The Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan is a markedly interdisciplinary department offering a PhD program and a graduate certificate in Critical Translation Studies. The Department's faculty is diverse, multi-disciplinary, and multi-lingual, maintaining felicitous relations between the department and other university units, not only in the humanities and the social sciences but also in other schools, such as the School of Music, Theater & Dance and the Stamps School Of Art & Design. Much of the department's recent success is attributed to the flexibility of the curriculum, which encourages strongly motivated students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, all highly skilled in their linguistic abilities, to draw upon the broad range of expertise of the Michigan faculty.
We have graduate students and faculty members from all over the globe, and a deep commitment to diversity that translates into one of the most flexible programs in the country. Our professors have broad expertise from European literatures (ancient, medieval, and modern) to Mediterranean, East European, Near Eastern, Latin American, and Asian languages and cultures, as well as other media such as music, African film, and Chinese modern art. We have particular strength in the field of Critical Translation Studies, and we teach in the areas of Aesthetic and Literary Theory, Classical Reception, Gender Studies and Queer Theory, the History of the Book, Performance Studies, Creative Non-Fiction, Judaic Studies, Islam and the West, Narratology, Lyric Theory, Comparative Cultural Studies, Philosophy and Literature, Psychoanalysis, Religious Studies, Theory of Tragedy, and Theory and History of Tropes.
A Ph.D. in Comparative Literature: Why & How
Luiza Duarte Caetano
My path to Complit is pretty standard: I loved books and languages and wanted to learn about different cultures and traditions as much as possible, so I did a BA in Translation Studies back home in Brazil. My way into the Ph.D. at Michigan combines these passions with, quite frankly, the need for financial security. During my undergrad, I looked forward to having a 9-5 “normal” job where I wouldn’t have to worry about school when I got home. But once that finally happened, I found myself bored and missing the excitement of learning and doing research. That’s when I decided to apply to pursue an MA in Literature, despite the stress (academic and financial) that such a choice entailed. Higher education is free in Brazil, but fellowships are really meager. When I learned about the funding opportunities in the US, I thought it was worth at least trying to get into a Ph.D. program here. I came across Michigan through a Google search! I applied to four schools that offered 5-year guaranteed funding. I only got in here, but it ended up fitting perfectly with what I wanted and I couldn’t be happier.
Initially, I did not decide to particularly study comparative literature. After I got a master’s degree in Turkish Literature, I wanted to explore the linguistic and theoretical possibilities within the field of literature in general. I saw that literary studies and comparative literature departments could offer a wider and more flexible frame for those possibilities. Learning about literature was always personal to me as I have been also engaging with creative writing. Therefore, I considered Ph.D. to be a tool for learning about the desires, agreements, decisions, and issues around writing and creativity. Also, I thought that I would have more time to think about what I really want to do other than rushing into a job search immediately after graduation. I wanted to study in the US to be able to simultaneously gain work experience (teaching experience), support myself financially during graduate school, and get access to a wider range of materials. The University of Michigan was among my choices because the program’s structure around teaching and funding was appealing to me.
I wanted to study CompLit because I found area studies to be a bit limiting. CompLit promised critical perspectives on those fields, but also greater possibilities for interdisciplinary research. That was attractive to me. I decided to pursue a doctoral degree because I wanted to continue with the questions I asked in my senior thesis, but also to continue studying languages with a focus on literature. This was one of many ways to do that. Of course, I also thought I could gain more respect and status in my community if I were to get a Ph.D. In hindsight, that was a bit naive—and not a good reason to get a Ph.D. I chose UMich for a few reasons: (1) I really wanted to work with Prof. Anton Shammas; (2) two of my undergraduate professors completed PhDs at UMich and encouraged me to apply here; and (3) I had heard from several people that UMich’s funding and benefits for graduate students (thanks to GEO) were a cut above.
I value the flexibility and interdisciplinarity of Comparative Literature as a field and appreciate the emphasis Complit places on literary theory and language learning. For my graduate studies, I was looking for a program that provided training in ancient and modern languages and that encouraged scholars to look beyond national and temporal borders to make connections across time and space. I also love being in classes where my colleagues and I are all enthusiastic and inspired by the material and where we are energized to discuss new ideas and avenues of research. I’ve found all of that in Complit. Michigan’s Ph.D. program offered both the opportunities for language study as well as the kind of open, interdisciplinary structure that I was looking for. I knew that at Michigan, I could continue studying Ancient Greek and Latin and work closely with the Department of Classics as well as pursue research in modernist English literature, modern Greek literature, and women’s and gender studies. Coming into the program, I also knew that I wanted to teach a variety of different courses during my time as a grad student. I was excited by the idea that, as a Ph.D. student in Complit at Michigan, I could design and teach my own courses like Complit 122. I find it rewarding not only to pursue my own research but also to share some of what I have learned with my students and make them excited about becoming better readers and writers. Michigan also made me feel both financially and academically supported. The faculty members in the department expressed excitement about my research and encouraged me to pursue my interests in classical reception studies. I also like that Michigan has a strong graduate student union, which helps guarantee that we have a collectively bargained labor contract and that our wages, workplaces, hours, and benefits are fair and equitable.
I saw Comp-lit as an opportunity to explore different avenues to my future scholarly "identity." It seemed like the perfect way to expand the knowledge I had acquired in my MA, but also go on to learn not only about different works of literature and cultures, but also about various genres and mediums, such as film, photography, and architecture. I was particularly drawn to the possibility of working on my current linguistic skills and even learning more languages. I did not have a moment of epiphany, but rather a gradual process through which I became more and more engaged with, and involved in, research and teaching activities during my MA. I realized that all I wanted to do was more of this---read, study, explore, write, and teach. The framework provided by Ph.D. programs seemed like the perfect place to do just that. Firstly, I found in U-M the best teachers and researchers in the fields I wanted to study, and they were keen to take me on and work with me on the subjects I'm interested in. Beyond that, the program is well-structured, offering more guidance and mentoring than others programs I was considering so that I could fully envision the trajectory of my studies. Finally, the funding opportunities for language studies and research were excellent, whereas in other universities such opportunities are much fewer and more competitive, suggesting that I might not even have access to these resources at all.