History of Program
History and Organization of the Program
The Comparative Literature program promotes an active interest in the way different national literatures show affinities or mark cultural differences across geographical boundaries. By systematically juxtaposing texts or similar aesthetic manifestations in multiple languages, students and scholars in this field enter into dialogue with other cultures, traditions, disciplines, media, or forms of art. Such study often relates literary expressions to each other by focusing on the common ground or important differences; or it tracks the influence of works of literature from different languages through historical epochs or artistic movements. This way of studying literature in world contexts entails keen awareness of the necessity, including the merits and constraints--of translations of literature from the source languages.
Students who want to study literature of all periods and regions from a “comparative” perspective typically begin by learning at least one foreign language. The comparative nature of the discipline requires students to choose a second language, which can be another foreign language or English. When declaring their major, students should already have completed courses on the intermediate level of language acquisition so they can proceed to take literature courses in the original language. In their junior year, majors begin taking introductory core courses while continuing to study one or two languages on the advanced level; through careful selection of electives and required courses, students acquire a set of skills that allows them to compare literary texts from a theoretically informed perspective and to perform the analytical tasks necessary to plan and develop independently a writing project on the advanced level of language proficiency.
A required colloquium and seminar offer additional orientation and create close familiarity with the discipline’s methods and directions, based on the main tenet that studying literary or theoretical works beyond geographical boundaries enables and facilitates cross-cultural understanding as well as an appreciation of meaningful juxtapositions between literature and other arts or disciplines.
Since the founding of the program at Barnard College, Comparative Literature has evolved to include not only Western and ancient languages but Asian languages and non-traditional fields of cultural expression as well. The program, in close cooperation with the various literature departments and programs, offers a wide array of courses in literature, literary theory, and cultural studies. The Barnard faculty offering core courses and electives includes members of professorial rank in the foreign languages and English, but also in Africana Studies and Women Studies.
As members of a small-sized department, all faculty and undergraduates enjoy frequent opportunities for close contact in and outside of the classroom. Therefore, students can establish a close rapport with their advisors and receive the kind of guidance that also allows conversations about possible careers, internships in New York, or graduate program and job-search preparation.
Studying Comparative Literature means to establish new relationships across and among different disciplines, languages and regions of the world. Students benefit from the rewards of a program that builds on its curricular diversity and a dedicated faculty who make themselves available throughout the semester.