Comparative Literature (MPhil / PhD)

This research degree is ideal if you wish to engage critically with the study of comparative literature - or other cultural forms, especially in the area of visual studies - across two or more linguistic, regional or national contexts. The focus of research in the Department of Cultures and Languages is on French, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish-speaking cultures in a transnational context, and we welcome research proposals that focus comparatively on or across these areas. The Department has great expertise in a wide variety of themes both historically and geographically (in Europe, Japan and the Americas).

An MPhil/PhD is an advanced postgraduate research degree that requires original research and the submission of a substantial dissertation of 60,000 to 100,000 words. At Birkbeck, you are initially registered on an MPhil and you upgrade to a PhD after satisfactory progress in the first year or two. You need to find a suitable academic supervisor at Birkbeck, who can offer the requisite expertise to guide and support you through your research. Find out more about undertaking a research degree at Birkbeck.

In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), Modern Languages and Linguistics at Birkbeck achieved 100% for a research environment conducive to research of the highest quality, while 73% of our research was recognised as world-leading or internationally excellent. Our indicative areas of research are:

  • canon formation
  • French language literature and culture
  • German language literature and culture
  • Japanese language literature and culture
  • literary and film history
  • intermediality, intertextuality and translation across genres and media
  • Portuguese language literature and culture
  • Spanish language literature and culture
  • transnational cultural theory and criticism in all the above languages
  • visual culture.


  • Entry Requirements

    Entry requirements

    Usually a good first degree in an arts or humanities subject.

    Specific indication of research interests or outline of proposed research prior to interview.

    International entry requirements

    If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, the requirement for this programme is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 7.0, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests.

    If you don't meet the minimum IELTS requirement, we offer pre-sessional English courses, foundation programmes and language support services to help you improve your English language skills and get your place at Birkbeck.

    Visit the International section of our website to find out more about our English language entry requirements and relevant requirements by country.

    Visa requirements

    If you are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) and/or Switzerland and you are coming to study in the UK, you may need to apply for a visa.

    The visa you apply for varies according to the length of your course:

    • Courses of more than six months' duration.
    • Courses of less than six months' duration.
    • Pre-sessional English language courses.

    International students who require a Tier 4 visa should apply for our full-time courses (with the exception of modular enrolment certificates of higher education and graduate certificates), as these qualify for Tier 4 sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Tier 4 visa, you will not be eligible to enrol as a student on Birkbeck's part-time courses (with the exception of some modules).

    For full information, read our visa information for international students page.

  • Fees


    Part-time home/EU students: £2260 pa
    Full-time home/EU students: £4260 pa
    Part-time international students: £6225 pa
    Full-time international students: £12325 pa

    Students are charged a tuition fee in each year of their programme. Tuition fees for students continuing on their programme in following years may be subject to annual inflationary increases. For more information, please see the College Fees Policy.

    Fees and finance

    From 2018-19, PhD students resident in England can apply for government loans of up to £25,000 to cover the cost of tuition fees, maintenance and other study-related costs.

    Outstanding MPhil/PhD researchers are encouraged to apply for our competitive scholarships and studentships, which cover fees and maintenance. Read more and apply now

    Find out more about other research funding opportunities at Birkbeck. 

    Flexible finance: pay your fees in monthly instalments at no extra cost. Enrol early to spread your costs and reduce your monthly payments.

    Fees discounts: If you are a member of a union that is recognised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), you may apply for a 10% discount off your tuition fees.

  • Our Research Culture

    Our Research Culture

    PhD student experience

    We attract a large number of research students and hold regular PhD colloquia, research seminars and conferences at Birkbeck and other venues in the University of London. We also organise workshops in postgraduate research methods and presentation skills.

    Regular contact is maintained with past postgraduate students, and new and current students are encouraged to discuss their research programme with former students as well as with staff.

    Read more about our vibrant research culture. Find out about our current MPhil/PhD students and their areas of research.

    Training and methodology

    You will attend a research skills course in your first year of studies.

    Your supervisor will provide you with advice on your research and support on topics including:

    • planning your thesis
    • the nature of research and the standards expected
    • the primary sources and secondary literature required to support the project
    • research techniques (including arrangements for instruction where necessary)
    • questions of originality, plagiarism and publication of research results.
  • How to apply

    How to apply

    If you are considering applying for MPhil/PhD research in any of these areas, you are advised to contact the Department about your research plan before making an application.

    The research proposal forms the core of the application to undertake an MPhil or PhD, as it is the main way in which we can assess you and your research ideas. The proposal should be 2000 words (not including references). A typical proposal should include the following sections and the questions you should consider, in the order indicated:

    • introduction
    • literature review
    • clear statement of research questions
    • methods
    • analysis
    • timetable.


    This section is a broad setting of the scene for your research and can therefore be relatively short:

    • What, in general, is the research about?
    • Why, in general terms, is it academically important or interesting?
    • What are the broad questions that your research is setting out to answer?

    Literature review

    This should be a substantial part of the proposal, as it locates your proposed research in its theoretical and empirical context:

    • What other research has been conducted which has directly or indirectly attempted to address your research questions?
    • What is the theoretical basis of this research? How sound is this theoretical basis?
    • How has theory developed in this field? Where is it heading?
    • What methods have been used? What are the limitations of these methods?
    • What are the unanswered questions in the field? How can your work make a contribution to the field? What is original about what you want to do?

    Clear statement of research questions

    • What are the questions you wish to address?
    • Why are they important and interesting?
    • How do they relate to the published literature discussed above?
    • Are your questions answerable?


    • What, in broad terms, are the data collection methods that are likely to be used?
    • What types of data should be collected?
    • How will this be done?
    • What are the problems of collecting these types of data?
    • How will access be gained to participants and organisations?
    • What kind of design will be used?
    • How many studies will be conducted, and why?
    • In what ways do the methods and design answer your research questions?


    • What, in general terms, will be done with the data you collect?
    • What kinds of analytical techniques are you likely to use?
    • What are their limitations?
    • How will these analyses address and answer the research questions?


    While it is difficult to specify with certainty the course of the research, it is helpful to indicate how you see your work developing and the timescales involved. For full-time PhD students, the maximum period for completion under normal circumstances is four years; for part-time students it is seven years.

    Please note: it is possible to undertake an entirely theoretical PhD. In this case, the structure of the proposal is likely to be different and should be discussed with the admissions tutor.

    For information about applying as a research student, read our guide for applicants.

    Application deadlines and interviews

    You can apply throughout the year for commencement in October, January or April.

    If you wish to apply for funding, you will need to apply by certain deadlines. Consult the websites of relevant bodies for details.

  • Finding a supervisor

    Finding a supervisor

    A crucial factor when applying for postgraduate study in comparative literature is the correlation between the applicant’s intellectual and research interests and those of one or more potential supervisors within the Department.

    Find out more about the research interests of our academic staff:

    • Nobuko Anan, PhD: contemporary Japanese theatre and performance; contemporary Japanese popular culture; gender and sexuality theory.
    • Mari Paz Balibrea Enríquez, LicFil, MA, PhD: modern Spanish literature and cultural studies.
    • Jean Braybrook, MA, DPhil: Renaissance poetry and drama; Rémy Belleau; the epic; Montaigne; classicism; history of the emotions, especially weeping.
    • Agnes Calatayud, LèsL, MèsL, MA: cinema and postcolonial studies.
    • Damian Catani, MA, DPhil: nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature; evil in modern French thought and literature; Mallarmé; Baudelaire; visual arts.
    • Peter Damrau, MA, PhD: devotional literature of the seventeenth century; women's writing of the eighteenth century.
    • Nicolette David, MA, MA, PhD: critical theory, especially psychoanalysis and gender; drama and the novel in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; German and Austrian Modernism; Weimar Culture; film studies.
    • Carmen T. Fracchia, Laurea, PhD: early moden Spanish visual studies, with a focus on empire, 'race', politics and religion.
    • Akane Kawakami, MA, MPhil, DPhil: twentieth- and twenty-first-century French literature; orientalism and travel writing; photography and autobiography.
    • Professor John Kraniauskas, BA, MA, PhD: Latin American cultural history and theory, literature, film and politics.
    • Joanne Leal, BA, PhD: twentieth- and twenty-first-century German literature and film, especially literature/film and gender; the recent German novel; the films of Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
    • Ann Lewis, BA, MSt, PhD: eighteenth-century literature and culture; text-and-image relations (especially illustration).
    • Luciana Martins, BA, MSc, PhD: visuality and modernity in Latin America and the Caribbean; cinematic landscapes; urban encounters and performance; cross-cultural histories of tropical botany in Latin America; travel and image-making; cultural heritage in Latin America.
    • Eckard Michels, MA, PhD, Habil: twentieth-century German history, especially diplomatic and military history.
    • Maria Elena Placencia, BA, MA, PhD: (Spanish) sociopragmatics; cross- and intercultural communications; politeness phenomena.
    • Anna Richards, MPhil, DPhil: eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature, especially the novel and its medical historical context; women's writing.
    • Martin Shipway, MA, MPhil, DPhil: contemporary history and politics; decolonisation.
    • Luís Trindade, BA, MA, PhD: modern Portuguese and lusophone history, literature, film and cultural studies (especially journalism and pop culture); twentieth-century cultural history; militant art and Marxist political cultures; the long 1960s (especially the Carnation Revolution); fascism and nationalism; oral history; historiography.
    • John Walker, MA, PhD: eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature and philosophy, especially the German realist novel; the history of ideas; the relationship between literature and philosophy; the thought of the German Enlightenment and its modern reception, especially in relation to multiculturalism.
    • Alexander Weber, Staatsexamen, PhD: German literature from the seventeenth century to the present; Anglo-German cultural relations; history of ideas; literature, theology and journalism.
    • Nathalie Wourm, LèsL, MèsL, DPhil: new French writing; literature in mixed media; post-structuralist and anti-capitalist thought in contemporary literature.