Reed College Catalog

Comparative literary study crosses the borders of individual national canons to explore works from different languages, cultures, and periods. This may involve analyses of the relationships between literature and other artistic media, studies of genre, or reflections on different kinds of reading and interpretation. It may also take the form of interdisciplinary research grounded in connections between literary studies and other disciplines in the humanities or the social sciences.

By the middle of the sophomore year, each comparative literature major will develop an individual plan of coursework in consultation with a member of the faculty committee overseeing the program. This can take one of two forms:

a) The student selects a group of eight courses in the Division of Literature and Languages that facilitate the study of a particular theoretical or historical problem (e.g., the concept of translation or the relationship between Enlightenment and romantic understandings of poetry) or that focus on a subject best explored through the juxtaposition of two or more national canons (e.g., the twentieth-century realist novel in Latin America and the United States). These eight courses must be at the 300 level or higher (although up to two 200-level English classes may count toward the eight); three of these literature courses must be at the 300 level or higher in a language other than English.

b) The student designs an interdisciplinary track that includes at least six literature courses in the Division of Literature and Languages (two of these literature courses must be at the 300 level or higher in a language other than English) and three or more courses in an allied field. This could mean a group of classes from a standing department (e.g., anthropology, art history, history, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, religion, or theatre), or it could involve several courses from different departments united by a common concern or line of inquiry (e.g., work in film studies, Jewish studies, or women’s studies).

All majors must pass a junior qualifying exam before starting the thesis. This exam will be tailored to each student’s area of study.

The comparative literature program is overseen by a faculty committee.

Requirements for the Major

  1. Introduction to Comparative Literature (Comparative Literature 201).
  2. The student must fulfill one of the following two programs of study:
    1. Eight literature courses in the Division of Literature and Languages at the 300 level or higher (although up to two 200-level English classes may count toward the eight); three of these literature courses must be at the 300 level or higher in a language other than English.
    2. An interdisciplinary track that includes at least six literature courses in the Division of Literature and Languages (two of these literature courses must be at the 300 level or higher in a language other than English) and three or more courses in an allied field.
  3. Introduction to Literary Theory (Literature 400) or a similar theory course with broad coverage.
  4. The standard divisional requirement in the Division of Literature and Languages of one unit in the Division of the Arts. (The major requirements ensure that the divisional requirement of two units of a literature not in translation will necessarily be fulfilled.)
  5. Comparative Literature 470 (thesis).

Recommended Coursework
Two semesters of a 200-level humanities course; second-year competence in a second foreign language.

Comparative Literature 201 - Introduction to Comparative Literature

Full course for one semester. This class introduces students to the study of literature across linguistic, cultural, and historical boundaries. We will examine the concept of literature itself, asking whether it is a historically—or culturally—specific notion. We will also consider the ways in which our practices of reading and interpretation have to change once we put aside the organizing principles of national literary traditions. In each session, we will analyze one or more literary works in conjunction with essays by theorists and critics. Key topics will include interdisciplinarity, intermediality, the relationship between aesthetics and politics, translation, colonialism and post-colonialism, and world vs. global literature. Conference.

Comparative Literature 470 - Thesis

Full course for one year.