With recent hires at both the senior and junior level, the Comparative Literature Department is expanding beyond its historically Western European focus and taking a broader academic approach.
Alexander Beecroft, who is currently finishing up doctorate work at Harvard University, will join the department next fall as a junior professor, comparative literature chairman Michael Holquist said. With a focus on ancient Greek and early Chinese literature, Beecroft will have a shared appointment in the Humanities. Stanford literature professor Haun Saussy, who is also an expert on Chinese poetry and Greek literature, was hired last spring and will join the department in the fall of 2004 as a tenured professor.
“In general our program is thriving,” Holquist said. “A large part of it has to do with the turn towards the world — We really have broken out of our Euro-centric box.”
Holquist said the number of majors and applications to the graduate program are up in his department. In addition, comparative literature courses have also been attracting more non-majors in recent years, he said.
“The popularity of the ‘World Literature’ course is greater that ever,” Holquist said. “The world film course has been very popular.”
Holquist said the department is expanding its world view in its academic areas and through various programs. The department has helped sponsor conferences at the University of Beijing — something Holquist said increases Yale’s presence in China. He said comparative literature professors have also been active in the Yale Center for International and Area Studies’ Crossing Borders Initiative, which is a three-year-old program designed to examine the new academic role for area studies.
At Yale, Beecroft will teach a directed studies literature section and a freshman seminar on lyric poetry in Greece, Rome and China. He said he will also teach the “World Literatures” class and an upperclassman seminar that compares Chinese and Greek poetry and philosophy.
Beecroft said in his literature dissertation, he is analyzing how oral traditions became written texts in ancient Greece and China.
While Beecroft has an undergraduate degrees in classics, he said he began learning Chinese because of its heavy influence in his western Canadian hometown. Initially, Beecroft thought he would go into business in the Pacific rim, but he said his desire to pursue business eventually faded away, while his interest in Chinese remained.
Holquist said hiring Beecroft and Saussy will strengthen relations with both the Classics Department and East Asian studies.
When Saussy comes to Yale, he will teach courses about Chinese poetry and the interaction between Chinese and European thought.
“I’ll probably do a lot of undergraduate stuff about this problem of reading in a cosmopolitan way,” Saussy said.
He said he is also interested in the history of science, particularly 19th century poets’ views of the brain.
Saussy finished his graduate work at Yale in 1990 and Holquist said he is happy about Saussy’s return to the department.
“I’m very happy he’s coming back because among other things he’s a fine Chinese cook,” Holquist said.