Students motivated by a desire to study literary art in the broadest sense of the term will find an intellectual home in the Program in Comparative Literature. The Program in Comparative Literature gives students the opportunity to develop their critical faculties through the analysis of literature across cultures, and through the exploration of literary and critical theory. By crossing national, linguistic, historical, and disciplinary boundaries, students of Comparative Literature learn to read texts for the ways they make meaning, the assumptions that underlie that meaning, and the aesthetic elements evinced in the making. Students of Comparative Literature are encouraged to examine the widest possible range of literary communication, including the metamorphosis of media, genres, forms, and themes.
Whereas specific literature programs allow the student to trace the development of one literature in a particular culture over a period of time, Comparative Literature juxtaposes the writings of different cultures and epochs in a variety of ways. Because interpretive methods from other disciplines play a crucial role in investigating literature’s larger context, the Program offers courses intended for students in all divisions of the college and of all interests. These include courses that introduce students to the comparative study of world literature and courses designed to enhance any foreign language major in the Williams curriculum. In addition, the Program offers courses in literary theory that illuminate the study of texts of all sorts.
Note: the English Department allows students to count one course with a COMP prefix as an elective within the English major.
The Comparative Literature major consists of nine courses in literature (broadly conceived) or relevant theoretical approaches, and a Senior Portfolio (COMP 490; thesis-writers substitute COMP 494). All Comparative Literature majors take COMP 111: Nature of Narrative. Students considering the major are strongly encouraged to take COMP 111 in their first or second year. In exceptional circumstances, a student may substitute an upper-level course with the approval of the Comparative Literature Advisory Committee. Five (or more) of the remaining courses must include, as at least half of their content, material originally written in a language other than English (non-English texts may be read in the original language or in translation) OR be heavily focused on comparison across different media. Note that courses not carrying the COMP prefix may also be eligible for major credit. Two of the courses taken for the major must be designated as Writing Skills courses and two must be at the 300-level or above.
The Senior Portfolio is an assembly of the student’s work that explores their intellectual development through the course of their study of Comparative Literature. The student will select three pieces of work from previous courses taken for the major and tie them together through an eight-to-ten-page unifying essay or other creative project. There are a range of possibilities for this aspect of the portfolio, including more traditional analytic essays and other forms of creative artistic expression (fiction, poetry, visual arts, etc.). For thesis writers, the thesis replaces the Senior Portfolio. Majors will present their Senior Portfolios during a symposium soon after spring break in their final spring semester. Students should select a Senior Portfolio advisor and submit an initial proposal to the advisor and to the chair in the semester preceding (fall semester of senior year for students graduating in June, and fall semester of junior year for students graduating in December), and must enroll in COMP 490 in their final spring semester.
The Degree with Honors in Comparative Literature
Please visit this page regarding the Senior Thesis for more information.
Forms and Documents for Majors
Comparative Literature 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.
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.