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Undergraduate Program

Comparative Literature

What is Comparative Literature?

Comparative Literature is the critical, interdisciplinary study of literatures, other media, and cultures from different geographic regions and linguistic groups and across different historical periods. In the broadest sense, it provides us with the tools to compare and contrast the experiences, identities, and material products of people in other places and other times. Central to comparative literature is a concern with how literature, culture and other media are both theorized and studied across historical periods and how different aspects of literature, culture and other media both inform and influence each other. Sensitive to the manner in which different geographic regions and linguistic groups conceive their identities in an era of globalization, students of Comparative Literature aim to increase international awareness through humanistic inquiry. In light of this increasingly global outlook, translation studies are also an important aspect of comparative literature. What does it mean to translate texts, ideas and outlooks across linguistic, ethnic and national boundaries and what happens to those texts, ideas and outlooks in the process of translation?

Students in Comparative Literature are, by definition, proficient in more than one language. They work in a variety of fields contiguous with literature, such as film, music, the visual arts, philosophy, history and anthropology. Those who study Comparative Literature acquire valuable skills in literary analysis, cultural awareness, critical thinking, as well as verbal and written communication and argumentation.

Comparative Literature provides us with the critical tools to reflect on and form intellectual opinions about:

  • Literatures and cultures of the world
  • Cultural studies and how culture creates and transforms experience, everyday life, social relations, and power structures
  • Technologies and world cultures
  • The relation between written texts, music and art
  • Performing Arts and New Media
  • Global concerns
  • World film
  • Pop culture and its products
  • Border studies
  • Postcolonialism and national identity
  • Issues of race, class, and gender seen around the world

The Comparative Literature degree at the University of Rochester offers three possible tracks, each reflecting a different aspect of comparative literature as it has been practiced at different times. Track One focuses on comparative literature understood most literally and traditionally as the study of two national literatures and cultures in relation to each other. Track Two reflects how comparative literature has also concerned itself with theoretical concepts of culture. It requires students to concentrate on one non-English language national literature and courses in culture and cultural and critical theory. Track Three looks at a non-English language national literature and culture in relation to other media (film, music, art). All three tracks require that the student have advanced proficiency in at least one other language in addition to English.

These tracks have the same foundation courses common to all MLC majors: CLTR 200 Topics in Critical Thinking and CLTR 389 MLC Research Seminar. CLTR 200 addresses and theorizes a broad topic of shared importance across the national programs in the department, such as censorship, totalitarianism, transnationalism, the city, violence, gender, race, belief, etc. It is also tasked with teaching close reading and critical analysis of literature, film or images with an emphasis on process writing focusing on the short argumentative essay.

CLTR 389 provides a survey of theories of literature and culture while introducing students to methods of research in the field. Students write a 20-page research paper on a topic from their major program. Research writing is taught in workshop fashion. MLC majors satisfy upper level writing through these two required courses. They also learn the basic skills necessary to the field: advanced level knowledge of a foreign language and culture from their national programs and, from the CLTR classes and upper level classes in the major, the basic tools of performing critical analysis on the micro (close reading / argumentative essay) and macro (research paper) levels.

Below is information on:


Major Requirements 

Track 1: Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies [10 courses/40 credits total]
2 core courses:
●       CLTR 200
●       CLTR 389: Major Seminar
8 courses in at least two national literatures
●       must have CLTR or section prefix
●       must include at least one 200-level course conducted in each MLC language area chosen (one non-MLC language area—English, Greek, Latin, etc.—may be substituted)

Track 2: Comparative Literature and Critical Theory [10 courses/40 credits total]
2 core courses:
●       CLTR 200
●       CLTR 389: Major Seminar
3-5  courses in one or more national literatures:
●       must have CLTR or section prefix
●       must include at least one 200-level course conducted in an MLC language area
3-5 courses in critical theory (literary theory, continental philosophy, visual/film theory, linguistics, GSW).

Track 3: Comparative Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies [10 courses/40 credits total]
2 core courses:
●       CLTR 200
●       CLTR 389: Major Seminar
3-5  courses focusing on at least one national literature or linguistic region
●       must have CLTR or section prefix
●       must include at least one 200-level course conducted in a MLC language area
3-5 courses courses in Music, Media, or Visual Studies (Film, Art History) courses.

Complete list of comparative literature courses >

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Minor Requirements

1 core course:
●       CLTR 200
4 electives:
●       must have CLTR or section prefix
●       must include at least one 200-level course conducted in an MLC language area

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Comparative Literature Clusters

Introduction to Comparative Literature (H1CLTR001)
This cluster is designed to provide considerable flexibility for the student who wishes to explore the relations among literature, culture, and literary and cultural theory.

Comparative Cultural Studies (H1CLTR004)
This cluster offers training in literary and cultural analysis with specific attention to national cultures. Students may choose to focus on one national tradition or they may choose a comparative framework.

Comparative Film Traditions (H1CLTR003)
This cluster is designed to encourage cross-cultural exploration of national film traditions. In consultation with the undergraduate advisor, students will select courses that treat similar or related issues within a relatively restricted historical scope.

Gender and Literary Studies (H1CLTR002)
This cluster offers a variety of feminist approaches to the study of literature and film. It allows the student to choose a historical focus on one literary tradition, or to pursue comparative analysis of national traditions.

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Study Abroad 

Students are strongly encouraged to study abroad in one or more of the national areas of their academic interest. Generally speaking, coursework undertaken abroad will count toward a major or minor. The program advisor will be able to approve specific courses before the student's study abroad.

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Contact Information

For more information about programs in comparative literature, contact the Comparative Literature Program Head:
Professor Robert Doran at

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