Faculty merges comparative literature and literary studies into one major

The comparative literature and literary studies departments were recently combined to create one major which will simply be called comparative literature. A proposal to merge the two majors was put to vote at a faculty meeting on Dec. 12; the motion passed with 91 members in favor, one abstaining and one opposing. The change was proposed to the entire faculty because it reduces the number of possible majors at the College by one, but the merge is largely a change in name, as the requirements for both programs will remain the same. The new major will include two tracks of study, one requiring the examination of works in the original language, while the other would allow students to complete the majority of their coursework in English.

The Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), the council that evaluates and enacts changes in the College’s curriculum, approved this merge of the majors. A commission of seven faculty, four staff and six students, the CEP must review all substantial modifications in academic programming at the College, including additions or deletions of classes and majors, changes in major requirements and changes in course description. The combination of comparative literature and literary studies posed no problem for the CEP as it was presented, so the council sent the proposal to faculty where it was passed with overwhelming support.

As defined before the change, comparative literature was a program with two different majors – comparative literature and literary studies. According to the Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures website, the distinction between the two courses of study primarily consisted of the specialization in a language tradition required for a comparative literature major. However, the two majors were more similar than different. Although familiarity with a foreign language distinguishes comparative literature from literary studies, both tracks allow students to compare and contrast works across cultures. “Both tracks supplement this work in national literatures with additional core courses specifically geared toward comparative study,” the department website says in its description of the program.

Professor Christopher Bolton, chair of the comparative literature program, explains the merge as a titular rather than curricular change. “We made this change because we felt the two-major structure was confusing,” Bolton said. “All our majors are expected to balance attention to the cultural and linguistic background of these texts with the study of overarching literary theories designed to enable comparison across cultures. Both of the old majors (and now) new tracks satisfy these requirements.”

The comparative literature and literary studies majors are flexible enough to allow students to tailor their body of coursework to their interests in consultation with a faculty advisor and the merge will not change how students and faculty will interact in the program. “In the context of that diversity, distinguishing between two groups of student majors by calling the groups different names does not seem meaningful,” Bolton said. “The change doesn’t change our curriculum, but it might help increase the number of majors if it helps us communicate more clearly what the program is all about.”