Frequently Asked Questions

For more details about the Comparative Literature major and minor, the list of our courses, and descriptions of courses currently being offered, click on the appropriate links.  And you are always welcome to visit the department or contact us at complit@usc.edu.

  • What exactly is “Comparative Literature”?

    Comparative Literature is the study of literary works across linguistic, national and historical boundaries.  It thus takes up a comparative perspective on different literary traditions.  It also compares literature with other arts, such as painting, photography, film, and music. 

  • How is the study of Comparative Literature different from the study of, say, English or French literature?

    Comparative Literature is not based on one national language tradition. Comparatists study the nature of literature across and between different language cultures.  Our undergraduate classes may be organized around themes, topics, problems, historical periods, or genres.  The works studied within these frames are selected from several different language traditions, for example, English or French, but also Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Portuguese, Polish, or still many others.  The list is almost endless. 

  • What good is a major/minor in Comparative Literature?

    It’s good for life skills. As a discipline, Comparative Literature seeks out and encourages multicultural, hybrid cultural experiences.  As a result of their comparative study of literature, the other arts, but also different cultures, graduates with this degree tend to see the world differently.  It becomes a larger place than it was before, more varied, less uniform, with many histories rather than just one.  Our students are trained to ask broader and better questions about the many forms of cultural production surrounding them. And they know they have to look at cultures comparatively because they’ve learned that no one language culture has all the answers.

    It’s also good for career skills.  Comparative Literature students are well prepared for just about any career or profession that requires strong critical thinkers, readers, and writers. 

  • How does the major/minor in Comparative Literature work?

    There are two different tracks for the major/minor.  Between them, they offer a lot of flexibility and accommodate different interests or goals.  Both tracks also combine well with a second major/minor and with study-abroad programs.

    1. The Literature/Media/Critical Thought Track allows students to focus their study in one of three concentrations while also taking courses in the other two. Together, these three concentrations represent the broad range of interests in the discipline: (1) literature considered comparatively and transnationally; (2) the media of other arts and modes of communication (for example, photography, film, music, painting, or digital media); (3) modes of critical thought that inform and shape theoretical reflection on the arts and society. This track offers the opportunity to pursue a major that is broadly based in the liberal arts.
    2. The Foreign Language Track incorporates the study of at least one literature in a foreign language, a possibility that is especially of interest for students who are already proficient in a language other than English.  It is also the option recommended for majors who intend to pursue graduate study in Comparative Literature.

    The above reflects the major/minor requirements for students whose catalogue year is 2007-2008 or later. Students on earlier catalogue years should consult their catalogues for their major/minor requirements. Past catalogues can be found here.

  • What are current majors/minors saying about Comparative Literature?

    In their own words:

    • Says Megan Rilkoff, a recent 2013 graduate who majored in Comparative Literature, "I was first drawn to the Comparative Lit major because of my passion for literature and discussion, but I soon grew to love COLT as the interdisciplinary major that it is.  The small class sizes and attentive department made me feel like I had a home within my major, something truly rare at a large research institution like USC.  My fellow COLT classmates were incessantly curious and my professors engaging and incredibly knowledgeable, challenging my perceptions and ideas of the world and leading to exciting and memorable discussions that will continue to define COLT for me in the years to come.  One unique skill in particular that COLT teaches that I feel is vitally important to any field today is the skill of divergent thinking - the ability to see multi-laterally from different perspectives and to search for and discover numerous answers and solutions, instead of just one.  This paired with the critical thinking and writing skills I honed through my COLT study makes me feel truly prepared" and confident for whatever career my future holds.

            



    • Says Ryan Blakemore, a graduate who majored in Comparative Literature and Communications, "My blind leap of faith into the little-known major entitled Comparative Literature has turned into the best decision I have made in my college career.As I have come to realize, 'to be truly creative is to wrest from the realm of the familiar.'Comparative Literature allows me to be different with its unique interdisciplinary approach and flexible structure. The most impressive aspect in my experience is the department’s ability to simultaneously stimulate my mind and my morals, allowing me to flex my intellectual power and harness it in a fantastically creative approach to problems larger than myself."
    • Says Sarah Briley, a graduate who majored in Comparative Literature and French, "I took my first Comparative Literature class because I’ve always loved to read, and the class topic was fascinating. But I chose it as a major because not only has Comp Lit improved my writing skills and prepared me for law school, but my classes also combine philosophy, history, psychology, and a multitude of other disciplines with the study of the literature of a certain person, place or mindset. Though the central focus on literature taught me to write clearly and eloquently, the major offers so much more, and has educated me more fully than I thought possible."
    • Says Nick Hernandez, a graduate who majored in Comparative Literature and Political Science, "Comparative Literature opened my eyes to a world outside my own.  More than anything comparative literature has shown me a different way of understanding and comprehending the world.  I’ve been able to reconsider what exactly literature is and how it functions in an ever-growing culture or academia, politics, and revolutionary thought.  I chose comparative literature out of pure curiosity and now see it as the best choice since my choice to attend USC.  Without the courses in comparative literature I would not be who I am today.  From Desire, Literature and Technology to Literary Theory and Criticism, comparative literature has truly shown me a unique path to learning and education.  For this, I recommended comparative literature to anyone looking for a challenge and a truly exceptional course of study."
    • Says Natalie Kegulian, a graduate who majored in Biological Sciences with a Comparative Literature minor, "Upon transferring to USC and looking for a minor, I was drawn to comp lit because it’s so inclusive, not only of literature across nationalities and genres, but also of disciplines. It provides the opportunity to examine deep philosophical questions from a variety of perspectives, see the truly human side to social issues, and do all the rich reading and writing any lit major is supposed to do. I have engaged in all these explorations; I’ve even co-produced a documentary for a class project. Comp lit is as wonderfully open a discipline as I expected when I chose it."
    • Says Andrew Pouw, a graduate who majored in  Comparative Literature and Biological Sciences, "At the same time as I learned the fundamentals of basic science for my career, I also wanted to grow and develop as a person by learning of new ways to look at everything we often take for granted.  I conceived of the world and everything in it as a puzzle: science could tell you how some of it worked, but I needed something else to figure out its significance.  Majoring in Comparative Literature has provided me with the breadth of an interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and the critical skill of a humanities education, with which I will be able to better empathize with my future patients and their passions while also enjoying my own to their fullest potential."
    • Says Kari Wilhelm, a graduate who majored in  Comparative Literature and Economics, "I have always thought of college as a time to explore and grow intellectually. I entered undeclared, knowing only that I wanted a program of study that would allow for deep conversations and a broad range of topics. What I found was Comparative Literature: the most incredible way to read about everything and have the opportunity to really go in-depth about classic and modern topics in literature and society. I could not imagine a better way to study my way through college than by the great reads and even better conversations that I have found in the Comp Lit Department."

     

  • Department of Comparative Literature
  • USC Dornsife
  • 3501 Trousdale Parkway
  • Taper Hall of Humanities 161
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0353