A Defense Against the Same: The History and Progression of the Introductory World Literature Course in an American University

Open Access
Rodriguez, Victoria Rebecca
Area of Honors:
Comparative Literature
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
  • world literature
  • globalization
  • CMLIT 010
  • pedagogy
  • cosmopolitanism
  • ethics
  • hegemony
  • polyglottism
  • Eurocentrism
  • anthology
Though classes on world literature have been a staple within comparative literature departments throughout North American and European universities since its inception in the early 1800s, it was not until very recently that these courses began to explore more extensively texts outside of the Western tradition. Towards the close of the twentieth century, following a string of ethnic renaissances, globalizing systems, and theoretical advancements, the discipline of world literature returned once again to the forefront of literary discourse. In light of such vast migrations of people and information across national boundaries, it is time for scholars to rethink the ways in which we teach the literary diversity of our planet for students who have only known other cultures through the frame of Western hegemony. Through an examination of the syllabi from Penn State’s own introductory world literature survey course, CMLIT 010, one can observe the changes over time to the ways in which the field of comparative literature has integrated recent theoretical studies—such as postcolonialism, cultural studies, women’s studies, queer theory, and translation studies—into the world literature curriculum over the past twenty-five years. Over time instructors have merged these theories into the course, emphasizing a cross-cultural, international, and more cosmopolitan reading of foreign texts and situating students within the context of the work in order to teach students to read non-Western cultural traditions in an ethically responsible manner.