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Department of Comparative Literature and Humanities
Last updated January 2003

Activities in 2001-02

The Department of Comparative Literature and Humanities is committed to promoting a global and multicultural view of the world's languages, literatures, semiotic systems and cultural traditions. Established just seven years ago in 1995/1996 and substantially re-organized in 2000/2001, the Department is a work in progress. While the appropriateness of the merger of the hitherto exclusively undergraduate Department of Humanities and the Graduate Program in Comparative Literature is not in question, successful integration of the previously independent components of the new Department remains an unfinished task. The creation of a cohesive program in interdisciplinary humanistic study extending across both undergraduate and graduate levels is thus an important current priority of the Department.

The Undergraduate Program in Humanities

A number of revisions to the undergraduate program are contemplated whose combined effect will, we believe, both render the undergraduate program current with contemporary developments in interdisciplinary studies and coherently link the humanities major to the graduate program in Comparative Literature. For instance, a broad objective of curricular development in general in the years ahead will be to offer Humanities undergraduates acquaintance with an expanding array of world cultural traditions. As an initial step in that direction, we are enlarging the number of literature-in-translation courses that we currently cross-list from affiliated departments so that Humanities majors will henceforth be able to enroll in courses surveying Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, and Spanish literatures. By offering Humanities majors an expanded list of literature-in-translation courses, we will be encouraging them to widen their literary horizons beyond the anglophone literary traditions that as many as half of them currently choose as areas of emphasis in their individual programs of study. At the same time, it is possible that by enrolling in such courses, our majors may be inspired to pursue the language study that would enable them to read their favorite literatures in the languages in which they were written. Those who do so may then be interested in the B.A. / M.A. joint degree program we are currently designing which will enable students simultaneously to complete an undergraduate Humanities major and a masterís degree in Comparative Literature in an intensive five-year course of study.

We have also recently revised our gateway-to-the-major course, Humanities 2000 "Topics in Humanities." The course is team-taught by three to four regular faculty each of whom provides a topical mini-course introducing students to interdisciplinary study in the particular faculty memberís area of expertise. We believe the course has been effective in laying a foundation for more sophisticated interdisciplinary work at the upper-division level, but we have been concerned about the lack of instructional continuity in a format that has faculty rotating through at roughly four to five week intervals. Accordingly, we have now added a graduate part-time instructor to the courseís teaching complement who leads weekly recitation sections in which students will have the opportunity to make pertinent connections among the diverse faculty presentations. The course has also suffered from staffing problems given the small number of faculty heretofore rostered in the department. The 2000/2001 reorganization, however, which entailed significantly enlarging the department membership such that every language and literature unit in the division now has at least one faculty joint member in our Department, enables us to draw from a substantial pool to staff the course.

In our scheduled assessment of graduating Humanities majors in spring 2003 and for the next several years, we will be reviewing our majorsí written work with a particular focus on determining the extent to which Humanities 2000 has enabled them to undertake interdisciplinary analytical and interpretive projects spanning diverse arts and humanities traditions. We also expect to examine our majorsí individual programs of study in order to ascertain the extent to which the aggregate of each studentís coursework constitutes a coherent interdisciplinary curriculum.

The Graduate Program in Comparative Literature

The Department has undertaken a thorough review of the graduate program. Given the nature of our discipline, this involves revisiting not only the content and structure of the program itself, but also our relations with affiliated units, and especially with other literature departments. The overall themes of the review are:

  1. To ensure that our graduate students acquire a detailed picture of the discipline of Comparative Literature both as it has been practiced in the past and as it is currently practiced.
  2. To ensure that our students receive the best possible training in their specific areas of research interest, including mastery of the history and traditions of the individual national literatures in which they are most likely to find employment.
  3. To ensure that our students receive a thorough and well-rounded preparation for the profession, including preparation as teachers as well as scholars.
  4. To increase both the number of students enrolled in the program and the range of courses taught and sub-disciplines covered in our curriculum.
  5. To streamline the program wherever possible in order to facilitate studentsí progress through the M.A. to the Ph.D. and then out into the profession.

The Department believes that our placement record constitutes an important measure of the success of the graduate program in Comparative Literature. In recent years, graduates of the doctoral program have been appointed to tenure-track assistant professorships at Swarthmore College, Carleton College, the University of Cincinnati, Murray State University (in Kentucky), Rocky Mountain College (in Montana), Ohio University, the City University of Hong Kong, and closer to home, Metro State University in Denver and the Herbst Humanities Program in the College of Engineering. As we begin to implement the various modifications to our graduate program alluded to above, we expect corresponding improvement in what we regard as an already impressive placement record.

Previous Assessment Activities

The department assessed its goals for undergraduates in 1989-90 and 1990-91 by having a panel of instructors evaluate papers written for senior capstone-type courses. Eleven of twelve papers in 1989-90 were judged good to very good, and one was judged satisfactory. In 1990-91, five of twelve papers were judged excellent, six good, and one satisfactory. A typical reader's comment was, "Humanities study has helped [this student] to exercise his own critical thinking effectively."

In 1991-92 the department intended to continue evaluating papers written for senior capstone-type courses. The unexpected illness and death of the department chair and the later illness of the acting chair kept the evaluation from being completed that year or in 1992-93. Assessment did not resume in 1993-94. The major and department were extensively reorganized in 1994-95 and 1995-96; plans are to reconsider both the department's goals and their assessment during 1996-97 in light of the reorganization.

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Last revision 01/28/03

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