Undergraduate Program

Students on the Quad

B.A. in Comparative Literature

The major in Comparative Literature leads to a BA degree and is designed to attract students who wish to pursue an interdisciplinary plan of course work focused on the study of literature as written in various languages and in various parts of the world.

One student might come to the University of Chicago with a strong background in languages other than English and want to work in two or more literatures (one of which can be English). Another student might have a strong interest in literary study and wish to address general, generic, and/or transnational questions that go beyond the boundaries of national literature offered in other literature departments. Or, a student might wish to pursue an in-depth study of the interrelationship of literature and culture, as well as issues that transcend the traditional demarcations of national literary history and area studies.

These descriptions of academic interest are not mutually exclusive. Each student will work with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (For AY19-20, Olga Solovieva solovieva@uchicago.edu) to design a plan of course work that will suit his or her individual goals and that will take advantage of the rich offerings of the University.

Program Requirements

The requirements outlined below are in effect as of Autumn Quarter 2018 and will apply to all students in the Class of 2020 and beyond.

Students interested in applying to the major in Comparative Literature should review the following guidelines and consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Comparative Literature. These guidelines are to assist students in developing a balanced and cohesive interdisciplinary plan of study.

The major is comprised of seven courses selected in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies divided into a primary field of four courses and a secondary field of three courses; one foundational course in comparative literary theory and methodology; two courses in literary theory, methods, or special topics in Comparative Literature; and a BA project workshop that serves as a capstone to the major.

The student will work with the Director of Undergraduate Studies to identify a primary field (four courses) and a secondary field (three courses). The primary field should be in a literature other than English.  A student might choose two literatures as the primary and secondary fields, in which case, the secondary field of literature can be English. The secondary field might be a particular national literature or a portion of such a literature (e.g., poetry, drama, novel); another discipline (e.g., mathematics, history, film, performance studies, music); or literary theory.

The major in Comparative Literature is comprised of seven self-selected courses in the primary and secondary fields, two foundational courses in comparative literary theory and history, and two courses in comparative literature methods & topics, with a  BA project workshop serving as a capstone to the major.

  1. Prospective majors in Comparative Literature must complete the second-year sequence in a language other than English (for example: Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Persian, Spanish, Yiddish, etc.) or demonstrate language ability at an equivalent level through accreditation by the time they apply to the Comparative Literature program, typically by the end of the second year. Exceptions may be granted by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
  2. Four courses in a primary field, or in closely-linked subject areas in more than one field. The primary field should be in every case literature in a language other than English.
  3. Three courses in a secondary field, or in closely-linked subject areas in more than one field. The secondary field may be literature in another language (including English), or else a discipline or area of intellectual interest (e.g. Math, Performance Studies, etc.) or literary theory, and must be cleared by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
  4. One foundational courses in comparative literary theory and methods is required: CMLT 20109 Comparative Methods in the Humanities.
  5. Two 200-level special topics, methods, or theory courses in Comparative Literature (Must have a CMLT prefix, (ie: CMLT 200xx, 300xx)
  6. The B.A. Project & Workshop, CMLT 29801, as a capstone in their last year of study. The project should be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, and is supervised by a faculty member of the student's choice in Comparative Literature and may be co-advised by a faculty member from another department.

NB: Study abroad offers an attractive means of fulfilling various aims of this program. More than half of the major requirements must be satisfied by courses bearing University of Chicago numbers.

Summary of Requirements (1400 Units):

  • CMLT 20109 Comparative Methods in the Humanities (100 units)
  • CMLT 29801 BA Project and Workshop: Comparative Literature (100 units)
  • Three foreign language courses at the intermediate level or above (300 units)
  • Four courses in a literature other than English, one of which can be in a closely related field (400 units)
  • Three courses in a secondary field, which can be literature in a different language (including English) from that of the primary field or another discipline (e.g., mathematics, performance studies, music); or literary theory (300 units)
  • Two 200-level courses in literary theory, methods, or special topics in Comparative Literature (200 units)

Foreign Language Requirement

The Comparative Literature major requires three language courses in a single language at the intermediate level (ie: 300xx, 400xx, 500xx) or above. Students are however, encouraged to continue their language study beyond the minimum required for the major.  The Department of Comparative Literature works closely with the University of Chicago Language Center and will help students achieve their individual goals in language acquisition by suggesting programs of study that will add to their language expertise as appropriate.

Note: Students who enter the program with advanced or native proficiency in a language other than English may instead substitute three courses in a third language, at any level, for the requirement of three language courses in a single language at the intermediate level. A student can provide proof of advanced proficiency in two ways. 

  1. A student may pass one of the College's Advanced Language Proficiency assessments in a foreign language, if available for the relevant language, for which a student must file the Language Petition.
  2. A foreign national can demonstrate advanced proficiency from formal schooling experience in a country other than the United States. Such a student should submit a petition with supporting documentation regarding formal educational experience to Catherine Baumann (Cobb 214, 773.702.8008, ccbauman@uchicago.edu).

BA Project

The BA capstone project is to be completed in the student's last year of study. The project should be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The BA project is supervised by a Comparative Literature faculty member of the student's choice and by the graduate student preceptor teaching the BA project workshop, CMLT 29801. The faculty advisor and graduate student preceptor will provide guidance and feedback on BA project drafts. Students must complete their formal application to the major by spring of third year and should identify a BA faculty advisor in Comparative Literature at that time.

One obvious choice for a BA project is a substantial essay in comparative literary study. This option should not, however, rule out other possibilities. Alternative examples are a translation from a foreign literature with accompanying commentary or a written project based on research done abroad in another language and culture relating to comparative interests. Students are urged to base their project on comparative concepts and to make use of the language proficiency that they will develop as they meet the program's requirements.

This program may accept a BA paper or project used to satisfy the same requirement in another major if certain conditions are met and with approval from both program chairs. Students should consult with the chairs by the earliest BA proposal deadline (or by the end of third year, when neither program publishes a deadline). A consent form, to be signed by both chairs, is available from the College advisor. It must be completed and returned to the College advisor by the end of Autumn Quarter of the student's year of graduation.

Participation in the Program

Students should express their interest in the major as early as possible. The first step is to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies to consult about a program of study. Applicants must submit an application form which consists of a list of completed courses and a list of courses in which they are currently registered. Special mention should be made of language courses or other language training that affirms a student's level of language proficiency. Each proposal will be evaluated on the basis of the interest of the student and his or her achievement in the languages needed to meet the goals of the intended course of study. Students will be notified by email of their acceptance to the program. Finally, students will need to formalize their declaration through my.uchicago.edu with the assistance of the College advisor.

Comparative Literature majors should demonstrate literary proficiency in a language (other than English) that is relevant to their proposed course of study (as indicated in requirement number one above). This requirement must be met at the time of application or shortly thereafter. Proficiency is measured by the completion of a second-year sequence (or above) in the language or by demonstration of an equivalent skill. Language ability is essential to work in comparative literature of whatever sort. The Department of Comparative Literature works closely with the University of Chicago Language Center and will help students achieve their individual goals in language acquisition by suggesting programs of study that will add to their language expertise as appropriate.

Grading

All courses to be used in the major must be taken for a quality grade of B– or higher, except for CMLT 29801, which is graded on a Pass/Fail basis.

Honors

To be eligible for honors in Comparative Literature, students must earn an overall cumulative GPA of 3.25 or higher, and a GPA of 3.5 or higher in the major. They must also complete a BA essay or project that is judged exceptional in intellectual and/or creative merit by the first and second readers.

Advising

Students must consult on an ongoing basis with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for selection and approval of course work for the major. Students will need to regularly provide documentation of any approvals for the major to their College advisor for the necessary processing. Further advice and counseling will be available from the preceptor for the program and from the faculty member who supervises the student's BA project.