The Concept of Comparative Literature:

No single definition of Comparative Literature would easily satisfy any two scholars associated with the discipline. Not surprisingly, then, students considering a major in this department often have diverse conceptions of the kind of study they are embarking upon. Indeed, comparative literature is a complex discipline in large part because of the diversity of interests of the people engaged in it. As a major in the department, you will be asked to do a number of different things which reflect the complexities behind the concept of Comparative Literature.

1. You will be asked to familiarize yourself with literature from at least two different national traditions, studied in their original languages. In its most obvious sense, Comparative Literature might be seen to start here. By studying different literary traditions, you will begin to be able to imagine what might constitute differences or similarities between those literatures.

2. You will be asked to think about literature not only from differing national traditions, but from widely separated historical periods as well. Thus Comparative Literature might also involve imagining what historical differences in the conception of literature teach us about its own nature or its function.

3. You will be asked to think about what the verb compare means when applied to a specific group of authors or texts from different literatures (Comparative Literature 190). What do you compare when you compare authors, or literature, or specific works of literature? What theoretical problems do various acts of comparison raise?

4. You will be asked to think theoretically about the idea of literature itself, about, for example, some of the following questions. How and why is literature divided into different genres or different periods? How is literature situated within a given society? How is literature different from other domains such as philosophy or psychoanalysis or politics? Students interested in literary theory will find much in the study of comparative literature to interest them, for example the challenge of confronting Western literary theory with previously unexplored non-Western literatures.

Why Comparative Literature?

One of the advantages of a major in such a field as Comparative Literature, formed out of a variety of different concerns about literature, is that it allows a student, within a set of general requirements, to follow a program of study which contains a great deal of freedom, a program which can be greatly shaped by the student’s own interests. If you are interested in relations between various literatures, in literatures not often studied or not studied in conjunction, in literature studied in relation to philosophy or politics or the other arts or other disciplines, or in the relationship between film and literature, you may be able to design a program within the Department of Comparative Literature which will help you to pursue your interests.

If you are thinking of continuing your education in a professional school of some sort, a Comparative Literature major can both give you an excellent general education in the humanities and leave you the flexibility to pursue your other fields of interests — in the Sciences or Social Sciences, for example. Majors in Comparative Literature at Berkeley usually experience no difficulty in preparing themselves for graduate study in Law, Business, Librarianship, and other professional curricula.

A Comparative Literature major is also excellent preparation for an academic career. Graduates from the Department of Comparative Literature at Berkeley currently teach English, Latin, and modern foreign languages at the the high school level. Comparative Literature majors are also well prepared for graduate study and research in both Comparative Literature and the literatures in which they have specialized. Holders of graduate degrees in Comparative Literature teach in Departments of English, Classics, Modern Foreign Languages, Near Eastern Studies, Oriental Studies, and Comparative Literature at various colleges and universities.

Who May Major in Comparative Literature?

Anyone who is interested in literature and has the linguistic aptitude to pursue the study of a foreign language beyond the sophomore level may major in Comparative Literature at Berkeley. The major program is especially suitable for those students who have the preparation necessary to undertake junior or senior work in more than one department of instruction.

How to Major in Comparative Literature:

If you are thinking of majoring in Comparative Literature, you should meet with a departmental major adviser at your earliest opportunity, and tentatively map out a program for yourself within the major. You will probably discover that the requirements are flexible enough to suit you, and may find it to your advantage to ask the departmental adviser to suggest relevant freshman and sophomore courses.

Majors must see the Student Affairs Officer or a faculty adviser each semester to plan a program for the coming year.  Before calling upon your adviser, please familiarize yourself with the basic requirements listed below. Keep in mind that most of these requirements must be interpreted according to literatures in which you plan to work and your own long-range plans: you are strongly advised to read everything in this pamphlet before deciding what requirements apply to you and what course of study seems most suitable to your aims and aptitudes.

Major Requirements in Various Literatures:

1. Only one of the various series of major field requirements (see Checklist of Requirements) applies to you; keep in mind that it refers to the literature which you have chosen as a major field within your program in Comparative Literature and in which you must complete at least 3 or more upper-division courses in the original language (as of Fall 2017). The minor field in Comparative Literature consists of 2 upper-division literature courses of your choosing, in the original language.

2. Although all reading in courses in foreign literatures which you count in satisfaction of major and minor requirements must be done in the original language, you may wish to select courses where the lectures are given in English rather than in the foreign language. Since the entries in the General Catalog are not always clear in this respect, you are advised to inquire from individual instructors.

3. Whereas each year Berkeley offers instruction in all the relevant areas of the literatures most frequently elected as major fields of Comparative Literature (e.g., English, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, etc.), the same thing is not always true of the literatures less commonly studied. If the General Catalog shows that only one or two professors offer instruction in the literature which you plan to emphasize within your program in Comparative Literature, you should consult the appropriate professor or professors to ascertain that enough courses or tutorial instruction will be available to ensure your graduation at the end of your senior year. In some cases, you may have to enroll in a graduate course to satisfy a requirement for which no upper-division course or tutorial instruction is available during a given year: make sure that the instructor will admit you, and remember that graduate courses demand more work and intellectual commitment than their undergraduate counterparts.

4. With the permission of your adviser and the appropriate instructor, you may occasionally be allowed to substitute a graduate course for an upper-division course. With your adviser’s permission, a lower-division course may occasionally be accepted in satisfaction of a specific requirement, but it may never count in satisfaction of any of the 32 upper-division units required in literature.

5. Some departments find it convenient to grant upper-division credit for elementary or intermediate language courses: unless otherwise indicated below, these courses may not be counted as part of the minimum 4 upper-division courses required in your major literature.

Special Studies Courses: H195, 199

In accordance with a rule of the Academic Senate, a student who wishes to pursue an individual study project under these course numbers should submit a detailed proposal including the purpose of the course, a description of the subject and method, and a reading list to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. To enroll in H195, complete and submit the Honors Prospectus Form. A decision will then be made whether to allow the student to take the course. Each proposal will be evaluated on its intellectual and educational merits. Projects which could be carried out within the framework of regularly scheduled courses will not be approved for special-studies courses. The student should discuss the feasibility of his project with the proposed course director before submitting it for approval.