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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.


  • Arts and humanities at Birkbeck are ranked fifth best in London, 18th in the UK and 87th globally in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject.
  • Birkbeck’s research excellence was confirmed in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), which placed Birkbeck 30th in the UK for research, with 73% of our research rated world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • Our Department of Cultures and Languages brings together research and teaching in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish, making it a truly multidisciplinary department. We provide a lively, stimulating research environment and we have a dynamic and cosmopolitan staff and student population.
  • Our affiliated research centres, the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies (CILAVS)Birkbeck Research in Aesthetics of Kinship and Community (BRAKC), Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Research Group and the Centre for Comparative Research in European Cultures and Identities (CRECI) provide an important platform for this exchange.
  • The School of Arts is an official partner of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Opportunities for students have included a year’s free membership of the ICA, private views, discounts on all talks and events, free members' screenings and £3 cinema tickets on Tuesdays, up to 25% off ICA Artists' Editions and a monthly e-newsletter.
  • 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: £2338 pa
    Full-time home/EU students: £4407 pa
    Part-time international students: £6525 pa
    Full-time international students: £12925 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.

    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

    Follow these steps to apply to an MPhil/PhD research degree at Birkbeck: 

    1. Check that you meet the entry requirements, including English language requirements, as described on this page.

    2. Find a potential supervisor for your MPhil/PhD research. You can look at the Find a Supervisor area on this page for an overview, or search our Experts’ Database or browse our staff pages for more in-depth information. You may also find it helpful to view the research projects of our current students

    3. Contact the academic member of staff - or the department they teach in - for an informal discussion about your research interests and to establish if they are willing and able to supervise your research. (Please note: finding a potential supervisor does not guarantee admission to the research degree, as this decision is made using your whole application.) Find out more about the supervisory relationship and how your supervisor will support your research.

    4. Draft a research proposal of 2000 words. This needs to demonstrate your knowledge of the field, the specific research questions you wish to pursue, and how your ideas will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding. Find out more about writing a research proposal

    5. Apply directly to Birkbeck, using the online application link on this page. All research students are initially registered on an MPhil and then upgrade to a PhD after making sufficient progress.

    Find out more about the application process, writing a research proposal and the timeframe

    For further 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:

    • 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.
    • Professor 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).
    • Professor 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.