Covers of Jack Shaffer's novels.
Program Overview

Comparative Literature

Crossing linguistic and cultural frontiers.

The western novels of Oberlin alum Jack Shaffer 1929 have been translated into over thirty five languages across the world.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Oberlin College Libraries Terrell Special Collections

Travel Across Languages and Cultural Forms

A popular major at Oberlin, comparative literature welcomes curious students seeking intellectual encouragement and community for pursuing a unique combination of interests. Interdisciplinary is our middle name. From the relationship of music and the visual arts to literature, to transcontinental readings of exile, the comparative literature major offers robust training in the traditions and cultures of others seen through their artistic production and in the context of their language(s), their history, and their social and political realities. The courses comparative literature offers focus on four major areas of study while also drawing on our faculty’s areas of expertise: Literary theory, literature and the other arts, East-West studies, European languages and literatures, and literary translation. Program alumni have attended top graduate programs, received numerous Fulbrights, and other fellowships. They’ve embarked on  successful careers in academia, journalism, film, nonprofit organizations, publishing, libraries, the arts, and teaching at all levels.

A Community of Literary Translators and Scholars

Moving across boundaries of language, nation, culture, artistic medium, genre, and historical period. Because the major requires a combination of depth, breadth, and creativity, together with an advanced knowledge of at least one foreign or ancient language, students consult with advisors to create individualized curricular pathways that match their specific interests. The major requires advanced proficiency in a language other than English and a senior capstone or honors project. Every major completes a senior capstone project with individualized attention from a faculty advisor. The opportunity to work closely with professional translators and scholars on a topic of special interest to them.

Oberlin College is among the top producers of FULBRIGHT SCHOLARS in the United States with comparative literature students among the top yielding programs at the College
Oberlin College Recognized as Top Fulbright Producer
Every Comparative Literature major must complete a CAPSTONE PROJECT in collaboration with a faculty mentor

One Community, Several Pathways

Interested in studying the wider Spanish-speaking world? Oberlin has four academic programs you can major in, and you can choose more than one: Hispanic studies, Latin American studies, comparative American studies, and comparative literature.

A student standing in front of a colorful, abstract mural.

Featured Courses

CMPL 200

Introduction to Comparative Literature

Comparative literature is the study of literature, theory, and criticism across the boundaries of language, nation, culture, artistic medium and historical period. This course examines the nature and scope of the discipline, focusing both on its theoretical assumptions and its practical applications. Texts and topics reflect curricular strengths of the college and include literary theory, literature & the other arts, world literature, European languages and literatures, and translation.

Taught by
CMPL 250

Introduction to Literary Translation

The gateway to translation studies at Oberlin, this course is an introduction to the history and theory of literary translation. Focusing on culturally significant examples, students will examine linguistic, stylistic, political, economic, philosophical, and technological aspects of translation. Emphasis will be placed on the historical evolution of the roles of translators and translations and on how translation has shaped literary culture since the Renaissance. Topics will include genre and cross-genre translation (fiction, poetry, and drama), issues of translatability and translation strategy, and the impact of translations on untranslated writing.

Taught by
Stiliana Milkova
CMPL 279

Poetry and Political Activism

In this course, we will consider the relationship between poetry and politics within modern and contemporary Anglophone literatures. What makes a poem or poet political? When and how has poetry been mobilized as a tool of protest and resistance? How have poets of color, Jewish poets, and writers from other marginalized communities contributed to this body of writing? Key figures include Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, and Amiri Baraka.

Taught by
Sheera Talpaz
CMPL 327

Surrealism from Center to Margins

This course will begin with manifestoes and nonfictional texts by Breton and Aragon, and film, paintings, and collage-novels by Buel, Daland Ernst, and move to two margins of Europe where Surrealism was particularly strong, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Texts by Bombal, Rulfo, Felisberto Hernández, Cortázar, early García Márquez, Walser, Schulz, and Gombrowicz; paintings and films by Varo, Kahlo, Carrington, Svankmajer, and the Quay Brothers.

Taught by
Patrick O'Connor

Student Profiles

An Interest in Latin America

While at Oberlin, Benjamin Gilvar-Parke ’19  spent two summers and two winter terms in Guatemala through Oberlin Students in Solidarity with Guatemala and the grassroots organization DESGUA. After graduation he received a Fulbright grant to teach in Colombia.

Benjamin Gilvar-Parke.

From Oberlin to Saxony

At Oberlin, Lauren Crawford ’16 wrote for Wilder Voice, a magazine for creative nonfiction and longform journalism. She also served as a representative for the comparative literature major and taught an ExCo on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment in her sophomore year. After graduation she traveled to Saxony on a Fulbright.

Lauren Crawford.

Comparative Literature and German

Emily Wilkerson ’15 says she came to Oberlin with the intention of studying music but “ended up finding her academic home in comparative literature.” She added her German major after spending her junior year studying at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and later returned to Germany on a Fulbright.

Emily Wilkerson.

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.


Peters Hall looking over Wilder Bowl.
Photo credit: William Bradford