Comparative literature: history and theory (2018/2019)

Course code
Name of lecturer
Simone Rebora
Simone Rebora
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
II semestre dal Feb 18, 2019 al Jun 1, 2019.

Lesson timetable

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Learning outcomes

The learning outcomes of the class “Comparative Literature: History and Theory” LM37 lead students to acquire a deep knowledge of the historical, cultural, and literary context in comparison and contrast related to the subject imparted. By allowing students to master comparative methodological tools, the course aims to provide useful information to comment, interpret, contextualize, historicize texts belonging to different literary genres and to develop hermeneutic-critical analysis skills. The acquired tools will address long-lasting themes and topoi belonging to chronologically and topographically different literatures. At the end of the course, the student must demonstrate that s/he has acquired knowledge and skills that are in-depth and adequate to perfect critical judgment (knowledge and understanding); to have gained the ability to learn and understand different methodologies necessary to argue, as well as skills to develop personal ideas (learning skills); to know how to convey information, new topics and problems related to the subject imparted (making judgments); finally, having the ability to integrate knowledge and manage complexity with a high degree of autonomy in broader (or interdisciplinary) contexts (communication skills).


The course will present and discuss some of the most recent theoretical and methodological developments in literary studies, fostered by interdisciplinary interactions with the fields of
- cognitive neuroscience,
- empirical aesthetics,
- computer science.
These theoretical/methodological frameworks will be compared with critical traditions such as formalism and structuralism, reception theory and psychoanalytic criticism, new historicism and sociological criticism. The discussion will focus on both risks and opportunities in the combination of traditional research methods with quantitative/experimental approaches.
Each analysis will be developed around one or more case studies, involving questions in stylistics, narratology, aesthetics, theoretical linguistics, and literary historiography, with a distinctly comparative approach. Leading case studies will be:
- the reception of Italian literary history in foreign countries;
- the identification of the “authorial fingerprint” of writers such as William Shakespeare, Robert Musil, and Elena Ferrante;
- the formal experimentations of modern and contemporary authors such as James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Roberto Bolaño, and Claudio Magris;
- the effects of the digital revolution on the experience of reading (reading on paper vs. reading on screen, online social reading).



1. Enza Biagini, Augusta Brettoni e Paolo Orvieto (a cura di) 2001. Teorie critiche del Novecento: con antologia di testi. Roma: Carocci.
2. Raffaella Bertazzoli (a cura di) 2010. Letteratura comparata. Brescia: Editrice La Scuola [Introduction; Part 1: Chapters 1-4; Part 2: Chapters 1-4].

3. Marco Bernini e Marco Caracciolo. 2013. Letteratura e scienze cognitive. Roma: Carocci.
4. Willie van Peer, Jèmeljan Hakemulder, and Sonia Zyngier. 2012. Scientific Methods for the Humanities. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. [Chapter 1, Interlude, Chapters 2-4].
5. Susan Schreibman, Raymond George Siemens, and John Unsworth (eds.) 2016. A New Companion to Digital Humanities. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell [Chapters 11, 17, 19, 20, and 23]

STUDY MATERIALS (to be discussed in the class)

1. Simone Rebora. 2018. History/Histoire e Digital Humanities. La nascita della storiografia letteraria italiana fuori d’Italia. Firenze: Firenze University Press. Online: [Introduction and Chapter 3].
2. Massimo Salgaro. 2018. “The Digital Humanities as a Toolkit for Literary Theory: Three Case Studies of the Operationalization of the Concepts of ‘Late Style’, ‘Authorship Attribution’, and ‘Literary Movement’.” Iperstoria 12: 50-60. Online:
3. J. Berenike Herrmann, Karina van Dalen-Oskam, and Christof Schöch. 2015. “Revisiting Style, a Key Concept in Literary Studies.” Journal of Literary Theory 9(1): 25-52. Online:
4. Patrick Colm Hogan 2013. “Parallel processing and the human mind: Re-understanding consciousness with James Joyce’s Ulysses.” Journal of Literary Semantics 42(2): 149-164.
5. Petrus Van Ewijk. 2011. “Encyclopedia, Network, Hypertext, Database: The Continuing Relevance of Encyclopedic Narrative and Encyclopedic Novel as Generic Designations.” Genre 44(2): 205-222.
6. Franco Moretti. 2011. “Network Theory. Plot Analysis.” Stanford Literary Lab Pamphlets 2: 2-12. Online:
7. Massimo Salgaro. 2009. “L’opera letteraria si realizza nella coscienza del lettore. Estetica della ricezione, psicologia cognitiva e neuroscienze.” In Id. (a cura di). Verso una neuroestetica della letteratura. Roma: Aracne, pp. 142-165.
8. Anne Mangen and Adriaan Van der Weel. 2016. “The evolution of reading in the age of digitisation: an integrative framework for reading research.” Literacy 50(3): 116-124. Online:
9. Simone Rebora and Federico Pianzola. 2018. “A New Research Programme for Reading Research: Analysing Comments in the Margins on Wattpad.” DigitCult 3(2): 19-36. Online:
10a. Fabio Ciotti. 2017. “Modelli e metodi computazionali per la critica letteraria: lo stato dell’arte.” In B. Alfonzetti, T. Cancro, V. Di Iasio, E. Pietrobon (a cura di). L’Italianistica oggi: ricerca e didattica. Roma: Adi editore, pp. 1-11. Online:
10b. Fabio Ciotti. 2018. “What Theory for Distant Reading in Literary Studies?” In EADH 2018 Conference Abstracts, pp. 1-3. Online:

Teaching materials and detailed information are available on the Moodle platform.

Assessment methods and criteria

The teaching method will involve frontal lessons to be held on three weekly days for a total load of 54 hours (9 CFU). During the lessons, students will be encouraged to participate actively, via presentations to the class and seminar-like discussions. Non-attending students will have to agree a program with some variation to facilitate independent study.

During the final oral exam, students will have to show that they have gained critical skills during the course, by means of analytical and argumentative ability to link the various theoretical and methodological frameworks in the interpretation of literary texts. Students must also speak with appropriate language.