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Introduction to Comparative Literature

The Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan is one of the oldest and best established centers for the study of comparative literature in the country. Founded in 1937, our program is a magnet for innovative research and undergraduate and graduate teaching. Located along the “Comp Lit Corridor” on the second floor of Tisch Hall, our department is a place where faculty and students from different departments encounter each other. We encourage a global perspective and an interdisciplinary approach to literary studies across linguistic, geographical, cultural, and historical boundaries. Embracing ancient and modern periods of world literature, the interests of our faculty and students encompass multipleclanguages and diverse areas in the humanities today. We work in more than 35 ancient and modern languages.

Comp Lit faculty are leaders in the American Comparative Literature Association and Modern Language Association. Our graduate students, whose dissertations have received the ACLA's Charles Bernheimer Prize and ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award, edit Absinthe: World Literature in Translation and have been organizing the annual conference CLIFF for nearly 30 years. For more on our history, see 85 Years of Comp Lit at Michigan. For our latest news and updates, read our annual newsletter

As a department devoted to studying languages and cultures across national borders, we treasure the differences between languages, cultures, individuals, groups, and communities. We understand the humanities as work to make the world humane, to make our encounter with the world in which we dwell more legible, to recognize its complexity and to say clearly what has to be said, especially in uncertain times. We acknowledge that the University of Michigan resides on the occupied territories of the Three Fires Peoples–the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi–and we recognize the global struggle for self-determination of Indigenous communities. We pledge to work towards combating discrimination, racism and all forms of structural and concrete violence levelled at Asian, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Muslim, and diverse immigrant communities as well as all other groups suffering the effects of centuries of oppressive regimes.

Graduate Students in Comparative Literature are actively engaged in the critical exploration of language, reading, writing, translation, critical theory, cross-cultural studies, and comparative methodologies. We encourage experiments in pedagogy and learning beyond disciplinary boundaries, and our undergraduate program offers flexibility for students to combine a major in Comparative Literature with Study Abroad or with majors in other departments. Students also have the opportunity to work with faculty across many departments, as an integral part of their studies in Comparative Literature. The department offers a graduate certificate in Critical Translation Studies. Students in Comparative Literature may also enhance their degrees with certificates offered by other programs, including African and African Diaspora Studies, Asian Studies, Film, Television, and Media, Judaic Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Latino/a Studies, LGBTQ Studies, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Museum Studies, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Science Technology & Society, and Women’s Studies.

Faculty Members in Comparative Literature all have joint appointments with other departments, giving us the opportunity to cultivate collaboration and dialogue with colleagues and students across the university. The expertise of our faculty crosses and interlocks, creating not one but many overlapping patterns that collectively constitute a distinctive identity for the department, both at Michigan and nationally. The special areas of strength of our department include: 

Cross-Border Studies The faculty and students of the Department question the limit of “national literature” models, both by emphasizing diversities within national entities and by attending to elements that cutacross national boundaries. We also emphasize a comparative approach to postcolonial studies, minority cultures, and area studies, with faculty involved in African Diaspora Studies, Japanese Studies, Francophone Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Balkan Studies (including Modern Greece and Turkey), Judaic Studies, Mediterranean Studies, Middle East Studies, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and South Asian Studies. A growing number of our faculty write and teach on the Global South and South-South comparisons.

Critical Translation Studies Among our faculty are award-winning translators and committed translation theorists, who think critically about translation as a movement between languages and cultures. Our graduate students have published translations of novels and poetry collections as well, and we regularly offer graduate courses in the history, theory, and practice of translation, including a Translation Workshop (COMPLIT 580) and a Seminar in Translation (COMPLIT 780). Our curriculum offers an opportunity for undergraduate students to learn more about literature and translation as well, in Writing World Literatures (COMPLIT 122), Great Books in World Literatures (COMPLIT 222), and Translating World Literatures (COMPLIT 322).

Theoretical Literacies A hallmark of the department is the theoretical sophistication of its members, allowing us to explore cultural knowledge through diverse prisms. Faculty and graduate students work at the cutting edge of theories of literature, history, genre, gender, sexuality, psychoanalysis, representation, postcolonialism, figurality, posthumanism, religion, secularism, ethics, human rights, literature and law, the relationship between text and image, film, architecture, democracy,and material culture.

Classical Reception Studies Many of our faculty have one foot in classical antiquity and another in post-classical periods, and are active in the field of classical reception studies.  Department faculty work closely with Contexts for Classics, a faculty consortium that aims to rethink classical studies from various critical, historical, pedagogical, and creative perspectives. This interdepartmental initiative brings together colleagues from different disciplines and departments at Michigan, across the country, and internationally. 

Literature, Aesthetics, and the Arts Our department has a deep and abiding involvement in poetry and poetics, history and theory of aesthetics, and the integration of other art forms (including painting, performance, music, architecture, film and new media) into the study of Comparative Literature. We cultivate critical and creative connections with the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Media Union, and the schools of Art and Design, Architecture, Music, Theatre, and Dance. Many of our faculty and students pursue various forms of critical and creative writing, both in academic and non-academic contexts.