Comparative literature is the study of the language, literature, and arts of one or more cultures in a historical context.

Familiarity with the literature and culture of other nations goes hand-in-hand with questions about the nature and value of storytelling in literature and other arts. Translation between languages and among different arts represents another basic center of this field.

This major prepares students for careers in fields that value critical thinking and international understanding, and for professional study in fields such as the humanities, law, and business.

Why Study at Iowa

Comparative literature examines film, literature, translation, and other arts as they relate to each other and emphasizes their international dimensions.

The program is well known for integrating creative and scholarly work. Its strengths include an interdisciplinary, internationally recognized faculty.

Iowa's comparative literature students range from artists to scholars to those looking for a good way to complete an interdisciplinary degree in the humanities. Students work one-on-one with faculty members, who help them apply for scholarships, awards, internships, and advanced degree programs.

Course Work

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in comparative literature explores literature in two or more languages and cultures and studies relations among literature and other arts.

Students acquire training in foreign languages, gain an international outlook on literature, and learn interdisciplinary approaches to cultural study.

The curriculum includes courses on literary classics and film adaptation and introductions to critical reading, viewing, criticism, and theory. It also includes an undergraduate seminar.

Students choose one of two tracks for additional course work:

  • Literature and arts—requires four or more advanced courses in a single fine arts area plus a comparative course on arts and literature, and may include a course in advanced performance, practice, or production
  • World languages and literature—requires three or more courses in one world literature (read in the original language), plus two or more courses in comparative literature or in a second world literature; it may include a course in composition and conversation

See Comparative Literature in the UI General Catalog and the Division of World Languages, Literatures & Cultures website to learn more about the course work required for the major and graduating with honors.

Minor in Comparative Literature

See Comparative Literature in the UI General Catalog for more information.

Admission Requirements

Comparative literature majors need to meet the requirements for admission to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Admission Requirements Tabs

Student Opportunities

In addition to nearly 500 student organizations, Iowa students choose from multiple living-learning communities, study abroad programs, and Undergraduate Research Opportunities.

Students in this major may be interested in the Iowa Writers living-learning community in the residence halls.

Faculty, Facilities, and Resources

Faculty members offer expertise in the languages and cultural study of the Americas, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Korea.

The program also calls on faculty members in other disciplines, including American studies; Asian and Slavic languages and literatures; classics; communication studies; English; French and Italian; gender, womens', and sexuality studies; German; history; Spanish and Portuguese; and theatre arts.

University programs that support students in this major include:

  • The International Writing Program (IWP), which brings 15 to 35 established writers from around the world to campus each fall, offers courses allowing students to study these writers in international context. The Translation Workshop offers opportunities to do individual work with IWP writers while studying and practicing literary translation as a creative art.
  • The Institute for Cinema and Culture sponsors major film retrospectives, proseminars, and national conferences on a broad spectrum of film matters. It also provides a bank of film information and film materials for faculty and students.


Iowa graduates have job placement rates ranging from 86-100 percent, depending on their area of study, and our Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.


The Office of Admissions and the Office of Student Financial Aid are great resources for students seeking scholarships.

Application Process

Application Process Tabs

Apply to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


Comparative Literature (BA)
Comparative Literature
Literature and Arts
World Languages and Literature
Honors Courses
Four-Year Graduation Plan