arrow grid linear view icon
The College of Arts Sciences Search

Spanish & Portuguese Graduate Program

You are here


Visit the Graduate School for admission information and the online application to the Ph.D. program. Please note that only online applications are accepted. Any difficulties or special requests for paper applications should be addressed directly to the Graduate School. Questions of a general nature relating to the Department of Romance Studies may be directed to Katy Kempf, Graduate Field Assistant.

Program Overview

The Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University is home to a vibrant and distinguished doctoral program in Hispanic and Lusophone literatures and cultures, with a longstanding tradition of excellence in research and scholarship. Our program brings together a dynamic group of nationally and internationally recognized faculty and graduate students.

In recent years, our faculty have received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Our graduate students have been awarded fellowships from the Provost and Society for the Humanities at Cornell, the Ford Foundation, as well as Tinker, Manon-Sicca, and FLAC grants. The high reputation and visibility of the Spanish and Portuguese program at Cornell is sustained by the active participation of both faculty and graduate students in a wide range of national and international conferences and symposia, and in its exceptional output of academic books, articles, fiction, translations, interviews and essays in specialized journals, newspapers and other media.

Interdisciplinary Study & Research

Taking advantage of the numerous opportunities for interdisciplinary study and research available throughout the university, graduate students are encouraged to develop their own individual interests and disciplinary orientations in an open and ongoing dialogue with members of the Department and the Graduate Field of Romance Studies. Taking advantage of the field structure and the special committee system, Cornell’s signature contribution to graduate education, students can expect to be exposed to a wide range of research areas, periods, and critical and theoretical frameworks: from textual analysis and cultural studies, critical, artistic, political and psychoanalytical theory, to the study of genre, gender and sexuality; from Medieval and Early Modern Studies to contemporary prose, poetry and film; from the Andes and the Southern Cone to Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, and the Latino/a presence in the USA. Our graduate students engage in a flexible course of study based on minimal general requirements that are complemented according to individual needs and experience under the guidance of the special committee. Interdisciplinary studies are a staple of our scholarly focus, and is actively encouraged in our graduate students and practiced by the faculty, making the process of developing a graduate minor and selecting a committee from members of the field and outside the department an organic process.

Intellectual Life

Hispanic and Lusophone Studies at Cornell hosts regular events throughout each academic year. The Lecture series in both Spanish and Portuguese bring international scholars to campus to give talks on their research and conduct workshops with graduate students. The annual John Kronik Memorial Lecture features the field’s most important figures. And, our Romance Studies Annual Lecture is a department-wide event that invites especially exceptional scholars to campus. Additionally, the department is home to the Romance Studies Colloquium, an intellectual forum where graduate students and faculty can discuss their work. Graduate students can take advantage of countless opportunities available in the department and throughout the university including workshops, symposia, conferences, talks, special seminars, as well as reading and writing groups.

Graduate students may engage in the activities organized around the Society for the Humanities (SHC) annual theme and are encouraged to apply for SHC fellowships in the last years of their dissertation work. Students may also apply to be on the editorial board of diacritics, which selects two highly qualified graduate students to participate in the life of the journal each year. Students may also choose to apply for participation in Cornell’s prestigious School for Criticism and Theory, which takes place every year during the summer. 

Courses & Curriculum

Please refer to the Spanish and Portuguese sections within the Romance Studies course offerings for detailed descriptions about the language and literature courses we offer.  Note that bracketed courses are not being taught this academic year.

The following list of recent graduate seminars offered by members of the Spanish and Portuguese Field offers a snapshot of faculty interests and the kinds of subjects prospective students can expect to study at Cornell:

  • Brazilian Critical Theories
  • Modern Andean Literature
  • After Borges: Literature, Politics, and the Aesthetic Act
  • The Architecture of Desire: Luis Buñuel and Film Theory
  • Space, Place and Narrative in Medieval and Early Modern Spain
  • Literature of the Conquest
  • Film, Photography, Literature: Visualizing Contemporary Spain
  • The Task of the Cleric
  • Aesthetic Theory and the Participatory Act
  • Thinking the Event: Theory, Politics, History
  • Cinema, History, Violence
  • Medieval Economics
  • Politics of Play
  • Gender/Genre

Coursework & Second Foreign Language Requirement

Students fulfill their graduate requirements by taking course work in the Department of Romance Studies and in other departments at Cornell. During the first two years, students plan a full load of courses in their major and minor fields and are expected to take a minimum of 14 courses. The normal load is four courses per semester while on first-year fellowship, and three courses per semester for those holding teaching assistantships, in the second year. In the two-year period leading up to the Qualifying Examinations, all students are required to take the special 6000-level seminar in Hispanic and/or Lusophone studies designated for each semester (one per semester, on different topics, rotated by the faculty).

All incoming students are required to take the Romance Studies Colloquium (ROMS 6100) during their first semester in the program. In the second semester, students must take Language Methodology (ROMS 5070) to prepare for their teaching assignments as TAs.

In the summer following their first year, students are encouraged to pursue related language study either at Cornell or abroad, along with independent readings in preparation for the Q exams and independent research to complement their intellectual interests.

Ph.D. Program

Special Committees, Major & Minors Fields

By the end of the third semester of study students are required to constitute a special committee made up of the chair and two (or more) additional members. 

The special committee is responsible for administering exams and supervising dissertation research and writing, and must be chaired by a faculty member of the Romance Studies Graduate Field.  Every member of the Romance Studies faculty is a member of the Graduate Field, but the Field also includes a number of faculty members with related research interests from other departments. Any member of the Romance Studies Graduate Field can serve as committee chair, whether or not he or she is a member of the department.  A student can change the chair and/or the members of their special committee at any time, and especially as their research interests evolve, up until the “A” exam. After that time, committees can be changed through special petition to the Graduate School.

Students are encouraged to take seminars in other fields to complement their coursework and training in the department.  Indeed, the Cornell Graduate School requires that all graduate students declare a minor field outside their major field of specialization. Students are welcome to declare minors in closely related fields, but in theory a student may minor in any field of study that complements his or her research program.  Student are not required to complete a specific number of courses in their declared minor field, but it must be represented by one member of their special committee. 

Members of the Graduate Field from the Department of Romance Studies

Members of the Graduate Field from Other Departments


Q Exam

Students will take their Qualifying (“Q”) Examinations at the end of their fourth semester in the program. The Q exams consist of a series of written exams, covering different literary areas and periods, based on six reading lists of canonical texts. Students must take the exam in all areas except the area of his/her specialization. After passing the Q exams, the student is no longer required to take the obligatory 6000-level seminar in Hispanic and/or Lusophone studies, though they may choose to do so. [Add Pass/Fail/Conditional Pass]

A Exam

After their Q exams, students typically dedicate one semester to the preparation of their Admission to Candidacy (“A”) Examination. The A exam can be taken anytime during a student’s third year in the program, but must be taken before a student’s seventh semester in the program. Prior to taking the “A” exam, the student must also demonstrate proficiency in a second foreign language that complements the student’s course of study. Proficiency can be demonstrated through coursework or by written examination. The A exam consists of a meeting with the student’s special committee, in which a polished paper and a prospectus of the dissertation are presented to the committee and discussed.

B Exam

Upon successful completion of the A exam, students dedicate their fourth and fifth years in the program to dissertation writing. At the end of this period, students take their Candidacy (“B”) Examination, also known as the dissertation defense. The “B” exam is the oral defense of the dissertation, and allows for a serious discussion of the student’s work with the members of the special committee, each of whom normally prepares a brief written judgment and critique of the dissertation in addition to asking oral questions and engaging the candidate in discussion of his or her work.

Applying to Ph.D. Program & Support

Admission to the program is competitive and based on an evaluation of the entire dossier of material submitted by the student, including a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, writing sample, transcripts, GRE and, if pertinent, TOEFL scores. Particular attention is paid to the student’s self-presentation, so care should be taken in writing the personal statement and in choosing the essay sent as a writing sample.

Cornell’s aid package is highly competitive nationally. All admitted students are guaranteed a five-year package that includes two years of full fellowship, the opportunity for building a strong teaching portfolio based on a range of courses through teaching assistantships, and four summers of research support.

Fellowships & Assistantships

Students receive five years of full support. The first year of coursework is covered by a Sage Fellowship from the Graduate School, and students are expected to take a full load of four courses per semester while on fellowship. The second year of Sage Fellowship is taken while a student is writing the dissertation, normally during the fourth or fifth year. During the second, third, and fourth years in the program, students receive support from teaching assistantships, which typically entail teaching responsibilities of 15 - 20 hours per week, teaching different levels of language or introductory literature courses. One of the distinguishing features of Hispanic and Lusophone Studies at Cornell is the opportunity to teach literature courses during a student’s residence in the program: the introductory survey courses in Latin American, Early Modern Iberian, or Contemporary Spanish literatures, or a Freshman Writing Seminar.