Department of Comparative Literature

  • Chair

     Eileen A. Reeves

  • Departmental Representative

    Thomas W. Hare

  • Director of Graduate Studies

    Benjamin Conisbee Baer

  • Professor

    April Alliston

    Leonard Barkan

    David M. Bellos, also French and Italian

    Sandra L. Bermann

    Claudia J. Brodsky

    Marina S. Brownlee, also Spanish and Portuguese

    Maria A. DiBattista, also English

    Thomas W. Hare

    Daniel Heller-Roazen, also Council of the Humanities

    Alexander Nehamas, also Council of the Humanities, Philosophy

    Eileen A. Reeves

  • Associate Professor

    Wendy Laura Belcher, also African American Studies

    Benjamin Conisbee Baer

    Susana Draper

    Lital Levy

  • Visiting Associate Professor
  • Assistant Professor

    Karen R. Emmerich

    Erin Yu-Tien Huang, also East Asian Studies

  • Lecturer with Rank of Professor

    Peter P. Brooks, also University Center for Human Values

    Michael G. Wood

    Froma I. Zeitlin


  • Lecturer

    Quangchen Chen, also Council of the Humanities

  • Associated Faculty

    Eduardo L. Cadava, English

    Bruno M. Carvalho, Spanish and Portuguese

    Steven Chung, East Asian Studies

    Devin A. Fore, German

    Rubén Gallo, Spanish and Portuguese

    Simon E. Gikandi, English

    Anthony T. Grafton, History

    Brooke A. Holmes, Classics

    Thomas Y. Levin, German

    F. Nick Nesbitt, French and Italian

    Sara S. Poor, German

    Efthymia Rentzou, French and Italian

    Michael A. Wachtel, Slavic Languages and Literatures

Information and Departmental Plan of Study

The Department of Comparative Literature invites students to approach literature from a broad, cross-cultural perspective. The curriculum encompasses literatures, languages, and cultures from around the world--including those of Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East--as well as interdisciplinary work of many types. While each student in the department is expected to focus his or her studies on a particular foreign language and literature, an interest in the way different literatures illuminate one another, or enter into dialogue with other disciplines, media, or forms of art, is fundamental to our work. Students motivated by a desire to understand literature in the broadest terms, as well as those interested in particular examples of literary comparison, will find an intellectual home in the Department of Comparative Literature.

The flexibility of the concentration has always been one of its strong points. With the guidance of the director of undergraduate studies and the junior and senior faculty advisers, each student creates a program of study tailored to his or her intellectual interests, choosing courses and independent projects that contribute to the whole.

Graduates successfully pursue many diverse careers, including law, medicine, business, foreign service, computing and technology, international investments and banking, creative writing, publishing and journalism, filmmaking, and education at the secondary and university levels. Many comparative literature students have gone on to graduate study in the field and now teach at a wide range of institutions in the U.S. and abroad.


Foreign Language Requirement. To enter the department, students must be sufficiently knowledgeable in one language other than English to take an upper-level course in it in his or her junior year.

Plan to read a second foreign language before graduation. Proficiency in only one non-English language is required for admission to the department. However, students who concentrate in comparative literature are also expected to study at least one other non-English language and to be able to read in the language by the time they graduate. Such language study may take place before or during their years as departmental concentrators. Some students demonstrate their competency by taking an upper-level course in the literature of that language. Other students gain this competency by taking three terms of language study at Princeton, or two terms and an intensive language course in the summer, or (especially in the case of languages that are no longer spoken) an intensive language course in the summer. A few take a foreign language test administered by the relevant department during the summer.

Introductory Courses. Students who wish to concentrate in comparative literature are advised (though not required) to take COM 205-206 or HUM 216-219 in their sophomore year or earlier.

Early Concentration

Qualified students may elect early concentration and enroll in the department at the beginning of the spring term of sophomore year. They may begin their departmental course of study as well as their independent work, if they wish.

Program of Study

Students in comparative literature select courses from a wide range of offerings throughout the University and are encouraged to construct a program of study to match their individual interests. Nine departmental courses are required of each student, chosen according to the type of comparative work pursued. COM 300, the Junior Seminar, counts as one of the nine. This course is especially designed to introduce students to the history and methodology of the field, as well as to different avenues of comparative study. Concentrators must take the course in the fall term of their junior year, unless they are studying abroad, in which case the course may be taken in the senior year instead. Two other courses must be taken within the Department of Comparative Literature (i.e., listed or cross-listed as a COM course).

Regardless of the area of study elected, all concentrators must take four reading-based courses in non-English language literature departments. These courses must move beyond a primary focus on grammar and vocabulary, and entail study of texts in the foreign language, not in translation. Students in the department have studied foreign language literatures in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Swahili, Hindi, Persian, Urdu, Turkish, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, Syriac, and Armenian. Upper-level courses, generally 300- or 400- level courses, are encouraged, but reading-intensive 200-level courses may be counted.

The remaining two courses are taken in appropriate departments throughout the University according to the student's area of study. Course selections generally fall into one of the areas described below. Each represents the study of literature in a different comparative context and includes all nine required courses:

Path A. Comparative work in literatures in at least two languages. Students in this track choose four reading-based courses in non-English language literature; three courses listed or cross-listed with comparative literature (one of which is COM 300); and two upper-level courses in literature in any other language (including English and courses on readings taught in translation).

Path B. Comparative work in literature and a traditional textual discipline (that is, in the humanities [e.g., philosophy, art and archaeology, classics, or religion] or social sciences [e.g., anthropology, history, psychology, sociology, politics, economics, or public policy]). Students in this track choose four reading-based courses in non-English language literature; three courses listed or cross-listed in comparative literature (one of which is COM 300); and two upper-level courses in the relevant textual discipline.

Path C. Comparative work in literature and another medium (that is, photography, film, art, art history, architecture, or music). Students in this track choose four reading-based courses in non-English language literature; three courses listed or cross-listed in comparative literature (one of which is COM 300); and two upper-level courses in the relevant medium. Both courses must be in the same medium.

Path D. Comparative work in literature and regional or ethnic studies (that is, African [AFS], African American [AAS], American [AMS], East Asian [EAP or EAS], European [ECS or EPS], Hellenic [HLS], Judaic [JDS], Latin American [LAS], Latino [LAO], Near Eastern [NES], or South Asian [SAS].) Students in this track choose four reading-based courses in non-English language literature; three courses listed or cross-listed in comparative literature (one of which is COM 300); and two courses in the relevant region or ethnicity.

Path E. Comparative work in literary study and the creative arts, (that is, creative writing [poetry, the novel, short stories, drama, memoir], screenwriting, translation, dance, theatrical performance, visual arts, film, or video). Students choose four reading-based courses in non-English language literature; three courses listed or cross-listed with comparative literature (one of which is COM 300); and two courses in the relevant creative art. Both courses must be in the same area of study. Students entering the department select this program provisionally. Final admission depends upon the acceptance of the creative thesis proposal by the department and by an adviser from the relevant creative arts program.

Departmental Distribution Requirement. One course, which may or may not be one of the nine courses taken for the major, must be dedicated in its entirety to historical periods, literature, or cultures before 1800 C.E.

Theory and Methods of Comparative Literature. Theoretical issues naturally arise in the study of comparative literature. They may also function as the main focus of a student's work. Theoretical issues are specifically addressed in two departmental courses: COM 303, Comparative History of Literary Theory and COM 301, Theory and Methods of Comparative Literature: Critical and Literary Theory. Upper-level courses in theory, methodology, and criticism are offered by other humanities and social science departments as well.

Independent Work

Junior Year. Concentrators must write two junior papers. The first paper, some 3,000 words in length, will normally involve the close study of a work from one of the non-English-language literatures in which the student has linguistic competence. Its purpose is to develop the student's basic skills as a reader of complex texts. The second paper should be wider in scope, and might serve as the beginnings of a senior thesis. It will normally be some 8,000 words in length.

Senior Year. Concentrators must write a senior thesis, normally between 15,000 and 20,000 words, which is comparative in nature and should reflect the student's ability to relate and analyze materials in the area chosen. Creative theses must be accompanied by a substantial critical essay.

Senior Departmental Examination

Concentrators must take the senior departmental examination, which tests their ability to analyze texts and make connections among them. The student consults with his or her senior faculty adviser to select specific titles from a broad reading list, reads them, and answers questions based on the student's particular language proficiency and chosen program of study. Students will also be asked to analyze a passage in their primary language.

Study Abroad

Summer Study Abroad. There are numerous opportunities for summer study abroad, some partially supported by University funds. A summer abroad can increase fluency in the language of concentration. It may also be an effective way to satisfy the departmental requirement of acquiring reading knowledge in a second foreign language. For further information about available programs, students should consult Princeton Summer Abroad Study Programs. Some departmental funding is available for summer language study for concentrators.

Summer Work Abroad. Princeton offers some excellent work abroad programs, including Princeton-in-France and the German summer work abroad program, to which qualified students from the department are encouraged to apply. The Office of International Programs also offers a selection of worldwide summer internships for which comparative literature students may be eligible.

Study and Work Abroad

The department strongly encourages its students to undertake a semester, a year, or a summer abroad, in order to gain fluency in the language of concentration and to pursue further study in its literature and culture. Many opportunities are available for study abroad.

Certificate Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. Since concentrators in comparative literature consider texts from an international and interdisciplinary perspective, and often with an emphasis in the creative arts, questions of translation and intercultural communication often arise. Majors in the department may write translation theses, for instance, or put theoretical problems associated with translation or cross-cultural comparisons at the center of their departmental work. In these cases, they might choose to combine the concentration with a certificate in the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication.

Certificates in University Programs. Students in comparative literature frequently choose to combine their concentration with certificates from Princeton programs and centers. Concentrators interested in these certificates should consult with the director of undergraduate studies and the director of the relevant program.