The Program in Comparative Literature seeks to foster and develop its students’ critical faculties through the analysis of literature, broadly conceived, and through the exploration of literary and critical theories that have attempted to define what “literature” is and how it can be read. Before they consider how to read a book, students in Comparative Literature ask “what is a book?” In fact, the expand and critique the notion of text as they explore a wide range of texts from different national, linguistic, and historical traditions, in different genres and media, and across disciplinary boundaries. In the process, our students learn to read texts for the ways they make meaning, the assumptions that underlie those meanings, and the political and aesthetic elements evinced in the making.

The major offers two distinct tracks: in track 1, students focus on a specific language tradition and take literature courses in the original language. In track 2, students take a wider range of literature courses, with more (potentially all) courses taught in English. Both tracks supplement work in various national literatures with additional core courses specifically geared toward comparative study. These include the program’s gateway courses in world literature, The Nature of Narrative and Introduction to Comparative Literature, plus a range of courses that juxtapose writings from different cultures and epochs in a variety of ways: courses in specific media, themes, or genres, as well as courses in literary and critical theory. Seniors take a capstone seminar that permits them to synthesize and apply what they have learned in the program, and a number of students each year have the opportunity to write an honors thesis–a year long project that involves advanced original research in multiple national literatures, in literary theory, or in literary translation. Further details about the major are available in the Course Catalog.

Generally, our students are taught to:

  • Analyze varied texts with rigor and creativity
  • Develop a critical curiosity about different texts and cultures
  • Engage with literary theory as a way of deepening and broadening their own reading
  • Present and elaborate oral and written arguments

Students with a specialty language (track 1 of the major) are also asked to:

  • Achieve an advanced level of language proficiency
  • Closely analyze texts in the target language

Forms and Documents for Majors

Major Advising Form. For majors and prospective majors, a worksheet to help you and your advisor track what you’ve taken and what you still need to take.

List of past Core Courses. For majors and advisors, a list of courses in the past few years that have been counted for core course credit. Generally these courses will satisfy core credit if and when they are offered again.

Comparative Literature Course Catalog. The Comp Lit section of the most recent Williams course catalog, with official information about the major and program policies related to study abroad, honors theses, etc.

Comparative Literature Thesis Guidelines. The text from the course catalog describing requirements and deadlines for students intending to write an honors thesis in Comparative Literature.