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The Department of Comparative Literature provides a broad range of courses in European as well as non-European literatures. Courses devoted to literary studies variously stress significant authors, themes, problems, genres, historical periods, and theoretical perspectives. The Department also offers an array of courses in visual and media studies and enables the study of literature in relation to the history and theory of film, video, and other arts, as well as media. In cooperation with related departments in the humanities, the department encourages the interdisciplinary study of literature—in conjunction with anthropology, history, philosophy, sexuality studies, psychology, sociology, and so forth. The course offerings reflect current theoretical approaches to literature, media, and the arts—hermeneutics, semiotics, deconstruction, cultural criticism, Marxism, postcolonialism, reception aesthetics, feminism, and psychoanalysis.
No prerequisites are required to enter the comparative literature major.
All majors in Comparative Literature are expected to have completed ten, three to four credit courses, with the minimum of thirty credits, half of which must be devoted to the study of works in languages other than English that the student will read in their original language. Five of these courses must be taken in the Department of Comparative Literature and must include the following two courses: a course in Theory, and the Core Course, usually taken in the junior or senior year. If elected, Honor Majors should complete thirty-eight credits, which include COML 4930 - Senior Essay (first semester) and COML 4940 - Senior Essay (second semester), one of which will count as one of these required five comparative literature courses.
Students will choose among a number of theory courses designated as fulfilling the requirement every year. The one designated Core Course changes every year. For 2020-2021, the designated theory courses will be COML 3811 - Theory and Practice of Translation offered in the fall. Offered in the spring will be COML 3021 - Literary Theory on the Edge, COML 4353 - Race and Critical Theory and COML 3781 - Freud and the Invention of Psychoanalysis. The Core Course will be offered in the fall only, COML 3001 - Methods of Comparison. Students must earn a minimum grade of C for a course to be counted toward the major.
An honors essay (COML 4930 - COML 4940) of roughly fifty pages is optional. It is to be written during the senior year under the direction of a faculty member, preferably from within the department, who has agreed to work in close cooperation with the student. Students are urged to begin research on their thesis topic during the summer preceding their senior year.
Students who elect to do a double major with another literature department may count up to three courses from that major toward their requirements in Comparative Literature.
The department encourages students to study abroad in pursuit of their cultural and linguistic interests, and the number of courses that may be counted toward the major will be determined in consultation with the faculty advisor and with the approval of the director of undergraduate studies.
The major enables students to pursue this commitment to a comparative study that includes a substantial non-English component by offering two tracks.
- Comparative Literary Studies. This track is designed for students who wish to place greater emphasis on literary study in their course work. Students who select this track are required to complete:
- Five courses in Comparative Literature at the 2000 level and above, including the Seminar in Theory and the Core Course.
- Five courses in literature or other areas of the humanities at the 2000 or higher level, to be taken in one or more foreign literature departments. Texts must be read in the original language. A student may offer one advanced-level foreign language course (conversation, composition, etc.) toward fulfilling this requirement.
- Literary, Visual, and Media Studies. This track is designed for students who wish to pursue their comparative study of literature and theory by integrating rigorous work on film, video, or other arts and media. Students who select this track are required to complete:
- The Seminar in Theory and the Core Course offered in the Department of Comparative Literature must be included among the ten required courses.
- Four courses in literary study at the 2000 or higher level offered by the Department of Comparative Literature or other humanities departments or programs.
- Six courses in visual arts or media studies at the 2000 or higher level offered by the Department of Comparative Literature or other humanities departments or programs
The following guidelines might be used to determine whether a course in Literary, Visual, and Media Studies may be counted toward the five courses in non-English cultural study required of all majors. Where the media involve a large component of speech or writing (such as film, video, or hypertext), the student would need to work with this material in the original foreign language. Where text or speech in a foreign language is peripheral in a course that focuses on visual material (such as art or architecture) from non-English cultures, the student would need to draw on primary and secondary materials in a foreign language for oral reports, papers, and so forth.
Because of the flexibility and interdisciplinary range of this track, students who select it should work closely with their faculty advisor to organize a coherent plan of study and to determine, with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies, which courses satisfy the foreign language requirement of the major.
You can find the form to apply for the Comparative Literature Major here.
A student who completes the requirements for the major with a minimum grade point average of B+ is eligible for the degree of bachelor of arts with honors in Comparative Literature. The department bases its decision on the students achieving grades of at least B+ on the senior essay, in course work for the major, and in their overall academic performance at Cornell.
The Senior Essay should examine in some detail a literary topic broad enough in scope to warrant the name "Comparative." One of its purposes is to allow the student to synthesize readings and perspectives acquired during the course of an undergraduate education. For this reason a well-chosen topic should extend the student's work already begun in a course or sequence of courses taken before the senior year. It can offer a critical analysis of two or more texts from different national traditions or cultural discourses, or even of a single text that catches and expresses a problematic interplay of different cultural discourses; it can pursue implications of literary theory in its varied guises or it can explore those implications as they intersect with findings drawn from other bodies of knowledge. Finally, the senior thesis can engage the problems and methods of visual studies.
A faculty member in the department of Comparative Literature must approve the student's topic and supervise the writing of the essay. In some special cases the Director of Undergraduate Studies may authorize a faculty member in an allied department to supervise the student's progress. Experience suggests that supervision work best when the student has already taken a course from the faculty member and knows his or her expectations and approach. The nature and extent of contact between students and supervisor depend upon mutual agreement between them. From time to time the Director of the Senior Colloquium, will call for a meeting of all seniors writing essays. These meetings will allow students to share ideas about their work and to discuss one another's problems-solving strategies.
The finished essay should be approximately fifty pages in length and it should be drafted and revised in a series of carefully planned stages. The format may vary, but as a rule students should draft portions of the essay in discrete units and rewrite them into a complete whole. In a majority of cases the finished essay will present three chapters or subdivisions with a conclusion and a general introduction.
Timetables may vary, but the following deadlines have proved useful to other seniors in the past:
- 30 September: outline
- 14 October: bibliography
- 18 November: first chapter or subdivision
- 17 February: second chapter or subdivision
- 17 March: third chapter or subdivision
- 3 April: complete essay to advisor for last revisions; each student submits a complete essay to the faculty advisor with whom he or she has worked.
- 17 April: Extended to Monday, May 3, 2021, each student submits their complete (revised) essay to Sue Besemer via Cornell’s Secure File Transfer site https://sft.cornell.edu/login/?redirurl=%2F to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- * A second reader may be recommended by the student or the Department may choose one for the student based on the topic of the senior essay.
- 1 May: Extended - please contact Philip Lorenz (email@example.com): The faculty advisor and the second reader will determine the grade and, if applicable, appropriate honors. All students will receive a grade of "R" for the first semester's work.
The undergraduate minor in Comparative Literature is open to non-majors enrolled in any Cornell college who are interested in global literary and cultural studies, interdisciplinary and theoretical approaches, visual studies, and media studies. Fulfillment of the requirements for the minor will yield a certification on students’ transcripts.
Students must take a minimum of five courses (3-4 credits) at the 2000 level or higher, passing with a grade of C or higher to complete the minor. Four of these courses should be offered through Comparative Literature. In the fifth course, which cannot be a lower level language instruction course, students must work with materials originally in a language other than English and for the study of which proficiency in that language is required. This course could be offered through Comparative Literature, through a foreign literature and language department, or through a study-abroad program. Only one course taken as part of a study-abroad program may be counted toward the minor.
How to apply: Students may file a minor form over email with the Director of Undergraduate Studies at any time. By the seventh week of the semester before graduation, students must meet with the Director Undergraduate Studies to certify completion of the minor.
For more information on the undergraduate major, contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Philip Lorenz (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Spring 2021 Undergraduate and COML Majors Office hours are by appointment. Please email Professor Lorenz to set up a zoom meeting.
Planning a Program of Study
The Comparative Literature Major emphasizes individuality and interdisciplinary study; as such, it can be helpful to understand how different students have chosen their courses and program of study. Take a look at some of our student profiles to get an idea of how Comparative Literature can work for you.