Graduate Program in Comparative Literature

Graduate studies in Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison emphasize a strong background in multiple linguistic-literary traditions and a solid foundation in western philosophy and theory. To enhance interpretation and analysis, and communication across scholarly disciplines, students characteristically complete coursework in various literary historical periods and genres within the department and in other language and literature programs across campus.

Our faculty and graduate students come from diverse backgrounds and work in European, North and South American, Middle Eastern, and Asian literatures. They foster an eclectic mix of perspectives across many specialties ranging from Ancient Greek philosophy and literature and medieval European literature to African-American literature, trans-Atlantic modernism and avante-garde literature, as well as dramatic literature, film, children’s literature, media studies, world literature, animal studies, “third world” literature, modern and contemporary science fiction, and nationalism, feminism, and continental philosophy and theory.

Download our Graduate Student Handbook for Academic Year 2018-2019


Graduate study in the Department of Comparative Literature emphasizes the active theorizing of the comparative, the literary, and the cultural in a global context. Comparative literature investigates literatures and cultures within, across, and beyond national and linguistic boundaries. The comparative and pluri-lingual nature of comparative literature at UW–Madison enables the careful and informed study of new and evolving theories and literary and cultural methodologies as well as of prior, present, and emerging literary and cultural practices and phenomena.

Students study problems in theory and criticism, culture, genre, mode, periodization, literary movements, and translation. They engage problems and questions concerning the interaction of “high” and “low” literatures; of literature with other arts or other disciplines; and the relationships between literature and economic, sociopolitical, and other historical structures and issues, including ideological and value formations.

Graduate study leads to the M.A. and the Ph.D. degrees in comparative literature.

The department also offers a minor in comparative literature to interested Ph.D. candidates in other degree programs.

Comparative literature as an intellectual field arose in the nineteenth century, a counterpart of the equally new fields of comparative anatomy, comparative law, and comparative philology. These fields sought to locate what they postulated as the larger whole that united the various differences of specific languages, laws, species, and (national) literatures. Comparative literature presumably acquired its name as such from a series of French anthologies for the teaching of literature; published in 1816, they were entitled Cours de littérature comparée.

The field and the academic discipline of comparative literature have taken a few turns and made a few shifts in focus since the nineteenth century. And the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has taken its own turns and shifts since it began as a program in 1917 and was established as a department in 1926. As its founders — Professors Philo Buck, Hazel Alberson, Gian Orsini — the faculty of the Department of Comparative Literature continue to be part of a lively and engaging intellectual community in the department and beyond. In collaboration with our undergraduate majors, our graduate students, and our interested colleagues from across the campus, we raise questions in both our teaching and our research of the comparative, of literature, its original languages and its translations, and of the interdisciplinary. And we seek to address those questions in open discussion, based on careful thought, on informed analysis, and sometimes (we hope) on epiphanic insight. Our course offerings, as the scholarly work of our faculty and the emerging scholarship of our students, engage with a wide range of languages and literatures, of disciplinary and theoretical questions, of popular and literary cultures, and of problematics–of the comparative in a global age, of the nation, of race and ethnicity, or the modern, the early modern, the ancient and the classical, of the visual, of history, lyric, drama and performance, or narrative.

We welcome to the study of comparative literature students with a wide variety of backgrounds and a diversity of interests and skills, including (but not limited to) fluency in foreign languages. For comparative literature is the study of literature in its original languages from a carefully conceptualized cross-cultural perspective. Comparison between the literature of one culture with that of other cultures represents the most common comparative work done in our intermediate courses. But the study of Comparative Literature at U. W. Madison also includes more complex questions of comparison and of the study of literature in relation to other disciplines (e.g., philosophy, history, area studies) and to other arts (e.g., painting, cinema, architecture, music). And Comparative Literature encompasses the history of literary criticism and important historical and contemporary issues in literary theory.

Students in the Department of Comparative Literature have the opportunity to study texts from various historical periods and cultural and literary movements and to develop the intellectual fluency necessary to pose and begin to answer fundamental questions regarding the place of the literary text in society, in cultural traditions, and in aesthetic thought generally. They may also pursue more advanced questions of specific modes of literary analysis and of the function of the literary.

Literary fluency in specific languages is the foundation of all work in Comparative Literature. With that fluency as a basis, the student of Comparative Literature might engage in an exploration of problems in genre, mode, literary period, or movement; in an exploration of the of literary form; in the analysis of existing theoretical and critical approaches; in the formulation of necessary critical distinctions; of the interaction of literature with other arts and disciplines; or, of the political, social and intellectual contexts of literature.

The study of Comparative Literature at the U. W. Madison is a lively and often exciting discussion about these and other questions. We invite you to join in that conversation.


Comparative Literature Option in Comparative Literature & Folklore Studies 

 51 credits of coursework

Effective Fall Term, 2016


MA Requirements, Comparative Literature Option

  • 30 credits including:
    • CL 702 (Introduction to Comparative Studies)
    • CL 771 (Literary Criticism)
    • at least one graduate level seminar in CLFS
  • Overall GPA of 3.5
  • Successful completion of the Second Year (“M.A.”) Examination
  • Successful completion of the Examination in a Second Language. Reading list.


PhD Requirements, Comparative Literature Option

  • all MA Requirements, including CL 771 (Literary Criticism)
  • 51 credits of coursework:
    • Must include:
      • CL822 (Translation Seminar)
      • At least two other 700-level courses
      • A course in the comparative literatures of each of the following periods:
        • Archaic/Classical
        • Medieval/Renaissance/Early Modern
      • No more than three 400 level Comparative Literature courses
      • 12 credits to complete a Ph.D. minor:
        • Option A: 12 credits in a single department other than CLFS
        • Option B: 12 credits distributed across two or more departments other than CLFS that may include Folklore courses within CLFS (distributed minor)
        • Option C: 12 credits outside the Comparative Literature area in CLFS (intradepartmental minor)
      • Strongly encouraged: A CLFS course in each of the three major literary genres:
        • Narrative
        • Poetry
        • Drama
  • 3.5 GPA each semester
  • Demonstration of competence in a third language
  • Demonstration of reading proficiency in a fourth language
  • Successful completion of the Preliminary Examinations
  • Successful completion of a Dissertation and Oral Defense.
  • Note: This is not an exhaustive list of requirements. For more complete information, please see the Graduate School Catalog (


A. Students entering with a B.A.:

• Successful completion of the Examination in a Second Language by the end of the 1st year;
• Successful completion of the Second Year Examination by the 4th semester;
• Successful completion of the Ph.D. preliminary examinations and the Ph.D. minor by the end of the 10th semester.
• Successful completion of the dissertation within 5 years of the Ph.D. preliminary examination.

B. Students entering with the M.A. in comparative literature:

• Acceptance into the Ph.D. program by successful completion of the Second Year Examination by the second semester in residence (and the Examination in a Second Language by the end of the 1st semester);.
• Successful completion of the Ph.D. preliminary examinations and the Ph.D. minor by end of the 8th semester.
• Successful completion of the dissertation within 5 years of the Ph.D. preliminary examination.

 Madison Graduate School Electronic Application

PhD Minor:

Ph.D. Students in Comparative Literature (See Degree Requirements)


The Department of Comparative Literature offers the Ph.D. minor to graduate students of other departments who are interested in pursuing the workings of comparative methodology in a global context and in broadening their critical and conceptual framework for their study of literatures, cultures, and texts.

Distribution of Coursework:
The minor requires a minimum of 12 credits of course work in comparative literature courses, which must include CL 702 (Problems in Comparative Studies) and at least one seminar at the 800 or 900 level.  Three credits may be taken at the 400 level, with the consent of the Director of Graduate Studies. Please note that 300 level CL courses do not count towards a CL graduate minor.

At the beginning of studies in the department, all Ph.D. minors should contact the Director of Graduate Studies to discuss plans for the minor.