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1610s, "discussion, debate," from Latin dissertationem (nominative dissertatio ) "discourse," noun of action from past participle stem of dissertare "debate, argue, examine, harangue," frequentative of disserere "discuss, examine," from dis- "apart" (see dis- ) + serere "to arrange words" (see series ). Sense of "formal, written treatise" is 1650s.
Before the 1950s, the now-abolished Doctorat d'État degree was called Doctorat ès lettres  (in France, "letters" is equivalent to " humanities ").
See what the College of Arts and Letters is all about.
The Australian National University , Monash University and the University of New England once offered the ., but have both discontinued the course. Monash, however, retained the Bachelor of Letters as a postgraduate arts degree.