In the Area Essay examination, students produce a critical synthesis of key literature in their field(s) of study. For most students, the area essays provide the background literature for the thesis project.
The focus of the examination is flexible to allow students, in consultation with their committees, to obtain the necessary background for their thesis work. It may include, for example, some sources on a specific research method, a theoretical tradition, and a substantive empirical literature; or it may focus on two or three competing perspectives in a substantive subfield of sociology or social anthropology.
The examination is overseen by the Area Program Committee, which normally consists of two faculty members and is set by the end of the student's first month in the program (i.e. September 30th). The members of the Area Program Committee are usually chosen from within the department but may on occasion include one qualified person external to the department. The department’s Graduate Education Committee (GEC) must approve the composition of all Area Program Committees and the selection of a defined subject area.
By the end of October, the student, in close consultation with the Area Program Committee, shall prepare a 1-2 page area statement outlining the student's area(s) and an accompanying reading list. The reading list should consist of no more than 30 sources, that is 10 books or monographs and 20 journal articles or book chapters that are key writings in the field(s) under investigation. The reading list is expected to provide the literature review for the eventual thesis, which ordinarily focuses on a research question within the defined area.
The Area Program Committee, in collaboration with the student, shall develop 2-3 area essay questions. Answering these 'reading questions' in essay format guides the student in a critical synthesis of important themes in the literature.
Area Program Committee Chairs submit (1) the committee-approved reading list, (2) the reading questions, and (3) the area statement to the GEC for final approval. The completed area essays are due at the end of January and submitted by the student to the Graduate Secretary (one original for the student's file, plus two or three copies for committee members, depending on committee size).
Part-time students should discuss the timing of their area essays with their Area Program Committee Chairs. The area essays should total no more than 30 pages in length (double-spaced).
The Area Program Committee members agree upon a grade for the area essays, which is submitted by the Area Program Committee Chair to the GEC for review. The standard grades are A or A-. Any other grade requires a detailed written explanation from the Area Program Committee, which the GEC shall review.
Please note that late area essays shall be penalized except in cases of illness or emergency. Once the GEC has approved the grades, students are notified of their area essay grade, roughly three weeks after the submission of the area essay.