Comparative Literature

Comparative Literature

At the heart of the Comparative Literature concentration lies the ability to explore the world of literature through different languages, genres, and lenses. Houghton’s archive, which houses materials ranging from manuscripts to political propaganda posters in dozens of languages, is the perfect place for undergraduates to conduct research in the field. The library also contains items that have never been translated into English and, thus, could become an original translation thesis.

In fact, Houghton owns plenty of significant translations that can be studied in their own right. Its collection includes an Algonquian Bible printed in Cambridge in 1685 for catechization purposes (*AC6.El452.663mb, 004443936), an English poetic translation of John Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (*GC8 G5548F Eg835t, 003088850), a nineteenth-century translation of the Confucian analects that includes the original text (MS Chinese 1, 009894145), and a Chinese translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (MS Chinese 12, 010086292).

The library also includes plenty of materials that allow students to study authors’ creative processes and a work’s evolution. It can offer, for example, the typescript of Rudyard Kipling’s From Sea to Sea with edits made to the text labeled and noted (MS Eng 838, 009678452), Allen Ginsberg’s annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s Collected Poems (AC95.G4351.Zz936e, 001418786), a facsimile of the original draft of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” (AC95.G4351.986ha (B), 000606899), and the papers of queer figures such as poet and translator Witter Bynner (MS Am 1891-1891.31) and poet Amy Lowell (MS Lowell 19-19.4, 38, 51, 62).

Houghton’s collection of foreign material is also enviable. The items below can all figure in a translation thesis or be studied and compared with other contemporary items or modern scholarship on the period. Some of the collection’s highlights include Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium, an eighteenth-century Dutch treatise on entomology by Maria Sibylla Merian with the author’s watercolors (Typ 732.05.567, 002860975); contemporary French newspaper articles about the Dreyfus Affair (MS Am 2638 [49], 011724159), as well as Émile Zola’s papers about the infamous case (MS Judaica 1.4, 009088628); a Jesuit pamphlet about Jesus’s life in Chinese (52-1049, 010022984); a Portuguese account of the Holy Land (Asia 1417.32, 004039016); the papers of Li Dazhao, one of the co-founders of the Communist Party of China (MS Chinese 8, 009202331), which include a portion of a manuscript autobiography and other compositions; and even a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (WKR 10.2.7, 001527048).

Houghton also has a remarkable number of items concerned with intercultural perspectives and the foreign eye, which lend themselves perfectly to a comparative field such as the concentration at hand. The most significant one among those is an account of India and China by Arabic travelers from the ninth century, published in English in eighteenth-century London (Ch 181.6*, 003855270). A peculiar piece of the collection, only its translation and publication are Western; it reflects a non-Western culture’s view of another non-Western culture, and it can be linked and compared to many different cultures and time periods. A more traditional one is an incunabulum by Joannes de Hese (Inc 1497.5 [16.1], 005745673) describing Palestine, Ethiopia, and India.

Finally, Houghton’s gargantuan theater collection also provides interesting comparative literary material. Three American plays, for instance—Female Patriotism, or The Death of Joan D’Arc (DAL 991.5.13*, 002311362), from 1798; a Notre-Dame de Paris lyrical drama adaptation from 1864 (DAL 1594.8.7*, 005553947); and Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Dramatic History (DAL 1755.4.40B*, 005272258), from 1928—can be paired with French literary and dramatic endeavors from the same period in many different ways to study each country’s view on the other.

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