Comparative Literature

Dr. Sandra Naddaff, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The undergraduate program in Comparative Literature prepares students to play an active and creative role in today’s globalized world by exploring literature and culture across languages and national borders.  Working in more than one language, our students investigate the inter-connections among literatures, cultures, and media to explore the human experience in a comparative and interdisciplinary context.  

The flexible nature of the concentration allows students to develop a program of study both within and beyond the Humanities based on their particular languages and interests. Some students craft a curriculum in Literature and the Arts, linking the study of literature with film, music, theater, digital media, or creative writing. Others design a program that connects literary study to contemporary concerns and disciplines beyond the Humanities, focusing their work on the relationship between Literature and Medicine, or Literature and Law, or Literature and Ethics, for example. 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. Our concentrators work across many languages—Hindi, French, Spanish, English, Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Arabic, Swahili—to name but a few.  We welcome work in any foreign language in which a student has an interest.  In cases where a student does not have the necessary linguistic competence to undertake literary study, we are happy to help make arrangements towards fluency.

In consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the student’s academic advisor, undergraduate concentrators develop an individually tailored and carefully structured program of study that brings together their particular interests and languages and allows them to take courses in a variety of departments across the Humanities. Central to each student’s curriculum is the tutorial program. The one-semester sophomore tutorial seminar introduces students to various disciplinary methodologies and forms of literary and cultural analysis. Junior tutorial offers students the rare opportunity to design their own reading course in which they work one on one with a tutor and ultimately develop a special field of study. 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.

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 among many others. 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 or tutorial alternative. See 2B below; 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. Alternatively, Junior concentrators in Comparative Literature can petition to substitute one or two courses in place of the junior tutorial. These courses must be from the Comparative Literature departmental listings or courses that support foreign language learning at any level.  Students must petition the Director of Undergraduate Studies by the end of the second semester of sophomore year.
    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 20-25 pages (5,000-6,250 words) is required of all students enrolled in the junior year tutorial.
  4. A senior thesis of 45-70 pages (11,250-17,500 words) is required of all concentrators in the senior year.
  5. General Examination: A 75 minute oral examination at the end of the senior year. This exam will include a thesis defense, as well as an intellectual autobiography. 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.

JOINT CONCENTRATION

It is possible to pursue a joint concentration with Comparative Literature as either a primary or allied field. Please make an appointment with the Director of Undergraduate Studies to discuss specific requirements.

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 the student's 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 it has no specific course that is a pre-requisite. Students who are interested in the program might wish to take any of the 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

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Comparative Literature 48 38 41 40 39 33 26 27 16 22
Comparative Literature + another field 1 1 2 1 2 5 4 2 5 5
Another field + Comparative Literature 2 0 1 1 2 2 3 3 3 5