Comparative Literature

Secondary PhD Field in Comparative Literature

The Department of Comparative Literature offers comparative literature as a secondary field in GSAS to enrich the background of PhD students in other departments who seek to do research and teach across the institutional boundaries of national languages and literatures. Students in the various departments of literary studies may eventually be called upon to teach comparative courses or courses in general or world literature. The secondary field in comparative literature introduces students to basic issues in the field and provides a graduate literary theory course for students who have not already taken such a course in their primary department.

While it recognizes the degree to which literatures in a single language constitute a coherent tradition, the Department of Comparative Literature seeks to develop an awareness of how literary works move across language borders, both in the original language and in translation. It seeks to call attention to theoretical issues shared across not only the boundaries of languages but also across very different traditions.


An ability to work in literatures in at least three languages. Normally this will be demonstrated by coursework in which at least some of the primary readings are in the language. In certain circumstances (for example, if one of the languages is the student’s native language) the DGS may waive the requirement that competence in a language be demonstrated by coursework. If English is used as one of the languages, the other two languages should show some breadth; that is, they may not be closely allied, either linguistically or by academic convention (e.g., Spanish and Portuguese, Urdu and Hindi, classical and modern Chinese, or Greek and Latin). The judgment regarding what can legitimately count for the set of three languages will be at the discretion of the DGS.



  1. Four courses, one of which should be the Comparative Literature Proseminar and two of which must be comparative literature seminars at the 200 level. The remaining course requirements will be met by either seminars in comparative literature or 100-level literature courses (which normally count for graduate credit in comparative literature).
  2. Successful completion of a Second-Year Paper of 25–30 pages on a comparative topic, as required for students in comparative literature. Students doing a secondary field in comparative literature do not need to submit the Second-Year Paper by the end of their G2 year, but they are encouraged to submit this paper as soon thereafter as possible.

Contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Karen Thornber (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 617-496-6244) for any further questions.

Further information regarding courses and programs of study in comparative literature may be found on our website.