Comparative Literature

Dr. Sandra Naddaff, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The undergraduate concentration in Comparative Literature offers students the opportunity to design a program of study that works across languages, cultures, and media in a comparative and interdisciplinary context. The open, flexible nature of the concentration allows students to develop an individualized program of study that incorporates literary and cultural analysis in the exploration of any number of fields and disciplines both within and beyond the Humanities. Some students, for example, develop a curriculum in Literature and the Arts, linking the study of literature with film, music, theater, digital media, or creative writing. Others design programs that connect literary study to contemporary concerns and disciplines beyond the Humanities, focusing their work on the relationship between Literature and Medicine, for example, or Literature and Law, or Literature and Ethics. Still other students find in the study of Comparative Literature a place for the comparative study of multiple literatures, World Literature, and translation, or the examination of aesthetics, philosophy, and literary and cultural theory. In short, the undergraduate program in Comparative Literature provides an ideal home for students who wish to craft a comparative and interdisciplinary concentration that is embedded in the Humanities but has the potential to reach beyond.

In consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the student’s academic advisor, undergraduate concentrators develop an individually tailored but carefully structured program of study that brings together their particular interests and skills and allows them to take courses in a variety of departments across the Humanities. Central to each student’s curriculum is the tutorial program. During the sophomore year, students participate in a small, group tutorial in which they are introduced to various disciplinary methodologies and forms of literary and cultural analysis through the study of works from different languages, periods, genres, and media. Junior tutorial offers students the rare opportunity to design their own reading course in which they work one on one with a tutor. During the fall semester, students read broadly according to personal interest and inclination, and explore possible areas of specialization. At the end of the term, they define their special field of study, which they explore in depth during the spring semester. Senior tutorial is again an individual course of study largely devoted to the research and writing of the senior thesis, which is required of all students. All tutorials are reading and writing intensive, and form the core around which a student develops a larger field of study. For more information about students’ special fields and senior thesis projects, please see the “Undergraduate Concentration” link on our website, www.complit.fas.harvard.edu.

Given the comparative nature of our program, the knowledge of more than one language and national literature is essential. Our students work in a multitude of languages—Hindi, French, Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Arabic, Swahili—to name but a few. We welcome work in any language in which a student has interest and is able to take minimally 3 courses in which they work in the original language. In cases where a student does not have the necessary linguistic competence to undertake literary study, we are happy to help make arrangements to acquire the necessary proficiency through continued course work or summer study.

Students with degrees in Comparative Literature develop habits of mind that serve them well in any number of professional endeavors. The ability to write well, to read critically, to argue analytically, and to speak eloquently, translates fluently to a variety of fields. Our graduates include doctors, lawyers, literary scholars, cultural critics, investment bankers, actors, novelists, consultants, and journalists to name but a few. For a fuller list of our alumni, please consult the “Lit alumni” link on our web site, www.complit.fas.harvard.edu.

In order to help students determine whether they can meet their academic and intellectual goals in our department, we ask interested students to apply to the concentration during the fall of the sophomore year, although later applications will also be considered whenever possible. Application includes submitting a brief statement of interest and essay, as well as a conversation with two members of the department.

REQUIREMENTS
14 courses (56 credits)

  1. Required Courses:
    1. Comparative Literature 97; Comparative Literature 98a and 98b; Comparative Literature 99a and 99b (see item 2, Tutorials).
    2. Three courses from among the courses listed under Comparative Literature in the course search in courses.my.harvard.edu, including those courses cross-listed under Literature. Each of these courses must be passed with a grade of B– or above.
    3. Three courses in one or more non-English literatures, each passed with a grade of B– or above. Note: A student may petition the Director of Undergraduate Studies to take one non-English course at the advanced language level for concentration credit in this category.
    4. Three courses drawn from a variety of related departments. These may include, but are not limited to, additional courses in Comparative Literature; English literature; foreign or classical literatures or folklore and mythology (including additional courses in the literature chosen under 1c above); philosophy; visual and environmental studies; studies of women, gender, and sexuality; linguistics. Students should consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies to determine whether a specific course will count for concentration credit in this category.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: Comparative Literature 97. A grade of B- or above is required.
    2. Junior year: Comparative Literature 98a and 98b. Graded SAT/UNS. A grade of SAT in both semesters is required in order to continue on to Comparative Literature 99a and 99b.
    3. Senior year: Comparative Literature 99a and 99b (the writing of the senior thesis). Graded SAT/UNS. In order for a student to receive a grade of SAT for the first semester of senior tutorial, one chapter of the thesis must be submitted by the end of the semester in which the thesis work is begun.
  3. A junior essay of 5,000-6,250 words is required of all students in the junior year.
  4. A senior thesis of 11,250-17,500 words is required of all concentrators in the senior year.
  5. General Examination: A 60 minute oral examination at the end of the senior year. This exam will include a thesis defense, as well as discussion of texts and topics chosen by the student. The examination committee will consist of three members, and will ideally include the student’s junior tutor and one reader of the senior thesis.
  6. Study Abroad: Comparative Literature encourages study abroad for one semester of the junior year. Students who study abroad take only one term of junior tutorial, although they must still complete the junior essay and 14 total concentration courses.

ADVISING

Each Comparative Literature concentrator is assigned a tutor who also functions as the student’s adviser. In the sophomore year, this tutor is assigned by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, but in following years a student may either request a tutor from among the faculty members of the Department of Comparative Literature and the Tutorial Board; or the student will be assigned a tutor (generally a member of the Tutorial Board) by the Director of Undergraduate Studies according to his or her interests. Generally, this tutor changes from year to year as the student’s program and interests change. In certain cases, however, a student may request the same tutor for more than one year.

 

The department offers a variety of courses that might be of interest to freshmen and first-semester sophomores, but has no specific course that is a pre-requisite. Students who are interested in the program might wish to take Comparative Literature 103: Grounds for Comparison, or any of the other 100-level courses listed in Comparative Literature in the course search in courses.my.harvard.edu. Students interested in Comparative Literature might also wish to take a language course in their language of choice, if they wish to improve their foreign language competency.

For up-to-date information on advising in Comparative Literature, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

Freshmen interested in finding out more about Comparative Literature should contact Dr. Sandra Naddaff by email (snaddaff@fas.harvard.edu) or should make an appointment to see her during office hours by calling 617-495-4186.

For general information contact Dr. Sandra Naddaff, Director of Undergraduate Studies; or Ms. Isaure Mignotte, Comparative Literature Program Coordinator, at Dana Palmer House, 617-495-4186.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators20082009201020112012201320142015
Comparative Literature4838414039332627
Comparative Literature + another field11212542
Another field + Comparative Literature20112233