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Comparative Literature Course Descriptions

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 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)

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.

122 Spiritual Autobiography (Gen Ed AL, DG)

  • 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.

130 Translation Matters (pending Gen Ed AL DG status)

This introductory course examines the far-reaching significance of translation and uses insights and practices from the field of literary translation to help students improve their communication skills. In the first part of the course, students will be introduced to some of the most common debates among translators and translation scholars about how best to translate literary texts. This is a rich and complex question because translation is not just a straightforward matter of exchanging words in one language for words in another. The skills gained in this course will be useful in improving oral and written communication between or within cultures and languages.
In our discussions, we will draw on our familiarity with languages other than English, but knowledge of another language is not required for the course.

131 Brave New World (Gen Ed AL, DG)

  • 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 AL, DU) - the RAP version of this course is 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 (Gen Ed AL, DG)

  • 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 AL, DG)

  • 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.

197FA Introduction To Film Analysis: Cinematic Time Travel

  • This is an introduction to film studies and to the analysis of film. The course explores the complex nature and cultural function of cinema by focusing on time travel as both a central theme of a wide range of films and as a way of understanding how cinema works as a time-based medium. By studying films from various points in the global history of cinema - including films from nine countries and five continents - this course performs a transcultural introduction to the formal and stylistic aspects of cinematic storytelling

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.

234 Myth, Folktale & Children's Literature  (Gen Ed AL)

  • Lecture and discussion. Reading of significant samples of world folktales and myths as the basis for study of story, with special emphasis on stories for children, from those in picture books to juvenile novels. Attention to the development of critical perspectives towards stories, as well as to interpretation of meaning in individual tales and children's books. Readings: various folktale collections (German, Scandinavian, African, Hungarian); Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and eight other books for children, some chosen by the student.  Requirements:  two papers, midterm, final, occasional feedback sheets.

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)

245 Legends of King Arthur (Gen Ed AL)

  • The legends of King Arthur have been favorite stories for more than a thousand years. But those legends have changed dramatically from one retelling to the next, and they continue to change as modern authors and filmmakers re-imagine them. In this course, we will explore the shifting shape of the Arthurian cycle from the early Middle Ages to the twenty-first century, considering how Arthur has infiltrated the popular imagination.

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 AL, DG)

  • 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).

320H Irish Writers and Cultural Context (Gen Ed AL)

  • Irish Writers and Cultural Contexts is a lively introduction to the cultural content of a particular literature providing a lens to explore the interdisciplinarity inherent in literature, and cross-cultural comparison in literary and artistic expression. Grounded in Irish writers of distinction, we will examine the representation of cultural renaissance, social stratification and memory. Designed for complexity as well as fostering and exercising critical thinking, this course also examines the intersections of myth, religion, art, gender, nationalism, identity in cultural creative expression both in Irish particularity and in comparative study. Works include those by writers, poets and dramatists such as W.B.Yeats, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Roddy Doyle Patrick Kavanaugh, Eavan Boland, Brian Friel, Patricia Burke Grogan, and Marina Carr.

330 Translation, Cross-cultural Communication, and the Media (Gen Ed AL, DG)

  • Translation, Cross-cultural Communication, and the Media is an introductory seminar on translation theory and practice that is grounded in fundamental questions, ideas, and methods of analysis in the humanities, specifically language and culture. Students engage with a wide range of texts including, literature, song lyrics, film and television subtitles, painting, photography, journalism and advertising. By examining different translation theories and methods, students are exposed to a plurality of perspectives, creatively analyzing the problems of translation and applying critical methods to solve those problems. 

335 Comic Art in North America (Gen Ed AT, DU)

  • 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.

340 Mystical Literature (Gen Ed AL, DG)

  • This class will explore mystical literature of various religious traditions Reading these texts as literary expressions of union or contact with the transcendent, we will analyze the ways in which they seek to capture what is usually considered to be an inexpressible, non-verbal experience. Readings will draw from the mystical traditions of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

355 Modern African Literature (Gen Ed AL, DG) 

  • This course will introduce you to recent works by writers and filmmakers from Senegal, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria. Throughout the semester, we will explore the diverse ways in which African writers from across the continent address the major challenges of the 21st century: ethnic conflict, political corruption, the colonial legacy, modernity, nationalism, globalism, economic disparity, religious fundamentalism, and terrorism. We will pay close attention to the interplay between narrative and history, as well as to the ways in which African writers stage issues pertaining to human rights.

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.)

383 Narrative Avant-Garde Film (Gen Ed AT)

  • Lecture and Discussion. Explores the modern origin of experimentation in film in avant-garde modes such as Expressionism, Surrealism and contemporary results of this heritage to determine if film is the most resolutely modern of the media. Emphasis on the ways in which avant-garde films can problematize themselves through the ploys of telling a story. By means of a self-consciousness of story-telling which undermines viewer identification, the drive for closure, the demand for origins and order, and even cause and effect, these avant-garde films restore to playfulness its strength and ambiguity. Requirements: one 5 page paper for midterm, final paper or project; attendance.

391CA On Cannibalism 

  • The question we will address in this course is not so much whether cannibalism as a practice really existed (or still exists), but the fascination this topic has exerted on people's minds. The purpose of the course is twofold: first, to introduce the student to the study of the textual and iconographic representations of American cannibalism from the 16th century until the present: chronicles, literature, legal discourses on the one hand, and map sheets, single drawings, book illustrations and films on the other. The second objective will be to discuss the research produced by literary critics, anthropologists and within colonial/postcolonial studies during the last two decades on cannibalism as a trope and as a discursive practice within colonialist discourse.

391SF International Science Fiction Cinema

  • This course provides an introduction to science fiction cinema from the end of the nineteenth century to today. Beginning with the experiments of the Melies Brothers and the importance of German Expressionist films like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the course considers technological prognostication from Destination Moon to 2001: A Space Odyssey, adventure and science fiction in films like Forbidden Planet and Star Wars, and the dystopian imagination from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to District 9. The course will also highlight the roles of women writers and directors from Thea von Harbou to Kathryn Bigelow, and technological cinematic advances from matte painting and process shots to CGI.

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.

393D: Native American Narrative Art

  • This course provides an introductory survey of Native American Indian artistic and pictorial traditions that were intimately bound to stories and histories of nations and families, religious and mythological traditions, autobiographical narratives or aesthetic and philosophical reflections. More than mnemonic devices, these visual traditions are inseparable from culture and performance, community and nation, human life and the physical world. The visual and tactile media that will be encompassed in the course include pictorial manuscripts, ceramics, bead and shell work, and textiles. Visual and verbal or artistic, cultural, aesthetic and literary elements that were originally unified have usually been divided into printed texts and reproduced images identified with different disciplines or are as of study. The course will be interdisciplinary, with each unit including readings of narratives or texts, analysis of visual materials, and will also include readings on aesthetics and translation, as well as cultural and literary criticism as appropriate.

394HI: History of Literary Criticism

  • A seminar on literary criticism and theory, from the European classical period (Plato, Aristotle, Longinus) to major trends in the twentieth century, including: new criticism, structuralism, deconstruction, postcolonial theory, feminist theory, and new historicism.  Questions explored throughout the semester include: what constitutes art and beauty in verbal expression? What is the purpose of literature? Who may have access to literature? What are sacred and canonical texts, and how shall they be approached? What is the connection between literature and truth, literature and morality? What is the function of the study of rhetoric? What is the role of an author? What are the proper techniques for composing literatures of value?  Satisfies the Integrative Experience Requirement for Comparative Literature and Russian & East European Studies majors.

Graduate Courses (500-level courses are open to advanced undergraduates)

551 Translation and Technology

  • Introduction to the exciting world of translation and multilingual computing. The course covers a range of technologies that are useful for students of all languages, helping them expand their international communication skills. Technologies covered include multilingual word processing, desktop publishing, proofing tools, Web translation and design, video subtitling, and the transfer and translation of sound and image files. Open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates. Readings with discussion, experiments with latest technology, practice in lab.

581 Introduction to Interpreting and Translation Research and Practice I 

  • Comp Lit 581 is the first part of a two-semester certificate course in the study of interpreting and translation; students who enroll are not required to take the second course unless they are interested in receiving the Certificate in Translation and Interpreting Studies. This course is open to upper level undergraduates and graduate students. While no prior experience in interpreting or translation is necessary, students must have a strong command of English and at least one other language. The course will introduce students to research in the field of interpreting and translation studies and to a number of practical skills required of professional interpreters and translators. Interpreting and translation will be viewed throughout the course as socio-cultural activities as well as linguistic ones. The social, cultural and ethical complexities of the role of interpreters and translators will therefore be an important focus of the course. Students will work with written and spoken texts to develop an understanding of micro-textual elements and macro-textual structures and patterns and understand how to analyze both written and spoken texts. They will begin to develop consecutive and simultaneous interpreting skills using recorded spoken texts in the language lab. Role plays will be conducted to familiarize students with the triadic nature of interpreted communication. Professor Moira Inghilleri.

582  Introduction to Interpreting and Translation Research and Practice II 

  • Comp Lit 582 is the second part of a two-semester Certificate in the study of interpreting and translation across a range of contexts. In this course, students will continue to build on the knowledge and skills they acquired in the previous semester. Students will work on understanding the institutional and discursive structures of particular institutional domains, gain relevant vocabulary in English and other languages and practice translating, sight translating and interpreting a variety of relevant texts. This course is a designated “Service-Learning” course and endorsed by the office of Civic Engagement and Service-Learning (CESL) at UMass. A part of the course has been designed to provide opportunities for students to engage in a service project outside the classroom that is guided by appropriate input from a community partner and contributes to the public good. Selected project sites have been selected and students, with the help of faculty, will be matched with one or more community partners in the first three weeks of the semester. The CESL component of this course reflects the view that interpreting and translation are socio-cultural activities as well as linguistic ones. Your experiences of serving the community will increase your understanding of the social, cultural, and ethical complexities of the role of interpreters and translators. It will give you first-hand knowledge of the significance of interpreting and translation (and its absence) for members of communities for whom English is not their primary language. All projects will involve some additional reading of relevant literature. Successful completion of this course is a requirement for the Certificate in Translation and Interpreting Studies for undergraduates. Professor Cristiano Mazzei

591G Global Modernisms

  • Working outward from the tools and techniques used by modernist novelists in Europe and the Americas, this course explores the intersection of engagement and global modernism.  The course focuses on the ways that novelists move beyond social realism, using formalist methods to create engaged narratives that serve the purposes of social critique and national building in the tradition of Joyce, Faulkner, Garc a Marquez, and Morrison. Questions to be explored include the implied readership, boundaries between modernism and postmodernism, and the porous genre boundaries of the novel internationally. Reading will include Soseki, I am a Cat; Le Sueur, The Girl; Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood; Sidwa, Cracking India; Roy, The God of Small Things; Pamuk, My Name is Red; Grenville, The Secret River; and Okri, The Famished Road.

592 Medieval Women Writers

  • Selected medieval European women writers from the point of view of current theoretical perspectives. Writers include Marie de France, Christine de Pizan, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porette, Margery Kempe, and others. Themes to be discussed include love and desire in women’s writing; representations of women in medieval literature and philosophy; gendered representations of sanctity; and critical approaches derived from Marxist and feminist theory.

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.

691GS Reading the Global South

  • This graduate course explores topics in Comparative Literature and the cultural politics of the Global South, taking as a point of departure the history of decolonization and theoretical writings on the postcolonial condition. We will begin by considering the relationship between anticolonial nationalisms and literary culture, the impact of print-colonialism on the grounds of comparison, and debates on the "third world" and the "postcolonial" as both political and literary designations. Interdisciplinary approaches to the question of uneven "development" and cultural "progress" will be further explored through readings on globalization and world systems analysis, theories of cosmopolitanism and literary transnationalism, and comparative writings on the terms of "modernity" and the stakes of lit erary "modernism." The final segment of the course emerges as an outgrowth of critiques of "modernity" and global theories of uneven development: the assertion of (temporal) alterity, literary incomparability, and cultural exceptionalism within the Global South will be explored through readings on linguistic difference, secularism, and the sacred - investigating the question of literary circulation through the prism of translation and the prospects of linguistic untranslatability.

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.

692F Fauna and Flora: Ideas of Ecocriticism

  • This graduate seminar will offer an introductory overview of the broad field of ecocritcism and its interaction with literature. What is environment? In what ways do we interact with it? How does the environment figure in literature? What are implications of the environment on our language, actions and policies? In the light of these preliminary questions we will read critical environmental theory and diverse works of literature, exploring the ethnical, political, social, creative and aesthetic reverberations of these texts.

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.

695A International Film Noir

  • Often referred to as the only indigenous American film style, "film noir" in its very appellation reveals that its major effects (for certain modern conceptions of cinema) lay elsewhere.  We will examine film noir in its American heyday (1945-1957) and how it came to be a major propelling force in the new European cinema of the 1960's (Godard, and the Cahiers du cinema).

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.

752 Theory and Practice of Comparative Literature

  • Comparative Literature as literary theory and as academic practice. Nineteenth-century background and the rise of "literary studies"; traditional concepts of influence, periods, themes, genres, "extraliterary" relations, translation studies, and their development in modern theory. Questions of textuality, canonicity, cultural identity, the politics of cross-cultural literary images, metatheory, and institutional setting as they affect current practice.