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Author Topic: Comparative Literature  (Read 3934 times)
New member
Posts: 5

« on: April 19, 2012, 4:41:46 PM »

I know it's common for people to apply to and enter Comp Lit programs with non-Comp Lit degrees (e.g. a degree in French or English etc), but I'm wondering how programs view applicants with strong background in certain languages who want to expand to literature of another language that they haven't yet done work in. I'm in that position right now. I have a literature BA in languages X and Y and am doing an MA also in languages X and Y. I'm applying to some X and Y programs but am also interested in Comp Lit programs because I want to expand my research focus beyond X and Y. In my case the literature I am interested in expanding to is English literature, which I don't have coursework in beyond the introductory level early in my BA. I am unsure if this would be a problem. It's not a language I have to learn (i.e. I can see the problem if I were trying to move into Russian, say) and I am mostly interested in issues of reception of X and Y in English.

Any input would be greatly appreciated. I am very unfamiliar with Comp Lit, but have been spending time on the websites of several programs and the coursework and chances for interdisciplinary work sound a lot more appealing than restricting my focus to X and Y.
or, the modern Prometheus.
Distinguished Senior Member
Posts: 9,567

« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2012, 7:10:13 AM »

Why exactly do you want a PhD in Comp Lit?  If it is just for personal interest, fine, but the chances of ever getting a full time (tenure track) job with a PhD in Comp Lit are slim to none.  And in any case, only go if you get full funding.  Apply to the best programs and see what you get.  Don't pay or get a loan to get a PhD in the humanities.


Zharkov's Razor:
Adapting Zharkov a bit to this situation, ignorance and confusion can explain a lot.
Senior member
Posts: 612

Located directly over the center of the earth

« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2012, 7:21:05 AM »

I have a doctorate in Comp Lit, and added a language as I started the doctoral program.  To assure my committee about my determination to get up and running in that language as quickly as possible, I chose it as the focus of my candidacy exam, which had to be taken in the first year of the doctoral program.

"How fleeting are all human passions compared with the massive continuity of ducks...."
Junior member
Posts: 52

« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2012, 10:36:36 AM »

I've heard the same thing as zharkov. I was a CompLit major as an undergrad, but switched to one language for graduate work. All I heard was, there are no jobs for comparatists (not that there are so many jobs for non-comparatists :) ). You'll have to search for work mainly in single-language departments, and your expertise will be diluted by your multiple research areas.

However, I know a lot of people in my field who have secondary interest points in other languages. So they kind of did comparative work on the side while getting the doctorate in one language.

Distinguished Senior Member
Posts: 7,506

« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2012, 3:25:33 PM »

Even twenty years ago, Comp Lit departments were the first thing to go when a university encountered any financial pinch. The "advantage" for universities was, I think, that most of the tenured faculty could be moved over to their primary language, so one could downsize by cutting the untenured TT faculty without having to get rid of people with tenure. One consequence, however, is that comp lit departments in which to find a job are still becoming scarcer every year.
New member
Posts: 5

« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2012, 5:39:38 PM »

This is all good, and scary, to know. I have been looking at placements for high-ranked schools and they seemed heartening. I won't be applying to any schools that are not top-ranked because my X and Y languages also are really suffering and there aren't many TT academic jobs in that area either. For some reason I had thought that Comp Lit would make me more appealing as a candidate, since I want to work at a SLAC and I was thinking I could look for employment in both X and Y and potentially English departments as well and could sell myself as being able to teach more classes in more areas.

zharkov, I know your questions are theoretical and were meant to make me mindful of academic realities, but I think you raise an important point for why I would want to get a degree in Comp Lit. I know you meant it in a different way, but for me the question is why Comp Lit and not X and Y, because I think that will be an issue I will need to justify in my personal statement, since all my work has been in X and Y so far. In response to what you said, while I would love an academic job, I'm definitely not attached to the idea and I want to teach rather than do a lot of research, so I would be perfectly happy teaching at a high school or moving to a different profession. The PhD is more of a personal challenge for me and an end in itself. I am also really tired of X and Y and the thought of doing a PhD in that area feels restricting. I want a wider reach and a wider time period, and I want to be able to work with larger themes rather than specific texts that most people in the world don't even read.

Anyway, there's a lot here to think about. I'll definitely be talking to people about what would be best. Thanks for the input so far!
strange attractor
Distinguished Senior Member
Posts: 8,357

« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2012, 7:12:36 PM »

This is difficult to determine.
I'm not sure you need to focus on the fact that you want to start a new language's literature when you get to the Grad Comp Lit program. Focus on where you are strong until you are accepted into a program. Do mention your interest in the new language/literature esp. if it is a hot area. Once in they will support and encourage you to add more language/literary traditions to your repertoire. Adding a new language and its literary history to your competencies is your job! (I know, sucks, but someone's gotta do it- teehee) 

They will usually fund you to do intensive study in the "new" language. I'm trying to think if anyone I know is teaching, as in holds a position in, a language they only began studying in grad school. I'm afraid I cannot think of anyone who started something like Swedish in Grad school and is now a Swedish professor.

But I do know of people who are teaching in Jewish Studies and working with Yiddish when they'd not started until 3rd year of grad school. Teaching and writing on Arabic literature which they began only 2nd year grad school.  And actually, my own research is on a language I didn't learn until 3rd year grad school but I don't teach it but I could and other colleagues of mine do though they started only in grad school. It isn't a spoken language though. None of these examples is about teaching the language with a couple lit classes thrown in which is what a lot of Comp Lit kids do for a first job.
the new language/literature is "easy" to acquire for you it may make you more attractive (Old Norse, or Yiddish when you know hebrew and German, or Portuguese when you know all other Romance languages etc.)

The good thing about doing a Comp Lit degree is you can apply to your top 2 or 3 language fields. While someone who does only English cannot apply for jobs in French if you do something English and Frenchy you can apply to jobs in both markets. Many job ads in Language departments explicitly ask for people who can do more than one language or who are working transnationally with multiple literary/linguistic cultures.  When you have a Comp Lit degree and research and diss you don't have to prove you have the chops in some 2nd thing: they know you can do it. If you do a French degree and they want German too they sometimes say they want 18 grad hours in the 2nd thing.  Some areas now assume you will be able to handle the various languages of the period and locale while a couple of decades ago you could get by with just one.
i.e., I have seen a lot of
-French jobs asking for Arabic or an African language too
-Spanish Medieval asking for Latin but also Arabic and/or Hebrew

In your situation I would write out what I want to do with my life. Then list what I need to get there.
I'd read dissertation abstracts and job ads.
Thing is, in a decade Arabic may no longer be hot. It may be Korean.
That's why I think people should go with their passion and hope for the best. Well, you can push Fortuna along by noting how that passion can be found in lots and lots of places/periods/languages especially the hot topics of the moment.

Profuse gift offerings to garnish your day.
maizetastic, grained-up
Distinguished Senior Member
Posts: 1,928

« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2012, 9:31:01 PM »

Basically a chime to what everyone else has said here. Adding English (assuming English is your native language) doesn't raise the same issues as adding a new foreign language, though, because you won't have to spend several years developing fluency. In my grad program, many people "also did" English-language lit, at least in bits and pieces. (Many also added new foreign languages, for what that's worth.) In my limited experience, CL people are often pretty open to letting you develop new areas of expertise. A separate issue is what courses the other departments (English, e.g.) will allow you to take.

And yes, the job market is abysmal - not only b/c CL programs and departments have been closing down, but also b/c CL was never as ubiquitous as, say, English - SLACs don't have CL departments, by and large, nor do regional state universities. For jobs in English or national language departments, yes, Comp Lit may make you more appealing as a candidate, but it can also make you *less* appealing, because you may lack (or seem to lack) the necessary breadth and depth within the discipline. It can also make it harder to get into CC or high school teaching because you won't have the necessary coursework in any of the fields that they teach.

I love comp lit and I think it's really important, but there's very little room for it out there in job land, unfortunately.

It may just be bourbon in the garden today, and making the best of things.
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