Comparative literature at Barnard College is the study of literary and closely related cultural manifestations across linguistic and cultural boundaries. As a program that builds on the strengths and dedication of faculty teaching in various departments across the campus, Comparative Literature is distinct in its conviction that literary and cultural manifestations are best studied in an international context. The program gives students and faculty a unique opportunity to study literature in world contexts and establish intellectually stimulating relations among languages, cultures, and literary traditions, in order to understand the methodical comparison of texts as a fruitful dialogue. Due to our close affiliation with Columbia University, undergraduate students in Comparative Literature can acquire proficiency in a great variety of foreign languages, including some which are presently not taught at Barnard College.
The undergraduate programs in all departments representing a foreign language or English at Barnard College enable students concentrating in Comparative Literature to study a generous range of literary works tied to several national or regional literatures that interest them. Unlike other language-oriented departments, Comparative Literature is committed to forming a transnational perspective that allows students to connect and combine two literatures. It is an interdisciplinary enterprise geared toward exploring boundaries; therefore it routinely crosses borders and investigates literary, cultural and social relations between communities of readers, writers, and speakers. For this reason, majors in Comparative Literature are encouraged to read widely from different literatures and to develop a comprehensive view of important cultural issues.
Several foundation courses in the program are designed to introduce students to the discipline and familiarize them with classical traditions and questions of method, translation, and comparison. Through parallel readings of exemplary texts from several literatures, the program aims at a deeper understanding of the differences and similarities among individual works and aesthetic concepts; authors or movements; theories and intellectual contexts; or forms and genres from a critical perspective.
We believe that the program is an ideal venue to build and maintain bridges between distinctly different literary and cultural spheres. Through the conscious and methodical effort to transgress national boundaries, we are committed to examine, interpret and critically discuss international cultural relations while at the same time providing students with the skills and knowledge to navigate between two languages and traditions. We seek to accommodate a broad array of individual interests in the different regions of the world and foster a learning environment that focuses on the histories, theories and practices of cultural exchange. By studying Comparative Literature, one becomes aware of how languages serve as indispensable tools for appreciating the values and traditions of the world’s disparate societies and recognizing the concerns of individuals as expressed in literature.