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Academic Program

Classroom photograph

The comparative literature major is administered by a Comparative Literature Committee made up of the coordinator and faculty representing the Classics, English Literature, Modern Languages and Literatures, Film and Media Studies, Spanish, and Theater departments. The basic requirement for the major is work in two literatures in the original language.

The major in comparative literature is designed for those students who have a love for literature and a strong desire to write and are interested in literary critical research. Not for everyone, this major assumes a fair degree of discipline, independence, and self-motivation on the part of the student, especially in the development and writing of the thesis.

In planning a comparative literature major, students should look at course listings in the Classics, English, Film and Media Studies, Modern Languages and Literatures, Spanish and Theater departments. Of courses in the Classics and Modern Languages and Literatures departments, only courses numbered 011 or above are counted as constituents of the comparative literature major. Of English courses numbered 009, only one may be counted for the major. Of courses in the Spanish department, only courses numbered 022 and above may be counted for the major.

Students applying for the major will submit to the comparative literature coordinator a proposal of integrated study that sets forth the courses and/or seminars to be taken and the principle of coherence on which the program of study is based. The student will also submit a 6- to 10-page writing sample from a previously completed course. The committee will review the proposal and the essay and advise the student.

Note: In lieu of a regular course, the Comparative Literature Committee will consider proposals for one or more research papers written as course attachments as well as proposals to substitute an extended research paper for course credit.

Requirements and Recommendations

Major in Course

  1. Ten credits in two or more literatures in the original languages, including a substantial concentration of work-normally four or five courses-in each of the literatures. The thesis (described later) does not count toward these 10 credits.

    Students working in French, German or Spanish may propose one course in translation as a part of their program, as long as it is deeply relevant to their plan of study. Because of the greater time required to gain proficiency in languages less similar to English, students working in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or Russian may propose a program partly based on courses in translation and attachments (in the original language) to literature courses taught in translation, if courses taught in the original language are not available.
  2. A 1- or 2-credit thesis of 50 to 60 pages, covering work in at least two languages, planned in the spring of the junior year and submitted in the spring of the senior year, no later than April 30.

    Before the end of the junior year, the student will submit to the committee an outline for the thesis and propose faculty advisers from appropriate departments. In some cases, the committee may ask that the thesis be written in whole or in part in the language of a literature studied other than English.
  3. An oral comprehensive examination, 1 to 1.5 hours in length, at the end of the senior year, based on the thesis and courses and seminars that the major comprises.

Major or Minor in the Honors Program


Four 2-credit preparations in at least two literatures in the original language, one of which is a thesis. One of the preparations may be used as an independent minor (in Russian or German studies, for instance) if the minor's departmental requirements have been met. Minors requiring unrelated preparations such as biology or psychology are not allowed. All four honors preparations are necessary components of the comparative literature honors major.


A 2-credit thesis of 50 to 60 pages, integrating preparations that have been done in two literatures in the original language.

Prerequisite for Admission Into the Honors Program

Successful completion of an advanced course in literature in each of the literatures of the student's program of study. A minimum grade of a B is required.

Mode of Examination

For each preparation, a 3-hour written examination prepared by the external examiner and a 30-minute oral based on the contents of the written examination.

Procedures for All Majors

All majors will meet with members of the Comparative Literature Committee before the end of the junior year to review and assess the student's program. At this time, both course and honors majors will submit thesis proposals and propose faculty advisers.

The courses and seminars that compose the comparative literature major's formal field of study will naturally differ with each major. To give some sense of the range of possibilities available, a series of sample programs is offered.