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Comparative literature began in the thought of travelers and exiles: Goethe touring Italy, Germaine de Staël exiled from Napoleon's France to Switzerland, Erich Auerbach waiting out World War II in Istanbul.

Emigrés from Europe such as Leo Spitzer and René Wellek brought the discipline to the United States in the 40s and 50s. By choice or by chance, intellectuals in transit confronted new geographies and cultures that stimulated them to think about literature as a cross-cultural phenomenon, from its origins to its global, multifaceted present.

In our time, comparatists range more broadly, from Europe to the Americas, from the Middle East to Africa and Asia. We explore linguistic and psychosocial shifts within and among texts. We look at printed texts in relation to music and the visual arts, in elite and popular culture. We read literary texts in the light of anthropology, history, politics and philosophy.