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MA Thesis Literary Studies (track Literature in Society. Europe and Beyond)


Admission requirements

Students can start work on their thesis once they have earned at least 20 EC for MA courses. But of course you may start thinking about a topic during first term.


In order to graduate, students must have completed 40 EC worth of courses and have written the master’s thesis, consisting of approximately 17,000 words. The thesis needs to be written under the supervision of a lecturer affiliated with the LUCAS (Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society) and evaluated by the supervisor and a second reader. Students are free to choose their supervisor and suggest a thesis topic, as long as it fits the profile of ‘Literature in Society’ (for details, see ‘Choosing a topic’)

Aim of the Master’s Thesis

A thesis is an academic essay, written by the student in consultation with the supervisor. The thesis must show that the student is capable of summarizing and analyzing existing literature in a critical manner, formulating one or more well-defined and motivated research questions and of conducting independent research.

The roles of the supervisor and the advisory commission

‘Literature in Society’ has a small advisory commission consisting of three members of staff. It is there to advise you especially in the first stage about the choice of a topic and help you find the right supervisor. And also after that, if you have any general questions on contents.
Once you have found your supervisor, you will elaborate the specific topic and the research method with him/her and write your thesis under his/her direction.

Choosing a Topic

Students are encouraged to select the topic of their thesis themselves, in accordance with the profile of ‘Literature in Society’. This means that:
1) The topic has a directly or indirect relation with a social and/or political issue.
This does not mean that you should work on Realist, ‘politically involved’ texts. A Surrealist text or film is a work of imagination but as such, it was meant to play a political role. Or, to take another example, detective stories root in a new awareness of urban space.
2) Topics directly or indirectly related to the interactions of European and non-European literature are welcomed. This second point is not a must, but you may take it into account when thinking about a topic. It may, but does not necessarily mean involving postcolonial literature.

Students first submit their ideas to the advisory board, who may advise a supervisor, with whom the student will then discuss the chosen topic and potential research question(s). The supervisor, also known as ‘first reader’, will be able to recommend relevant literature.

Submitting the Thesis Proposal

Once the student has selected a topic, formulated a research question and put together a provisional bibliography, the Thesis Proposal form can be completed and signed by the student and the supervisor (see Graduation Literary Studies). The Thesis Proposal form should include the title of the thesis and a description of the topic. The form must be submitted to the Board of Examiners (via the coordinator of studies of the specialization) no later than three months before the planned graduation date (see the deadlines stated in the form). The Board will then inspect the thesis proposal to ensure that it is of an appropriate academic level.

Research and Writing

Students should start out by formulating a clear plan for the structure of the thesis, in consultation with their supervisor. Only then can they begin writing. Questions of style will only become relevant at a later stage.
Keep in mind that information which may not at first be included in the thesis might be useful later on, e.g. during the thesis defence. It is important to be precise and systematic in writing down one’s sources to avoid wasting time and looking up the sources and notes again at a later stage. For more details, see the “Thesis Guidelines ‘Literature in Society’”.

Handing in the Thesis

It is advisable to hand in the chapters of the thesis one by one and solicit comments from the supervisor. Once the thesis is approved by the supervisor, the final version can be sent to the second supervisor for assessment. An electronic version should be sent to the coordinator of studies. Check with your supervisor for guidelines regarding format of thesis lay-out and style of bibliographic references. For practical information on the thesis repository and the graduation procedure, see

The supervision period and thesis submission deadline

In principle, the thesis supervision period is between 1 September and 30 June of each year. Between 1 July and 31 August there is no thesis supervision, in principle. If you wish to graduate by the end of the academic year, the deadline for submitting an MA thesis is the 1st of July of that year. The final version of your thesis needs to be submitted on this date at the very latest. If you have not completed your thesis by this date, you will have to enrol again in the new academic year to complete your thesis.


The supervisor and second reader decide together about the final grade. In assessing the quality of the thesis, the following aspects play an important role:

  • The originality of the research question

  • Formulating and analyzing the research question;

  • The critical analysis of source materials;

  • Integration of secondary literature into the argument;

  • Language use, structure and style;

  • The degree of independence displayed during the research and supervision process.

Thesis Defence (1/2 hour)

Once the final version of the thesis has been submitted, both thesis readers meet the student for an oral thesis defense, during which the student is expected to provide adequate answers to the questions related to the thesis stated by the thesis readers. The defence may influence the thesis grade, which may be raised or lowered by 0.5 points at the discretion of the examiners. The graduation ceremonial is held separately from the defence, usually three times a year.