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What is Comparative Literature?

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Comparative Literature, which originally meant the comparison of literary works from more than one national-linguistic tradition, began to flourish in the United States with the arrival of literary scholars fleeing persecution in Europe. Certain of their names—Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer, Ernst Robert Curtius, Ernst Kantorowicz—appear in the inaugural issue of Comparative Literature, whose founding at the University of Oregon in 1949 set the stage for the establishment, shortly thereafter, of the first doctoral program in Comparative Literature on the West Coast.

While Comparative Literature may still entail the comparison of literary works from various national-linguistic traditions, the scope of the field has evolved and broadened into a methodologically self-reflective approach to the study of literatures, cultures, ideas, and media across languages, epochs and disciplines. Students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels undertake investigations of the most diverse aspects of human culture—from stone tables to e-readers, from Elizabethan drama to Japanese horror, from nineteenth-century Realism to reality television. As a site for interarticulating such disparate expressions, Comparative Literature is a center towards which the intellectually adventurous gravitate.