Student Learning Initiative


I. Knowledge

  1. Achieve solid proficiency in at least one language other than English, to the level needed to work with original texts in at least two national literary traditions
  2. Attain a solid grounding in at least two national literary traditions, one of which is considered the student’s major literature
  3. Understand key characteristics of historical periods in the major literature
  4. Recognize and understand the workings of genre in literature (novel, poetic form, epic, drama)
  5. Achieve fluency in the use of major critical and theoretical modes of analysis
  6. Situate literary movements in their relation to historical and cultural contexts
  7. Analyze aspects of literature that can or must be studied cross-culturally (such as translation, avant-garde movements, romanticism, modernism, diasporic literatures)

II. Skills

  1. critical reading

    Students develop the capacity to:

    1. perform a strong and revealing close analysis of a text
    2. recognize the literary and rhetorical features that structure texts and shape their reception;
    3. employ the conceptual tools and insights of literary theoretical texts in reading and interpreting texts drawn from various literary genres, literary criticism, historical materials, and literary theory itself;
    4. present accurately the arguments of a literary critic or theorist, uncovering unarticulated assumptions to illuminate the context in which the argument is made;
    5. understand the implications of different interpretive approaches, considering the benefits and limitations of different strategies.
  2. argumentation

    Students learn to:

    1. develop a line of questioning that leads to the construction of a logical, well-supported argument;
    2. evaluate their own arguments and those of others on the criteria of logical coherence, good use of evidence and comprehensiveness;
    3. respond to new evidence or new perspectives on the evidence by refining or revising their argument.
  3. oral and written expression

    Students learn to

    1. i. present complex information and ideas orally, both in a prepared presentation and spontaneously;
    2. ii. participate in a discussion with multiple participants by asking questions, listening closely to others, building upon their contributions, and formulating productive and relevant responses;
    3. iii. write formal expository prose that is clear, persuasive, and economical;
    4. iv. revise their own writing to improve its clarity and effectiveness.
  4. research

    Students learn to

    1. i. formulate a productive research question that has a rigorous conceptual framework and makes good use of the available evidence;
    2. ii. use databases, indices and other tools to identify and locate relevant materials;
    3. iii. assess the relevance and reliability of available materials;
    4. iv.  cite published work properly.

III.  Path to Goals

We offer the following sequence of required courses:

a. Entry to the major

Many students enter the major after taking English Composition in Connection with the Reading of World Literature (R1A-R1B), which is a basic skills course that focuses intensively on developing students’ ability to read and interpret literature, to recognize the components of a successful argument and to revise their own writing for maximum effectiveness.

b. Introductory course

Introduction to Comparative Literature (CL 100) forms a bridge between lower-division reading and composition classes and the more sophisticated work students will be doing at the higher levels by offering a focused introduction to one aspect of Comparative Literature, e.g. a specific school of critical thought, a test-case of cross-cultural literary interaction, an exploration of a theme across genres.  Students in this class are challenged to write longer and more complex papers, to read and critique scholarly arguments, and to give oral presentations.

c. Coverage of historical periods

Students are required to gain further grounding in the relation between literature and its historical context by taking one of the following courses: The Ancient Mediterranean World (CL 151); The Middle Ages (CL 152); The Renaissance (CL 153); Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Literature (CL 154); The Modern Period (155).  These courses further develop the training begun in CL 100, but also deepen the students’ understanding of specific historical periods and of conceptual approaches to the historical study of literature.

d. Electives

In addition to these required courses, we offer electives that expand the range of opportunities students have to study literature comparatively, e.g., The Biblical Tradition in Western Literature (CL 120) and Gender , Sexuality, and Culture (CL 185).  The individual attention that students receive as they craft their own plan  of study  has always been one of the major’s strengths.  Close relationships with faculty within the major and detailed review of the plan of study with the undergraduate advisor allow students to draw upon the full strengths of the national literature departments and the comparative literature faculty.

e. Courses within the national literature departments

Students are required to take six courses within the national literature departments (three in the main/first/primary literature, two in the secondary). Our undergraduate advisor and student affairs officer spend hours each semester culling and approving appropriate courses.  Study abroad is also encouraged, particularly in collaboration with UC’s Education Abroad Program. Courses taken abroad must be approved by the undergraduate advisor.

f. Capstone Course

The senior seminar (CL 190) is designed to be the culmination of the major; students are required to analyze works from at least three literary traditions and to write a substantial research paper.  Topics for this course vary and emphasize different aspects of the discipline. Recent courses have included “Philosophical Fictions,” “James Joyce’s Ulysses and Its Heirs,” “Writing and Photography,” and “National Narratives.”

Students may complete an optional honors thesis under the guidance of a faculty member from any department.

III. Communication with Students

The requirements and courses are communicated via the departmental website and by consultation with the undergraduate student affairs office and faculty. Since no two students follow the same course of study, each individual student receives regular and intensive in-person advising from the student affairs officer as well as the faculty.

IV. Evaluation of the attainment of our goals

  • Student papers
  • Student presentations
  • Examinations
  • Discussions
  • Portfolios
  • Undergraduate survey
  • Supervision of GSI-led discussion sections