The UC Berkeley Department of Comparative Literature is dedicated to comparative literary study that is both historical and theoretical, covering literary traditions from several inter-related regions and traditions. This combination of intensity and breadth is reflected in the composition of our faculty, seventeen of whom are jointly appointed with national literature departments; the remaining two are closely involved with and provide an important link to the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Our signature combination of teaching and research on literature, film, and other media is based on knowledge of original languages, an understanding of historical context and production, and theoretically innovative perspectives.
Research seminars offered by the faculty cover diverse areas, authors, epochs, and problems, ranging from “Narrative, Description, Affect” to “Poetry and the Fate of the Senses” and “Literature and Letters in the Renaissance” ; from "Transpacific Indigenous Literatures” to “Marxian Poets? Germany And The Americas? Brecht, Vallejo, Zukofsky” and “Homer: Invention and Reception”; from “Poetic Justice: Dostoevsky, Nabokov and Literature in the Shadow of the Law” to "Traveling Fictions” and “Inheriting Cultural Disaster” (to name just a few). Texts read in these seminars include both authors from a global range of literary and cultural traditions, and theoretical interventions that question how established patterns of power and knowledge determine the ways in which we read and discuss cultural artifacts.
Our former graduate students have won the Modern Language Association’s prize for the best first book for three of the last five years (since 2014); they have won the prize awarded by the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) for best dissertation in the nation for seven of the last ten years (since 2010). For more than a decade our placement record for tenure-track jobs, which you can find here (along with our graduates’ outstanding placement in academic fellowships, translation careers, and alternative academic paths), is among the very best in the country. This remarkable record speaks not only to the intellectual culture of the department but also to our faculty’s consistent devotion to teaching and mentoring (six of our nineteen faculty have won the campus’s Distinguished Teaching Award). Our undergraduate program is also flourishing. It draws a wide and diverse range of students, many of whom study heritage languages.
The field of comparative literary studies is in a distinctive position to contribute to cross-cultural understanding in the contemporary moment. Without a knowledge of languages and the cultural modes of life in which they operate, we risk falling into misunderstandings or imposing our own views on situations that are quite different from our own. Rarely has there been a greater need to strengthen multilingualism not only as a set of skills that can be applied to specific tasks, but as an approach to grasping the complexity and diversity of our world - to understanding what our world is. In the place of easy generalizations about cultural and linguistic difference, we offer attentive ways of engaging a range of literary traditions and aesthetic forms through a comparative and historical approach.