Graduate Program

an innovative and interdisciplinary PhD for pathbreaking research

The PhD Program

Just as, historically speaking, comparative literature arose from the emergence of nationalism (borders can’t be crossed if none exist) the field today cannot prosper without strong national literature departments. But for both students and faculty, comparative literature appeals to the pervasive desire to transcend the merely national point of view, to engage with great imaginative works of literature from different places and times. Mandating an intense immersion in at least one foreign language and literature, and with courses on literature in translation that seriously engage non-western literature as well as western texts, comparative literature provides to its students a serious, sustained understanding of cultures beyond their own, and helps them become better global citizens. Comparative literature is well situated to study, as no single national literature department can, relationships between literary cultures as they involve influence, encounter, exchange, and translation.

WashU does not offer an MA in comparative literature. Students entering the PhD program without an MA, however, may earn an MA in the course of pursuing the PhD.

Choose your path

Comparative Literature

The Committee on Comparative Literature provides students admitted into the program with full financial support for a minimum of five years as long as the student remains in good academic standing. Funding includes full tuition remission and a generous stipend ($25,696 in 2018-2019, over 11 months). In most cases, the Committee on Comparative Literature provides students admitted into the Ph.D. program with a University Fellowship for the first academic year as well as full tuition remission for two semesters ($52,400 in 2018-19, for 12 units= 4 courses per semester). Our admission package also includes a health fee subsidy.

International Writers Track

This PhD track aimed at international writers proceeds from the conviction that advanced study and credentials in literary studies support and enhance the intellectual and creative work of writers by complementing and informing their endeavors with comparative historical, cultural, linguistic, and theoretical frameworks. It offers highly qualified international students the opportunity to advance their careers with academic training in comparative literary studies in the United States.

More about the International Writers Track

Fully-Funded Program

The Committee on Comparative Literature provides students admitted into the program with full financial support for a minimum of five years as long as the student remains in good academic standing. Funding includes full tuition remission and a generous stipend ($25,696 in 2018-2019, over 11 months). In most cases, the Committee on Comparative Literature provides students admitted into the Ph.D. program with a University Fellowship for the first academic year as well as full tuition remission for two semesters ($52,400 in 2018-19, for 12 units= 4 courses per semester). Our admission package also includes a health fee subsidy.

Travel Funding

All graduate students are eligible to apply for additional funding for conference participation and study abroad. A dissertation travel fund is available from the Graduate School for students working on their dissertations.  Our funding package is competitive with those of other top-ranked institutions, and we are committed to ensuring that financial considerations play no role in student decisions about where to pursue their degrees.

University Fellowships

WashU also offers two competitive fellowships with year-round funding for outstanding students in select target groups, and both require separate applications. Those who are eligible may apply for an Olin Fellowship for Women in Graduate Study, or a Chancellor's Graduate Fellowship for students bringing a strong sense of diversity to the university. Additionally, international students at partner universities may apply to the McDonnell International Scholars Academy.

How to Apply to our Programs

Complit Graduate Studies Program

The following are required as part of the admission file for all students:

  • A personal statement; applicants to the writers track should indicate that in this statement
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts for all academic work since secondary school
  • A writing sample consisting of an essay; applicants for writers track must submit both a sample of creative work and of analytical writing. 
  • Evidence of language proficiency in the major language, in English, and a minimum of reading knowledge of a third language
  • TOEFL scores for students who do not speak English as their native language (Please note: the University will consider only scores from tests taken within the last two years.)

All documents must be in English or accompanied by English translations. For students entering with the B.A. or its equivalent, formal admission to the combined Ph.D. programs is contingent upon successful completion of the M.A. degree or appropriate qualifying and review procedures. 

The application deadline is January 5, 2021. The Committee on Comparative Literature will try to give an answer to each applicant by the beginning of March.

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Joint PhD Programs

Comparative Literature offers joint doctoral programs with Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Hispanic Studies. Completing a doctorate in a joint program with Comparative Literature means gaining the expertise to think about literature across languages and cultures, geography, historical periods, and means of production and transmission.

Prospective students interested in pursuing a joint program with Comparative Literature should apply through the pertinent home department. On your application you will be able to find a degree program for all of the joint degrees, with the home department listed first and Comparative Literature listed second. When you go to "Select A Program," you will first choose "Graduate School of Arts and Sciences" as the Academic Division from the top drop-down menu, then under the department of Romance Language and Literatures, you will see Program Options for: Spanish and Comparative Literature, and French and Comparative Literature. Under the German Department, you will see the German and Comparative Literature program option. Under English, there is an English and Comparative Literature option. Finally, under the department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, program options include Japanese and Comparative Literature as well as Chinese and Comparative Literature. You should send your application materials to the home department. It will, however, be vetted by both the home department and Comparative Literature.
 

Applying for a Joint PhD

the graduate bookshelf

After Translation
Is That Kafka?
German Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Reception, Adaptation, Transformation
Necessary Luxuries: Books, Literature, and the Culture of Consumption in Germany, 1770-1815
Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel
Transatlantische Germanistik. Kontakt, Transfer, Dialogik
Publizistische Germanistik. Essays und Kritiken.
Erzähllogiken in der Literatur des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit
Hovezuht: Literarische Hofkultur und höfisches Lebensideal um Herzog Albrecht III. von Österreich und Erzbischof Pilgrim II. von Salzburg (1365-1396)
Transatlantic German Studies: Testimonies to the Profession
Abandoned Havana
Der Codex Manesse und die Entdeckung der Liebe: Katalog zur Ausstellung der Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg
Distant Readings: Topologies of German Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century
Jewish Difference and the Arts in Vienna
Publishing Culture and the
The Country Road
Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde
St. Trigger
Poems from Buddha's Footprint
The Last Lover
Cuba in Splinters: Eleven Stories from the New Cuba
Uğultular
Threat Come Close
Parker
Mazohistka

After Translation

Is That Kafka?

In the course of compiling his highly acclaimed three-volume biography of Kafka, while foraying to libraries and archives from Prague to Israel, Reiner Stach made one astounding discovery after another: unexpected photographs, inconsistencies in handwritten texts, excerpts from letters, and testimonies from Kafka's contemporaries that shed surprising light on his personality and his writing.

Is that Kafka? presents the crystal granules of the real Kafka: he couldn't lie, but he tried to cheat on his high-school exams; bitten by the fitness fad, he avidly followed the regime of a Danish exercise guru; he drew beautifully; he loved beer; he read biographies voraciously; he made the most beautiful presents, especially for children; odd things made him cry or made him furious; he adored slapstick. Every discovery by Stach turns on its head the stereotypical version of the tortured neurotic—and as each one chips away at the monolithic dark Kafka, the keynote, of all things, becomes laughter.

For Is that Kafka? Stach has assembled 99 of his most exciting discoveries, culling the choicest, most entertaining bits, and adding his knowledgeable commentaries. Illustrated with dozens of previously unknown images, this volume is a singular literary pleasure. 

German Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Reception, Adaptation, Transformation

Building on recent trends in the humanities and especially on scholarship done under the rubric of cultural transfer, this volume emphasizes the processes by which Americans took up, responded to, and transformed German cultural material for their own purposes. The fourteen essays by scholars from the US and Germany treat such topics as translation, the reading of German literature in America, the adaptation of German ideas and educational ideals, the reception and transformation of European genres of writing, and the status of the "German" and the "European" in celebrations of American culture and criticisms of American racism. The volume contributes to the ongoing re-conception of American culture as significantly informed by non-English-speaking European cultures. It also participates in the efforts of historians and literary scholars to re-theorize the construction of national cultures. Questions regarding hybridity, cultural agency, and strategies of acculturation have long been at the center of postcolonial studies, but as this volume demonstrates, these phenomena are not merely operative in encounters between colonizers and colonized: they are also fundamental to the early American reception and appropriation of German cultural materials. 

Necessary Luxuries: Books, Literature, and the Culture of Consumption in Germany, 1770-1815

The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century brought new and exotic commodities to Europe from abroad—coffee, tea, spices, and new textiles to name a few. Yet one of the most widely distributed luxury commodities in the period was not new at all, and was produced locally: the book. In Necessary Luxuries, Matt Erlin considers books and the culture around books during this period, focusing specifically on Germany where literature, and the fine arts in general, were the subject of soul-searching debates over the legitimacy of luxury in the modern world.

Building on recent work done in the fields of consumption studies as well as the New Economic Criticism, Erlin combines intellectual-historical chapters (on luxury as a concept, luxury editions, and concerns about addictive reading) with contextualized close readings of novels by Campe, Wieland, Moritz, Novalis, and Goethe. As he demonstrates, artists in this period were deeply concerned with their status as luxury producers. The rhetorical strategies they developed to justify their activities evolved in dialogue with more general discussions regarding new forms of discretionary consumption. By emphasizing the fragile legitimacy of the fine arts in the period, Necessary Luxuries offers a fresh perspective on the broader trajectory of German literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, recasting the entire period in terms of a dynamic unity, rather than simply as a series of literary trends and countertrends.

Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel

Eberhard Happel, German Baroque author of an extensive body of work of fiction and nonfiction, has for many years been categorized as a “courtly-gallant” novelist. In Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel, author Gerhild Scholz Williams argues that categorizing him thus is to seriously misread him and to miss out on a fascinating perspective on this dynamic period in German history.

Happel primarily lived and worked in the vigorous port city of Hamburg, which was a “media center” in terms of the access it offered to a wide library of books in public and private collections.  Hamburg’s port status meant it buzzed with news and information, and Happel drew on this flow of data in his novels. His books deal with many topics of current interest—national identity formation, gender and sexualities, Western European encounters with neighbors to the East, confrontations with non-European and non-Western powers and cultures—and they feature multiple media, including news reports, news collections, and travel writings. As a result, Happel’s use of contemporary source material in his novels feeds our current interest in the impact of the production of knowledge on seventeenth-century narrative. Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel explores the narrative wealth and multiversity of Happel’s work, examines Happel’s novels as illustrative of seventeenth-century novel writing in Germany, and investigates the synergistic relationship in Happel’s writings between the booming print media industry and the evolution of the German novel.

Transatlantische Germanistik. Kontakt, Transfer, Dialogik

Transatlantische Germanistik: Kontakt, Transfer, Dialogik thematizes the development of literary and cultural studies during the last decades on both sides of the Atlantic. The study provides selective comparisons on a variety of topics: How is cultural studies considered as a new paradigm shift in German and American literary studies? How do you publish Germanic magazines in the USA? How can German literary publishers get involved in America? How can the reading behavior in Germany and America be characterized? How has the relationship between American German Studies and European Studies developed? In which tension is the German university between European reform and American model? How do foundations and intermediary organizations promote academic exchange? What are the intentions behind German participation in an American World's Fair? Which possible effects do expatriate American writers in Europe and / or European exile authors in the US? How can representatives of transatlantic German politics cooperate with colleagues on other continents in the context of globalization? The book is based on the forty years of professional experience of a German-American literary scholar who has taught on every continent.

Publizistische Germanistik. Essays und Kritiken.

Publizistische Germanistik shows how the results of literary-historical and -theoretical research in the languages ​​and forms of critique and essay in the media can be conveyed. For decades, the author has published numerous articles in weekly and daily newspapers (DIE ZEIT, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, DIE WELT, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Frankfurter Rundschau, Tagesspiegel) and in cultural magazines (Neue Rundschau, Merkur), resulting from his scientific work on contemporary literature and exile poetry, to the classical and romantic, to the literary Europe discourse and to the Zeitkritik resulted. The documentation of these critiques and essays is meant as an encouragement for the next generation in German literature not to lose sight of the aspect of journalistic mediation. If research forgets the public, Forgets also the public the research. In the introduction, the author addresses the triad of criticism, poetry, and science, and argues for a more intense relationship between these three very different institutions of literary operation, that is, for a conversation in which prejudices are broken down, thereby facilitating mutual inspiration.

Erzähllogiken in der Literatur des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit

Telling is a basic human need. At all times people have told. But not at all times they have told the same way. Motifs, fabrics and themes vary, as well as the way in which the narrative is arranged and its individual components combined in such a way that they convey the impression of a coherent whole. The insight into the historical conditionality of narrative forms and methods has been solidified in recent research into the demand for a historical narratology. To such a supply of this band provides a building block. He assembles contributions that deal systematically and in case studies with the logics of late antique, medieval and early modern narration. Topics include: myth, spatial and temporal structures, motivation to act, figurative constitution.

Hovezuht: Literarische Hofkultur und höfisches Lebensideal um Herzog Albrecht III. von Österreich und Erzbischof Pilgrim II. von Salzburg (1365-1396)

European courtesy is a "discovery" of the Middle Ages. Around the secular and spiritual rulers of the 10.-12. In the twentieth century, those ideals of courtly being and behavior emerged which up to the present day determine the image of polite forms of behavior. In literary as well as extra-literary texts they were conceived, reflected and propagated. Using the example of literature in the environment of the Habsburg court in Vienna and the archiepiscopal court in Salzburg in the last third of the 14th century, the book turns the gaze from the courtly behavioral teachings of the High Middle Ages to late medieval concepts of courtly behavioral regulation.

Transatlantic German Studies: Testimonies to the Profession

The prominent scholar-contributors to this volume share their experiences developing the field of US German Studies and their thoughts on literature and interdisciplinarity, pluralism and diversity, and transatlantic dialogue.

The decisive contribution of the exile generation of the 1930s and '40s to German Studies in the United States is well known. The present volume carries the story forward to the next generation(s), giving voice to scholars from the US and overseas, many of them mentored by the exile generation. The exiles knew vividly the value of the Humanities; the following generations, though spared the experience of historical catastrophe, have found formidable challenges in building and maintaining the field in a time increasingly dismissive of that value. The scholar-contributors to this volume, prominent members of the profession, share their experiences of finding their way in the field and helping to develop it to its present state as well as their thoughts on its present challenges, including the question of the role of literature and of interdisciplinarity, pluralism, and diversity. Of particular interest is the role of transatlantic dialogue.

Abandoned Havana

Dissident Cuban writer, photographer, and pioneering blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo presents a collection of surreal, irony-laden photos and texts from his native city. His “diary of dystopia”—an unexpected fusion of images and words—brings us closer to Havana’s scaffolded and crumbling facades, ramshackle waterfronts, and teeming human bodies. In this book, as beautiful and bleak as Havana itself, Pardo guides us through the relics and fables of an exhausted Revolution in the waning days of Castro’s Cuba.

Der Codex Manesse und die Entdeckung der Liebe: Katalog zur Ausstellung der Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

“Saget mir ieman, waz ist minne?" This question by the poet Walther von der Vogelweide about the nature of love has been dealing with moving singers, nobles and even clerics since the high Middle Ages. As reflected in a variety of texts and images, it was no longer enough for a knight to own the lady he wanted. He wanted to conquer her heart. The polyphonic discovery of the subject of love as an erotic love between man and woman not only influenced the relationship between the sexes. It also transformed the self-image of the nobility and manners within courtly society. The songs and images in the Codex Manesse capture this change as an example. In a unique way, the large-scale manuscript collection brings together the Hohenstaufen as well as the post-classical minstrelsy in all its diversity of forms and forms. The miniatures to the poets with their depictions of courtly scenes, festivities and tournaments sustainably shaped the modern image of the knightly Middle Ages. The Codex Manesse itself is already to be interpreted as a wistful review: He wanted to first collect the gradually fading, previously only orally transmitted songs in writing; many texts would have been lost today without this transcript. Using the example of the Codex Manesse and other valuable manuscripts and prints from the vaults of Heidelberg University Library, the catalog illustrates the discovery of love in the high Middle Ages.

Distant Readings: Topologies of German Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century

In nineteenth-century Germany, breakthroughs in printing technology and an increasingly literate populace led to an unprecedented print production boom that has long presented scholars with a challenge: how to read it all? This anthology seeks new answers to the scholarly quandary of the abundance of text. Responding to Franco Moretti's call for "distant reading" and modeling a range of innovative approaches to literary-historical analysis informed by the burgeoning field of digital humanities, it asks what happens when we shift our focus from the one to the many, from the work to the network.


The thirteen essays in this volume explore the evolving concept of "distant reading" and its application to the analysis of German literature and culture in the long nineteenth century. The contributors consider how new digital technologies enable both the testing of hypotheses and the discovery of patterns and trends, as well as how "distant" and traditional "close" reading can complement each another in hybrid models of analysis that maintain careful attention to detail, but also make calculation, enumeration, and empirical description critical elements of interpretation.

Jewish Difference and the Arts in Vienna

During the mid-nineteenth century, the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner sparked an impulse toward German cultural renewal and social change that drew on religious myth, metaphysics, and spiritualism. The only problem was that their works were deeply antisemitic and entangled with claims that Jews were incapable of creating compassionate art. By looking at the works of Jewish composers and writers who contributed to a lively and robust biblical theatre in fin-de-siècle Vienna, Caroline A. Kita, shows how they reimagined myths of the Old Testament to offer new aesthetic and ethical views of compassion. These Jewish artists, including Gustav Mahler, Siegfried Lipiner, Richard Beer-Hofmann, Stefan Zweig, and Arnold Schoenberg, reimagined biblical stories through the lens of the modern Jewish subject to plead for justice and compassion toward the Jewish community. By tracing responses to antisemitic discourses of compassion, Kita reflects on the explicitly and increasingly troubled political and social dynamics at the end of the Habsburg Empire.

Publishing Culture and the "Reading Nation": German Book History in the Long Nineteenth Century

Over the long nineteenth century, German book publishing experienced an unprecedented boom, outstripping by 1910 all other Western nations. Responding to the spread of literacy, publishers found new marketing methods and recalibrated their relationships to authors. Technical innovations made books for a range of budgets possible. Yearbooks, encyclopedias, and boxed sets also multiplied. A renewed interest in connoisseurship meant that books signified taste and affiliation. While reading could be a group activity, the splintering of the publishing industry into niche markets made it seem an ever-more private and individualistic affair, promising variously self-help, information, Bildung, moral edification, and titillation. The essays in this volume examine what Robert Darnton has termed the "communications circuit": the life-cycle of the book as a convergence of complex cultural, social, and economic phenomena. In examining facets of the lives of select books from the late 1780s to the early 1930s that Germans actually read, the essays present a complex and nuanced picture of writing, publishing, and reading in the shadow of nation building and class formation, and suggest how the analysis of texts and the study of books can inform one another.

The Country Road

Resonant of nineteenth-century village tales and of such authors as Adalbert Stifter and her contemporary Robert Walser, the stories in The Country Road are largely set in the Swiss countryside. In these tales, the archaic and the modern collide. In one story, a young woman on an exhausting country walk recoils at a passing bicyclist but accepts a ride from a wagon, taking her seat on a trunk with a snake coiled inside. Death is everywhere in her work. As Ullmann writes, “sometimes the whole world appears to be painted on porcelain, right down to the dangerous cracks.” This delicate but fragile beauty, with its ominous undertones, gives Regina Ullmann her unique voice.

Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde

Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde demonstrates that the poetics of the Dada movement were profoundly influenced by the telegraph and the technological and social transformations that it brought about in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

While telegraphy’s impact on other avant-gardes such as Italian futurism and German expressionism is widely acknowledged, its formative role in Dada poetics has been largely neglected. Yet the telegraph exerted an unmistakable influence on the Dada movement, providing a fundamentally new paradigm for understanding language that proved well suited to an avant-garde in search of revolutionary means of expression.

Drawing on methods and insights from media history and theory, avant-garde studies, and German literary studies, Kurt Beals shows how the telegraph and the cultural discourses that surrounded it shaped the radical works of this seminal avant-garde movement. The “nonsense” strain in Dada is frequently seen as a response to the senseless violence of the First World War. However, Beals argues, it was not just the war that turned Dada poetry into a jumble of senseless signals—it was also the wireless. 

St. Trigger

Aaron Coleman's St. Trigger, winner of the 2015 Button Poetry Prize, investigates race and gender in contemporary America through a constantly shifting series of structures, forming its own boundaries in one poem only to break and reshape them in the next. Narrative shatters into pure lyric and reforms in an instant. Coleman's poems define themselves -- sharp and blazing and wholly new.

Poems from Buddha's Footprint

The first complete full-length translation of the renowned Thai poet Sunthorn Phu’s work to appear in thirty years. Translated by Thai Kaewkaen, a graduate student in Comparative Literature’s track for international writers, Buddha's Footprint was published by Singing Bone Press in 2016. 

The Last Lover

Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, a graduate student in the Comparative Literature Ph.D. program, translated this extraordinary book by Chinese author Can Xue. The translation was the winner of the 2015 Best Translated Book Award for fiction presented by Three Percent, a resource for international literature.
In Can Xue’s book, we encounter a full assemblage of husbands, wives, and lovers. Entwined in complicated, often tortuous relationships, these characters step into each other’s fantasies, carrying on conversations that are “forever guessing games.” Their journeys reveal the deepest realms of human desire, figured in Can Xue’s vision of snakes and wasps, crows, cats, mice, earthquakes, and landslides. In dive bars and twisted city streets, on deserts and snowcapped mountains, the author creates an extreme world where every character “is driving death away with a singular performance.”

The translation was published by Yale University Press in February 2014.
 

Cuba in Splinters: Eleven Stories from the New Cuba

Rock 'n' roll, zombies, drugs, anomie and angst: these are generally not the first things that come to mind when Americans imagine Cuba. In Cuba in Splinters, a sparkling package of stories we're assured are fictional, however, that's exactly what you'll find. Eleven writers who are largely unknown outside Cuba depict a world that veers from a hyperreal Havana in decay against a backdrop of oblivious drug-toting German tourists, to a fantasy land where vigilant Cubans bar the door to zombies masquerading as health inspectors. Sex and knife-fights, stutterers and addicts, losers and lost literary classics welcome readers to a raw and genuine island universe that is generally closed to casual visitors.

Cuba in Splinters was compiled by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, a graduate student in Comparative Literature’s track for international writers, and published by OR Books in 2014.

Uğultular

Gönül Kivilcim (graduate student in Comparative Literature’s track for international writers) has published a new novel entitled Uğultular.  Uğultular was published in July 2017 by Iletisim.

Threat Come Close

In his debut collection, Aaron Coleman writes an American anthem for the 21st century, a full-throated lyric composed of pain, faith, lust and vulnerability. Coleman’s poems comment on and interrogate the meaning of home and identity for a black man in America, past and present. Guided by a belief system comprising an eclectic array of invented saints — Trigger, Seduction, Doubt and Who — Coleman’s quest locates new ways of being in the natural world where “[t]he trees teach me how to break and keep on living.”

Parker

In his new novel, Matthias Göritz tells exciting and inscrutable stories of perfidious intrigue, power and love, and of the irresistible lure and price of success. Parker was published by German publisher C.H. Beck in March of 2018.

Mazohistka

Designed as a historical novel, this pseudo-autobiography forges an intimate portrait of a young, tenacious woman who, in uncertain times of intricate political, social and cultural turbulences at the end of the 19th century, chose an uncertain path – the only path that could lead her to freedom. Mazohistka, or The Masochist, returns post-postmodernism to modernism and more than that it is a story of the Austro-Hungarian fin-de-siècle, contemplating the limits of female desire and freedom against the backdrop of ethnic, class and gender tensions of an empire yet unaware of its decline.

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