In 2004, the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) and the Association for Departments and Programs of Comparative Literature (ADPCL) decided to undertake a study of the undergraduate Comparative Literature curriculum.  The study resulted in the 2005 Report on the Undergraduate Comparative Literature Curriculum, which appeared in the Modern Language Association’s journal Profession in 2006.  It was the first attempt in over 30 years to study the undergraduate Comparative Literature curriculum at institutions throughout the U.S.  Unlike earlier reports on standards (the Nichols report on Undergraduate Programs in Comparative Literature, 1975) or the state of the discipline (the Levin Report, 1965; the Greene Report, 1975; the Bernheimer Report, 1993; and “The State of Discipline, 2004” by Saussy et al.), this report’s goal was more descriptive than prescriptive.  The committee who produced the report believed that an updated description of current curricula was necessary before asserting any prescriptive statements.  The report was empirical, based on data, and provided a snapshot of the undergraduate curriculum at that time.

Data Collected and Findings of 2005 Report

The 2005 report established the number of institutions with departments or programs of Comparative Literature (170) and of formal undergraduate programs that granted a BA in Comparative Literature (100) at that time.  It gathered data on the structure and requirements of the major and the minor, and despite the diversity of institutions, found substantial agreement on the broad outlines of what an undergraduate Comparative Literature degree should involve:

  • Proficiency in a language in addition to English;
  • Courses that focus on literary analysis;
  • Courses on literary theory; and
  • A balance between Western and non-Western, and between pre-modern and modern, components.

The 2005 report also gathered data on funding, staffing, and teaching opportunities for graduate students where applicable.

In addition to collecting data, the report examined three major issues relating to the undergraduate Comparative Literature curriculum.  First, it looked at the relationship between Comparative Literature and World Literature in Translation and found that while translations were widely used, the concern occasionally raised that undergraduate Comparative Literature had become wholly literature in translation was not borne out by the data.  Second, it surveyed the ways in which translations were used and found that some three-quarters of respondents said that they and their colleagues used translations critically.  Third, it investigated the study of non-Western materials and found that undergraduate Comparative Literature curricula were indeed “going global”; where it had once been relatively rare for a Comparative Literature curriculum to extend beyond the Western tradition, by 2005 it was definitely the norm to do so.

2014 Report

In 2013, as the ACLA discussed the upcoming State of the Discipline Report, it expressed an interest in having an updated report on the undergraduate curriculum as part of the larger report.  Doing so reflects a major shift in the view of undergraduate programs on the part of the discipline.  Whereas earlier reports questioned whether the discipline of Comparative Literature should even have undergraduate programs, now the discipline not only accepts them, but also recognizes their importance to the discipline as a whole.  Indeed, one could argue that the practical implications of the theoretical questions debated decennially in the reports on the state of the discipline are most evident in the structures of the undergraduate curriculum.

Like the 2005 report, the current report is still data driven.[2]  The preliminary findings are as follows:

I. Total number of undergraduate programs that grant a BA in Comparative Literature[3]

  • 2013: 117[4]
  • 2004: 100
  • Percentage increase: 17%[5]

We see this increase as positive as, despite cuts, the number of Departments/Programs of Comparative Literature has grown since the last study.

II. Percentage of BAs awarded in any given year at institutions that grant a BA in Comparative Literature

2005 (Figure 1)

The 2005 report found that during the 12-year period then under study (1992-2004), at institutions that granted a BA in Comparative Literature, Comparative Literature BAs accounted for between 0.21% and 0.26% of BAs awarded in any given year.  Therefore, Comparative Literature BAs remained quite stable, accounting for, on average, 0.23% of all BAs awarded at their institutions.  In contrast, BAs in English Language and Literature/Letters at these same institutions steadily declined from 7.16% in 1992 to 5.15% in 2004.  BAs in Foreign Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at these institutions remained fairly consistent, accounting for, on average, 2.27% of all BAs awarded

Percentage of BAs awarded in English, Foreign Langs, Comp Lit (2005)

2014 (Figure 2)

The most recent data collected determined that during the 10-year period under study (2003-2012), at institutions that granted a BA in Comparative Literature, the range of percentage of Comparative Literature BAs awarded each year was between 0.22% and 0.28%, reflecting a slight overall increase in percentages from those of the previous study.  The average was slightly higher as well (0.24%).  In contrast, BAs in English Language and Literature/Letters at these same institutions steadily declined from 5.22% in 2003 to 3.91% in 2012.  BAs in Foreign Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at these institutions showed a slight increase from 2.80% in 2003 to 3.05% in 2012, with a high of 3.20% in 2007 and 2008.

Percentage of BAs in English, Foreign Langs, and CL 2014

* The percentages for 2003 and 2004 differ from those previously reported in Figure 1 due to different constructions of the cohorts.

III. Requirements of the major

We are still in process of analyzing data regarding the requirements of the major, but can report that the large majority of programs still require proficiency in a language in addition to English.

IV. Main issues

The 2014 report also examines three predominant issues that will affect the future of undergraduate Comparative Literature in the coming decade.  First, it looks at institutional location: where does Comparative Literature live? who are our neighbors?  The report surveys the lived experience of those who teach Comparative Literature, specifically where they do so: in Comparative Literature departments/programs (with or without formal appointments—which was the focus of the previous report) or elsewhere?  The report also studies the flowchart positioning of the major and what that position says about Comparative Literature’s standing and role at the institution: is Comparative Literature a track within another department or program major, or is it a major in an independent department or program with or without its own tracks?

Second, the report looks at Global Studies/International Studies, particularly at its relationship to current departmental structures in Comparative Literature.  It examines how the globalization of the curriculum and the frequent rise of an entity (department? major? other?) called Global Studies or International Studies is affecting Comparative Literature, both in terms of enrollment/number of majors and in terms of approaches to the fields of study in the curriculum.

Third, the report looks at the effects of Visual Studies, Film Studies, and New Media Studies on Comparative Literature.  Each issue points to a shift in the object under study and the question of what we mean by text.  This is not a new shift, but one that, in the case of new media, brings with it a host of new questions regarding how to examine and discuss the new texts as objects of inquiry.  In addition, it raises the issue of the multimodality of scholarly production and teaching.  There is a strong interest on the part of students to study these objects: how do they fit in our curricula?  The report will collect information on these issues via a survey, but will also incorporate qualitative, narrative, anecdotal examples.

Timeline, process, and an invitation

During the next 12 months, while the report is open, we will be collecting qualitative data as described above.  We will also solicit anecdotal examples on the three issues outlined above.

At the March 2014 annual meeting of the ACLA in New York, the ADPCL will convene a working session on the 2014 Report on the Undergraduate Comparative Literature Curriculum.  The session will meet on Saturday, 22 March, 8:30-10:00 a.m., in Silver 402, when we will present a draft of the survey on the issues outlined above.  The working session is intended for all Comparative Literature Department and Program Chairs or their representative, and breakfast is provided.  If you wish to attend, RSVP to Carey Eckhardt (Penn State),, by Wednesday, 19 March.

While the number of institutions offering a BA in Comparative Literature has been determined, as noted above, the survey to determine their further characteristics, and to provide comparisons with the 2005 data, will be sent out to department and program chairs in the spring.  Please be on the lookout for the survey and respond to it.

We will present our findings at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association in Seattle in January, 2015. If you are interested in contributing an anecdotal example (of no more than 1,250 words) relating to one or more of three main issues identified above to the report, please contact Corinne Scheiner (Colorado College),


Works Cited

Bernheimer, Charles, ed.  Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.  Print.

“The Bernheimer Report, 1993.”  In Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism.  Ed. Charles Bernheimer.  39-48.  Print.

“The Greene Report, 1975.”  In Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism.  Ed. Charles Bernheimer.  28-38.  Print.

“IPEDS Data Center.”  National Center for Education Statistics.  U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, and National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.  Web.  6 March 2014.

“The Levin Report, 1965.”  In Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism.  Ed. Charles Bernheimer.  21-27.  Print.

Nichols, Stephen G.  “Undergraduate Comparative Literature: Profile 1974.”  American Comparative Literature Association Newsletter 7 (Fall 1975): 1-32.  Print.

“Professional Directories.”  Modern Language Association.  Modern Language Association, 9 May 2013.  Web.  6 March 2014.

Saussy, Haun, et al.  “The State of the Discipline, 2004.”  In Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization.  Ed. Haun Saussy.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006.  3-182.  Print.

Scheiner, Corinne, et al“2005 Report on the Undergraduate Comparative Literature Curriculum.”  Profession (2006): 177-197.  Print.



[1] This report was generously funded by the President’s Office of Colorado College.  Special thanks go to Elizabeth Conant (Colorado College), Benjamin Moffitt (Colorado College), and Lindsay Semel (Colorado College) for their assistance in the collection and analysis of the data contained in the report.

[2] Data collected thus far is subject to change based on responses to the survey that will be administered in spring 2014.

[3] The report collects data from two sources: 1) IPEDS (Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System) Completions Report, maintained by the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), the US government’s depository of higher education data, which gathers information about students’ graduating majors and programs of study in a given academic year; and 2) the MLA Professional Directory of Departments and Programs of Comparative Literature.  Both sources rely on self-reporting on the part of the academic institutions.  To establish the cohort of institutions that grant a BA in Comparative Literature, the report includes 1) institutions that reported completions in Comparative Literature to IPEDS in any year during the period under review (including those that reported “0”) and 2) institutions that informed the MLA in 2013 that they offered some form of Comparative Literature at the undergraduate level (in the form of a major, minor, concentration, or courses) and that, per their websites, provided students the opportunity to receive a BA in Comparative Literature.

[4] The 2005 report included programs at institutions outside the United States.  However, given that IPEDS does not collect data on those institutions, the 2014 report limits totals to programs in the United States, so there is actually a slightly higher increase in programs than that indicated.

[5] Increase by Carnegie Classifications:

                Doctorate-granting Universities: 68, up from 63 = 7.9% increase

                Masters Colleges and Universities: 17, up from 13 = 3.1% increase

                Baccalaureate Colleges: 29, up from 18 = 61.1% increase

                Unknown: 3, up from 0 = 300% increase