Comparative Literature

What exactly is Comparative Literature? Since the discipline is rarely taught in high schools, and since Hamilton is one of the few institutions that has a department at the undergraduate level, we are often asked this question. At its most basic, Comp Lit is the study of literature across national and linguistic borders. Within this broad area, the department offers several different kinds of courses. Some (including our basic surveys CPLIT 211 and 212) explore the history of world literature, including literature from Asia and Africa as well as from Europe and the Americas. Some center instead on particular genres, such as tragedy or the detective story. Others are focused on particular authors, on particular thematic issues, on literary theory, or on the relationships between literature and other disciplines. The department is also committed to the study of film as a serious artistic medium.

Yet despite the diversity in their subject matter, all Comp Lit courses have two elements in common. First, the department's offerings work from the assumption that the features we find in any work of art are in part a consequence of the contexts in which it is produced and read. More specifically, all of our courses grow out of the principle that careful and self-conscious study of literature within multiple contexts can both refine our appreciation of aesthetic quality and increase our understanding of how historical and cultural forces influence our behavior and experiences as human beings. By learning to interpret texts, we learn to think critically about our cultural environment. Second, all of our courses, even those that are not specifically designated as writing-intensive, foster clarity of written and oral expression by demanding analytic essays and active engagement in class discussions. Most of our classes are small.

The Department of Comparative Literature works closely with other departments and programs on campus. Many of our courses are cross-listed, not only in other language and literature departments, but in Art History, Cinema and New Media Studies, History, Music, Religious Studies, Theatre, and Women's Studies as well. In addition, our writing-intensive courses serve, as entry-ways to most upper-level English courses. (For more details, see the statement from the Department of English.) A few of our 100-level courses (in Fall 2014, CPLIT, “Literature on Trials,” and CPLIT 152, "Literature and Ethics") are open to first-year students only, but all 100-level and most 200-level courses in the department are open without pre-requisite. Even our upper-level courses attract students from many different disciplines, who fuel classroom debate by offering a wide variety of perspectives on the material at hand.

No foreign language background is required for any of our courses. The concentration in Comp Lit, however, does require foreign language work through the 140 level; we encourage our students to go beyond that minimum, especially those planning to continue on to graduate work in the field. Prospective concentrators are therefore advised to begin foreign language work as soon as possible.

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(Same as History 220 and East Asian Languages and Literatures 120 and Literature and Creative Writing 236 and Classics 210.)