Comparative Literature is the oldest field of modern literary criticism, dating from the eighteenth century. It is a university discipline of long standing in the United States and elsewhere. Both nationally and internationally, some Comparative Literature programs emphasize national or linguistic literary traditions, some interweave literary criticism with other forms of humanistic research, and others focus on literary and cultural theory.
The graduate program at the University of Minnesota, while engaged in all of these approaches, primarily has followed the third; in fact our program is seen as one of its initiators. We see ourselves as engaged in pushing the bounds of critical inquiry in the humanities in general, as befits our current situation in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. In part due to this departmental structure, we are uniquely situated to foster the complex and penetrating kinds of critical inquiry into literature and culture to which we are committed.
The current research and teaching of our faculty embrace the divergent dimensions in which literature is engaged with history and social practice. Our ongoing work extends across such areas of inquiry as: the comparative study of national literatures; emergent literatures within so-called First and Third World cultures; the transformation of Comparative Literature as a discipline from the study of European “Weltliteratur” to a less centered orientation that includes the production of writers from former colonies, both inside and outside Europe; postcolonial criticism; questions of cultural politics; problems of narrative, e.g., in nation building; interrogation of systems of value; women's writing; film studies; gender and queer theory; language; psychoanalysis; relations between technology and subjectivity within the context of modernity; and the study of institutional histories in relation to cultural policy.
The PhD program in Comparative Literature is one of two graduate programs located in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature (CSCL), the other being the PhD program in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society. Enrollment in the two programs totals 50 students. In addition, the Comparative Literature program serves graduate students from the “national” literature departments as a chief locus for the study of literary theory. By admitting a maximum of four students per year, the Comparative Literature program seeks to maintain a close-knit student body and high level of interaction between students and faculty.
The faculty of the Comparative Literature program consists of fourteen members who are budgeted and housed in the program's home department, the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. In addition there are three faculty members from other literature departments at the University of Minnesota. All fourteen faculty offer courses in our curriculum, serve as committee members, and advise graduate students.
A principal objective of the Comparative Literature program is to prepare candidates for placement in an academic position, generally in a department of comparative literature, in a national language and literature department, or in an allied field, e.g., film studies or gender studies. One major component of this preparation is our emphasis on training in pedagogy; all graduate students take CL 8901, Pedagogy of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, which focuses on developing skills and experience in teaching, fellowship application, placement, and other professional concerns. The program attempts to provide all PhD students with undergraduate instructional opportunities at both introductory and intermediate levels.