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Comparative Literature Courses

We in the Comparative Literature Department at UMass Amherst pride ourselves in maintaining cutting-edge standards for our curriculum and classroom approach. By collaborating with other departments and institutions, employing media and communications technologies, and thinking beyond the bounds of the conventional classroom, Comparative Literature is continuously developing and improving our programs through creativity and innovation.

We also continue to build on our international strengths which enhance the educational experience for all our students. Key events in our community include the International Shakespeare Conference, the "The Content of the Form: Interventions into the Representation of War" sympoisium,  and the Multicultural Film Festival. The International Shakespeare Conference had over 30 participants from 22 countries and was well attended by our undergraduates. The symposium "The Content of the Form: Interventions into the Representation of War," brought together artists and scholars from the United States, Bosnia, and Cataluna and was extremely well-attended by Comparative Literature students and members of the local community. The Multicultural Film Festival, which brings not just films, but directors, producers, and actors from all over the globe, was and is consistently well attended by students from Comparative Literature and many departments. Our undergraduate journal mOtherTongue publishes creative writing and art by undergraduates in Comparative Literature and the Five College area. 

The Comparative Literature Department is proud to announce the addition of our latest faculty member, Cristiano Mazzei. Christiano received his MA in Translation here at UMASS and will be joining us in September as the Director of Translation Training and Distance Learning. Cristiano returns to UMASS to take up this position from Century College where he has been the Program Director of Translation and Interpreting. We are very happy to have Cris back in Amherst to design and direct our new online program in Translation and Interpreting.


Courses (Undergraduate and Graduate)

We are currently  in the process of revising our undergraduate studies program, through which we highlight both new and redesigned courses. In addition to those courses listed below, other new courses are currently in the planning stages. These include Jim Hicks' "War Stories" and Jessica Barr's "Dreams, Visions, and the Supernatural" as well as one or two Integrative Experience 400-level courses specializing in medieval, immigration, film, or translation, depending on the number of majors in those areas. Furthermore, our distance learning offerings are on the rise with more and more online versions. 

New Courses

  • CL 144 "War Stories" taught by Jim Hicks
    • An inquiry into the rules governing the representation of war in the late- 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, focusing on a variety of international conflicts, with particular attention to the wide variety of ways in which the experience of war is communicated to non-combatants: film, journalism, memoir, narrative, photography, poetry, etc.
  • CL 391V "Dreams, Visions, and the Supernatural" taught by Professor Jessica Barr
    • From religious visions of the Middle Ages in Europe to twenty-first century psychological thrillers and from medieval werewolves to other unexplained phenomena, literature of the supernatural pushes us to rethink what we know and how we know it. In the course, we will explore dreams, visions, and apparitions in medieval and modern literature.

Undergraduate Courses

121 International Short Story (Gen Ed AL)

  • Reading and analysis of a variety of short stories from the Russian, Czech, German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, American, and Latin American traditions from the early 19th century to the present. We will analyze fantastic tales, character sketches, surprise endings; main types of the short story as a special genre marked by compassion and intensity of effect. All works read in translation. Course requirements to be announced.

122 Spiritual Autobiography (Gen Ed ALG)

  • Lecture and discussion. Exploration of the individual psyche, growth of self-consciousness; the dark night of the soul and the role of suffering in personal growth. Reading from a variety of spiritual diaries, autobiographies, from East and West, written by women and men, believers and heretics. Ancient and modern examples.

131 Brave New World (Gen Ed ALG)

  • Utopian and dystopian novels. The ability of literature to generate social critique. Readings include works by Huxley, Orwell, Kafka, Atwood, Burgess, Gibson, Piercy, Gilman, Dick, and others.

133 Introduction to Science Fiction (Gen Ed ALU) RAP Course Open to Undergraduate Freshmen Only

  • This course introduces twentieth-century science fiction through reading American, European and Japanese novels and stories, examining SF in social, critical and literary contexts, and its sites of production and consumption.

141 Good & Evil: East-West (Gen Ed ALG)

  • This course will explore the concepts of Good and Evil as expressed in philosophical and theological texts and in their imaginative representation in literature, film and television, photography, and other forms of popular media. Cross-cultural perspectives and approaches to moral problems such as the suffering of the innocent, the existence of evil, the development of a moral consciousness and social responsibility, and the role of faith and spirituality will be considered. A range of historical and contemporary events and controversies will be discussed in relation to these issues including, immigration, war, gender and sexuality, and new technologies. Honors credit available.

144 War Stories (Gen Ed ALG)

  • Lecture and Discussion. An inquiry into the rules governing the representation of war in the late-19th, 20th, and 21st century, this course will focus on a variety of international conflicts, with particular attention to the wide variety of ways in which the experience of war is communicated to non-combatants: film, journalism, memoir, narrative, photography, poetry, etc. The history of U.S. involvement in these recent wars, as well as those which are on-going, will be a central focus of our course. Honors credit available.

231 Comedy (Gen Ed AL)

  • The course begins with the premise that contemporary American comedy is informed by the histories of ethnic American groups --African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and U.S. Latinos/Latinas-- along with issues of race, class, sexuality and citizenship. American comedians, independent filmmakers, feminists and transgendered comics deploy the language of comedy to invoke serious social matters in contemporary American life: racism, heterosexism, homophobia, class biases against the poor and the undocumented, misogyny, war and other burning issues of the day. We will thus consider that the ends of comedy are more than laughter. Comedy confronts political issues that are constitutive of and threatening to the U.S. body politic.

233 International Fantasy (Gen Ed AL)

  • Lecture and Discussion. Fantasies provide escape into strange realms where time and space are not our own. Class reading focuses on fantastic voyages to explore human desires, dreams, and fears, as well as the realities they grow out of. Texts range from early tales from Arthurian literature and A Thousand and One Nights to contemporary stories and films. International and interdisciplinary perspectives on fantasy and the forms it takes. Honors credit available.

236 Digital Culture (Gen Ed I)

  • An introduction to digital culture, with emphasis on the study of digital works of art (hyperfiction, computer art, electronic music, virtual dance, digital cinema, etc.) with some attention to the broader social and intellectual implications of the digital revolution. (ASI)

291F Introduction to Folklore

  • An introduction to the study of the folklore of various cultures and peoples--from the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe--in English. Examination of a variety of genres including proverbs, riddles, jokes, folk songs, and folk tales, and of different theories and approaches to folklore. No prerequisites, but students with proficiency in languages other than English will be offered the opportunity to work with material from those languages.

319 Representing the Holocaust (Gen Ed ALG)

  • Lecture and Discussion. Major writers, works, themes, and critical issues comprising the literature of the Holocaust. Exploration of the narrative responses to the destruction of European Jewry and other peoples during World War II (including diaries, memoirs, fiction, poetry, drama, video testimonies, and memorials).

335 Comic Art in North America (Gen Ed ATU)

  • Lecture and Discussion. An introduction to comic art, from the beginnings of the newspaper comic strip through the development of comic books, the growth of graphic novels, and current developments in electronic media. We focus on the history and aesthetics of the medium, comparison between developments in the United States, Mexico, and French Canada, and the social and cultural contexts in which comic art is created and consumed. The first half of the semester concentrates on early comic strips and the development of the comic book form through the 1940s; the second on the social changes affecting comic art in the 1950s and 1960s, and the development of a comic book subculture in the 1970s and 1980s, and contemporary electronic media developments. Requirements: Midterm for first half of the course, final on the second half and one ten-page paper. Reading knowledge of at least one language other than English, preferably Spanish or French.

357 Junior Year Writing: Writing Matters

  • Writing matters. In both academic and professional situations, including internships and future employment, you need to communicate effectively. This course teaches you valuable advanced writing skills and gives you the opportunity to practice formal and informal public speaking and the delivery of formal and informal presentations. You will learn how to approach texts from various genres and media through the lens of different literary theories as well as through the careful reading and analysis of examples of effective writing and presentation. You will organize your findings into a research paper or similar project, and present your work in a professional setting. You will also learn how to translate this acquired knowledge into employment skills or in preparation for graduate school.

382 Cinema and Psyche (Gen Ed AT)

  • Lecture and Discussion. This course explores representations of childhood and family in contemporary world cinema, placing particular focus on migration, war, and social movements. Students can expect to develop strong skills in film analysis; gain familiarity with debates about aesthetics, audiences, and authorship; consider how major directors address issues of gender, ethnicity, nationality, and race. Films will be screened in their original language versions with English subtitles. All readings will be available on Moodle. Requirements: Attendance at lectures, screenings, and discussion sections; weekly journal responses; midterm exam; final paper. (This is a new description of a previous version of this course.)

391V Dreams, Visions, and the Supernatural

  • Ghosts, apparitions, and messengers from the beyond have always played a role in the literary imagination. From religious visions of the Middle Ages to twenty-first century psychological thrillers, from medieval werewolves to the unexplained phenomena of an Edgar Allen Poe story, literature of the supernatural pushes us to rethink what we know and how we know it. In this course, we will explore dreams, visions, and apparitions in medieval and modern literature. Readings will include medieval romance and dream vision poetry; works by Mann, Gogol, Poe, Dinesen, and Waters; and selected films.

551 Translation and Technology

  • Translation today requires advanced language and computer skills. This course covers several technologies, including desktop and internet publishing, computer tools for translation, and programs editing audio and video files. Prerequisites: Excellent knowledge of one language other than English.

581 Interpreting and Translation Research and Practice I

  • This course is the first of a two-semester course leading to a Certificate in Translation and Interpreting Studies. Students must have a strong command of English and an emerging proficiency in at least one other language to enroll. The course introduces students to current research in translation and interpreting studies and to basic practical skills. The task of translating and interpreting texts is understood to include a social, cultural and ethical component as well as a linguistic one. Role play practice is designed to familiarize students with each of these aspects of interpreted communication in specific contexts. Students also work with written texts to develop an understanding of how to understand, analyze, process and reformulate meaning through text analysis. Both simultaneous and consecutive modes of interpreting are practiced in class and in the language lab.

Graduate Courses

551 Translation and Technology

  • Translation today requires advanced language and computer skills. This course covers several technologies, including desktop and internet publishing, computer tools for translation, and programs editing audio and video files. Prerequisites: Excellent knowledge of one language other than English.

581 Interpreting and Translation Research and Practice I

  • This course is the first of a two-semester course leading to a Certificate in Translation and Interpreting Studies. Students must have a strong command of English and an emerging proficiency in at least one other language to enroll. The course introduces students to current research in translation and interpreting studies and to basic practical skills. The task of translating and interpreting texts is understood to include a social, cultural and ethical component as well as a linguistic one. Role play practice is designed to familiarize students with each of these aspects of interpreted communication in specific contexts. Students also work with written texts to develop an understanding of how to understand, analyze, process and reformulate meaning through text analysis. Both simultaneous and consecutive modes of interpreting are practiced in class and in the language lab.

691D Discipline and Its Discontents

  • The professional seminar considers both practical matters and theoretical and historical concerns for new and current graduate students in Comparative Literature. Within the practical, we will consider the institutional roles and functions of Comparative Literature alongside World Literature, Translation Studies and Cultural Studies Programs worldwide within the dynamic setting of the "humanities." We will discuss practical matters such as the writing and presentation of conference papers, using databases and electronic resources, working with bibliographic software and visual presentations, the politics of the job market and publishing. Within the historical sphere, we will examine the origins and evolution of Comparative Literature as a discipline, and within the theoretical, we will consider some of the leading debates within the field over the past twenty-five years, from Postmodernism, Deconstruction and Gender and Sexuality studies to Translation Studies and Globalization, Culture and Empire in the 21st century.

691NW Writing the New World

  • This course offers a hemispheric and comparative approach to the study of Anglo- and Latin American literature and culture from the late fifteenth until the eighteenth century, from the age of exploration to the late colonial period. We will look at a wide variety of texts produced in the wake of European imperial expansion in the Americas (e.g. letters, journals, natural histories, ethnographies, captivity narratives and travel accounts) that chronicle the creation of the so-called New World. How has exploration and travel writing produced the Americas for a European readership and what were the epistemological challenges authors were facing when writing the "New World"? How did non-Europeans (e.g. indigenous and Creole writers) react to these representational practices and what revisionist accounts did they provide? How was culture contact portrayed and how were racial ideologies constructed? These are just a few of the questions this course will address.

692W Workshop on Teaching Comparative Literature

  • Introduction to teaching Comparative Literature: designing syllabi, teaching students to compare texts in written assignments and discussions, grading comparative analyses, and class management.

751 Theory and Practice of Translation

  • A many-sided consideration of the practical problems and theoretical issues raised by translation. Consideration will be given to recent research on the role of translation and translated literature in the history of literary development; special attention will be paid to the politics of translation also. Practical aspects to be discussed include translation of genre and form (including poetry, dramatic literature), language register and tone, metaphor and imagery, word play. Lecture/discussion with workshop elements. Readings: translation theorists, philosophers, linguists. Requirements: one historical analysis, one translation project, class participation. Prerequisites: proficiency in a language other than one's native tongue.