the only weirdo taking 3 months to revise the darn list (I’m now on my 3rd go around). Thank you for your honesty and insight!

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