Comparative Literature is a joint Bryn Mawr and Haverford program that draws on the diverse teaching and research interests of the faculty at the two colleges, especially but not exclusively those in our many departments of language and literature.
The study of Comparative Literature situates literature in an international perspective; examines transnational cultural connections through literary history, literary criticism, critical theory, and poetics; and works toward a nuanced understanding of the socio-cultural functions of literature. The close reading of literary texts and other works from different cultures and periods is fundamental to our enterprise.
Interpretive methods from other disciplines that interrogate cultural discourses also play a role in the comparative study of literature; among these are anthropology, philosophy, religion, history, music, the history of art, visual studies, film studies, gender studies, and area studies (including Africana studies, Latin American and Iberian studies, and East Asian studies).
Our students have gone on to do graduate work in comparative literature and related fields; pursued advanced degrees in business, law, medicine, and journalism; and undertaken careers in translation, publishing, international business, diplomacy, and non-governmental organizations.
- Students should attain advanced skills in a language other than English and show the capacity to analyze and interpret literary and cultural texts in the original language.
- Students should attain advanced skills in the interpretation or translation of the literary texts of two distinct national cultures, in the comparative analysis of these texts across national and/or linguistic boundaries, and in addressing, considering, evaluating, and applying specific methodological or theoretical paradigms.
- Students should make use of these skills in the senior thesis and oral exam, which should also demonstrate the capacity to:
- evaluate and discuss the merits of a critical or methodological approach.
- complete an independent scholarly project.
- bring together and analyze critically, in light of certain central issues and themes, a selection of works of literature and criticism read over the four years.
The resources at Bryn Mawr and Haverford permit the Comparative Literature program to offer an extensive variety of courses, including:
- literature courses in English and the other languages offered at the two Colleges (Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Latin, ancient Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew).
- crosslisted comparative electives taught in English.
- courses in criticism and theory.
We require comparative literature students to have a reading knowledge of at least one language other than English, adequate to the advanced study of literature in that language. Some comparative literature courses may require reading knowledge in the language as a prerequisite for admission.
Students interested in pursuing a comparative literature major should discuss their preparation and program of courses with the comparative literature chair early in their first or second year at the College.
We recommend (but do not require) that:
- majors study abroad during one or two semesters of the junior year.
- students with a possible interest in graduate school begin a second foreign language before they graduate.
- COML 200 (Introduction to Comparative Literature), normally taken by the spring of the sophomore year.
- Six advanced literature courses in the original languages (normally at the 200 level or above), balanced between two literature departments (of which English may be one): at least two (one in each literature) must be at the 300 level or above, or its equivalent, as approved in advance by the advisor.
- One course in critical theory.
- Two electives in comparative literature.
- COML 398 (Theories and Methods in Comparative Literature).
- COML 399 (Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature).
Requirements for the minor are COML 200 and 398, plus four additional courses—two each in the literature of two languages. At least one of these four courses must be at the 300 level. Students who minor in comparative literature are encouraged to choose their national literature courses from those with a comparative component.
NOTE: Both majors and minors should work closely with the c0-chairs of the program and with members of the steering committee in shaping their programs.
The major in Comparative Literature culminates in Senior Seminar (COML 398-399) with the writing of the senior thesis, followed by an oral exam. Every senior major develops a thesis topic that builds on languages, literary and cultural interests, and competencies cultivated in coursework at Bryn Mawr and Haverford or abroad; it should be broadly comparative in nature, and will normally include works in both of the student’s two chosen languages. The completion of the thesis is followed by an oral examination that covers the thesis, a selection of works the student has studied in coursework for the major, and two or three questions or issues that have been central to the student’s developing interests within the field.
A detailed description of the format, goals, and assessment criteria for the senior experience can be found in the complete departmental statement in the Catalog (PDF).
Requirements for Honors
Students who, in the judgment of the Comparative Literature Steering Committee, have done distinguished work in their comparative literature courses and in the Senior Seminar will be considered for departmental honors.
The majority of our majors study abroad for one semester or two, normally during the junior year, at programs approved by Bryn Mawr and Haverford. Courses taken in these programs can, with the approval of the chair, be counted towards the major; we seek the advice of the chairs of the language departments in determining the kind of credit given for particular courses (e.g., in deciding whether a language course should be counted as a 200-level course or a 300-level course). We also ask our students to confer with the chair of the relevant language department in advance when choosing courses abroad.
The Barbara Riley Levin Prize is awarded annually to the senior major(s) whose work merits recognition for intellectual achievement, as demonstrated in the senior thesis.