The changing roles of literature in a global context 

The research group Comparative Literature offers a unique combination of expertise with respect to literature written in the modern and contemporary period. We study the changing forms and functions of literature from the perspective of its interactions with other cultural practices in a changing media landscape. Our approach is transnational and comparative, with a concern both for literatures written in European languages and world literature in translation. Our research:

  • provides a detailed account of how changes in literary forms have related to the exploration of new themes and to changes in society;
  • identifies the stories which we live by in an increasingly globalised and mediatised world;
  • explains how those stories come into being and why some, but not all of them of them move across the borders of media, languages and generations;
  • establishes their impact on personal and social identities.

View a selection of our research projects.

Lecture by Prof. Ann Rigney: 'Memories and Monuments'


E.g., 09/20/2017
Colm Tóibín. Source: YouTube (still)
20 September 2017 17:15 - 19:00
Tóibín is in the Netherlands to promote the Dutch translation of his recent book, House of Names.
Prof. Beatrice de Graaf tijdens DRONGO talenfestival 2016. Foto: Henk Rougoor
29 September 2017 10:00 - 30 September 2017 17:00
On 29 and 30 September DRONGO language festival takes place in Utrecht. Many scholars from Utrecht University will offer workshops and live science labs.

Comparative Literature Seminar

The Comparative Literature organises a monthly seminar with guest speakers from the Netherlands and abroad. The meetings are announced in the 'Events' section on this page.

Speakers in the 2016/17 seminar series:

  • 14 November 2016 – Anna Poletti (Utrecht University)
  • 12 December 2016 – Maria Kager (Utrecht University)
  • 9 January 2017 – Jeroen Salman and the Digital Publishing Lab (Utrecht University)
  • 23 January – Wilbert Smulders, et al (Utrecht University)
  • 13 February 2017 – Helena Houvenaghel (Utrecht University)
  • 20 March 2017 – cancelled
  • 10 April 2017 – Floris Schuiling (Utrecht University)
  • 15 May 2017 – Round Table (organised by RMA students) incl. book launch
  • 12 June 2017 – Mediated Testimony Symposium / Anna Poletti (Utrecht University)


Programme 2015-2016 (pdf)

More information

For any further information, you can contact Dr Birgit Kaiser.

For further activities initiated by scholars from our group, see also the Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies and Terra Critica.


15 September 2017
Alumni magazine Illuster interviewed Geert Buelens together with Director of Het Literatuurhuis Michaël Stoker about the visibility of literature in the city.
Prof. dr. Ann Rigney
15 September 2017
On 15 September, professor Ann Rigney received an honorary doctorate from Aarhus University, Denmark.
Prof. dr. Kiene Brillenburg Wurth
22 August 2017
As of 1 august, Kiene Brillenburg Wurth has been appointed Head of Humanities at Utrecht University College (UCU) for the coming four years.
28 July 2017
The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded a Veni grant to 7 researchers from the faculty of Humanities.
28 April 2017
Ann Rigney co-edited the special issue 'Audiovisual Memory and the (Re)Making of Europe' of Image [&] Narrative on transnational memory culture in Europe.



Research focus areas

What role does literature play along with other media in the production of shared narratives about our collective past and future? How do this production of cultural memory relate to shifting ideas about citizenship and historical justice? What ideas of utopia and dystopia can we find in literary texts? How are (post)national subjectivities articulated in literature? By addressing such research questions, our work contributes to the focus area Cultures, Citizenship and Human Rights and strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies.

What literature can teach us about citizenship and human rights

Our research takes one of the most important media in the modern world as a starting point for how storytelling impacts on identities and on the articulation of shared norms and values (including ones relevant to animal rights, the environment, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, technology).

What literature can teach us about institutions

The Comparative Literature group provides qualitative and historically informed accounts of how non-institutionalised forms of ‘common knowledge’ are culturally produced. Stories inform current practices of citizenship, ideas of democracy, and the empathy and patterns of identification that are necessary for trust. We also provide insight into the specific role of cultural institutions in the preservation, canonisation, and dissemination of literature and the other arts.