Why major in Comparative Literature?
The Department of Comparative Literature offers the best of two worlds: a broad and flexible program of literary study outside the disciplinary confines of the national literatures but in a close department of eighteen faculty and around fifty majors. Students enjoy a great advantage in being able to choose departmental courses from all literatures, Western and non-Western, and even from a number of disciplines. They have the opportunity to study literature as an international phenomenon and explore the ways in which different traditions interact with one another. They can investigate different theoretical approaches to literature and explore cross-disciplinary issues—between literature and the arts, literature and the sciences, and literature and the social sciences.
Students choosing the Department of Comparative Literature should have a commitment to the study of literature and be open and curious about different approaches to it. They should be adventurous in choosing from a variety of courses and have an independent mind. At the same time, they should be capable of using the freedom that the discipline affords to build a coherent and personally satisfying program of study.
Alumni of the department use their multi-lingual proficiency and broad humanities-based perspective to enter such diverse fields as law, business, government, higher education, medicine, publishing, journalism, technology, and the arts.
“Studying what you love is the right choice to make,” says Nancy Malkiel, Princeton's dean of undergraduate studies.
What Our Majors Say
“Imagine a department with almost no required courses, where students explore not just different genres and periods of literature but work in different languages, cultures, and fields of study.” Ed Finn '02, freelance writer
"I picked Comparative Literature because it is one of the most flexible majors in terms of allowing students to really dive into the kind of independent work they want to do. All of my advisers have been really open-minded, supportive, and easily accessible, and this has really made my Princeton experience that much better these past two years." Diana C. Vall-llobera '10
“I went on to major in comparative literature, one of the best decisions I have ever made. To me, comp lit was so different from the drudgery of studying math or science or even, later on, the law. These were books that I would read anyway, for fun, and at the same time I got my degree!” Alex Montagu ’87, general counsel, Lipper, Inc.
"Comp lit is the classiest department at Princeton. It encourages you to combine all of your intellectual passions and provides a flexible, supportive environment to do so." Laura Fletcher '10
“From a practical perspective, my major in comp lit gave me good analytical and writing skills that have been invaluable to me in my career as a lawyer. … In an increasingly global economy, the ability to communicate in more than one language is hugely important. Equally important is to understand different cultures and different approaches to business. Business law is as much about people as it is about documents. The more you understand and can relate to different people, especially across multiple cultures, the more successful you’re likely to be.” Alex Montagu ’87, general counsel, Lipper, Inc.
“Being a Comparative Literature major is absolutely wonderful. … the options for study available to a Comp Lit major are endless … and [the major] allows the students to explore their passions.”
“In my time, I was drawn to the department first by its ‘great books’ introductory courses (Comp Lit 205 and 206) and then by a course known as 'the organic chemistry of the humanities,' Robert Hollander’s Dante course. It seems absurdly glib, but it is true; from the first, I got a first glimpse of the breadth of things, from the second a sense of the possibilities of reading deeply.” David Remnick ‘81, editor of the New Yorker
"Comparative literature helped me in my current profession because it taught me to be patient in the face of complicated ideas, to spend more time editing than writing, and to love the complexity of ideas. The law requires you all these traits, because it requires me to read and write as a generalist on a number of subjects. I liked the small courses, close relationships with professors, and the big thinking". Jesse Creed, COM '07, US Court of Appeals
"Majoring in Comparative literature prepared me very well to teach the languages whose literatures I studied. Comp lit majors are encouraged to explore and go abroad and get a sense of the world beyond the US. This is very helpful at my school, where a good part of what we do with students is discuss important global issues. I loved the flexibility-- every single person was able to integrate their own interests and form their own program of study. If you had asked each and every one of us what we were working on for our senior thesis, the only common thread would have been the passion we showed for our respective interests! I think people also loved to boast that in Complit you had to know two foreign languages, if not more!" Maylen Rafuls Rosa, COM '07
"Majoring in Comparative Literature at Princeton was the first step towards opening my eyes to issues in the history of world literature that still need to be addressed in terms of the way they have affected the course of culture at any given point. While my senior thesis at Princeton was the main piece of work I did in the area I currently work in, the rest of the work I did there has helped shape me not only as a person with the ability to work on and teach in multiple areas, but also as someone who genuinely believes in the importance of seeing literature as one kind of expression of our pasts and our futures in the context of the local, the micro, and only then to attempt to possibly understand it in a global, or comparative sense". Maryam Khan, COM '08, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, UCLA
"Majoring in Comp. Lit. gave me the opportunity to develop the close reading and analytical skills that are of great importance and necessity in any area of the Humanities and allowed to become an effective writer and reader. What I liked most about the program was the interdisciplinary opportunities that it provided, such as taking classes in related fields (such as art history) and being able to come up with a senior thesis topic that encompassed my interests in various fields. I also loved the Department's small size and the unsurpassed guidance and availability of the faculty". Ömer Ziyal, COM '08, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University
"Majoring in Comparative Literature absolutely helped me in my current position. It provided me with a strong background in languages and theory that allowed me to be accepted to the graduate school of my choice. I most enjoyed the freedom and flexibility in Comp Lit. I was able to craft my own concentration and was allowed to merge my interests in literature and dance at the Undergraduate level. This openness to students' ideas and interests is what initially drew me to the department and what I will most remember and cherish". Jennie Scholick, COM '09, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, UCLA
Some Thoughts from the Alumni of the Department
Princeton's Comparative Literature in the News
Below are a few recent articles.
Declared my major and Ma ain't happy. Article on choosing a major in Comparative Literature.
The Ivory Tower of Babel: Achieving Fluent Instruction. Article on Mahiri Mwita and other comparative literature instructors.
Fagles Brings Aeneas into Modern World. Article on Robert Fagles, the first director of Princeton's Department of Comparative Literature.
Language Focus Leaves Europe. Increasing enrollment in non-European language courses.
Small Departments See Surge in Majors. Article on the Major Choices Initiative.
New Yorker Editor Tells of Distinct Career Path. Article on a talk by David Remnick.
1,200 expected at comparative literature conference. Article on American Comparative Literature Association Conference.
New Program Takes Sweeping Approach to Translation. Article on Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication.
Four Graduate Students Awarded Jacobus Fellowship. Article on comparative literature majors.
Why I Love My Post-graduation Job. Article by a former comparative literature major.