All posts by Gabriele Lazzari

Comp Lit Alumni: Ben De Witte

We asked Ben De Witte, who has recently defended his dissertation, to share his thoughts on his doctoral experience at Comp Lit. Here is his account of the laborious but rewarding path that has led him to the dissertation, with some great suggestions for current (and future) graduate students.


In October 2015, I defended my dissertation “Queer Visibility on the Transatlantic Modernist Stage,” which investigates the transatlantic circulation of themes and techniques used to stage queer plots and persons in a selection of Argentinean, Spanish and U.S. modernist plays. I did not start in the Program of Comparative Literature knowing that I would write on the history of Anglophone and Spanish-language theater and performance. I did know, however, that I wanted to work on multilingual, comparative queer modernism (I had written a master’s thesis on Djuna Barnes’s expatriate novel Nightwood) and on the intertwined histories of literature and sexuality. For these reasons I applied at Rutgers, which boasts an impressive faculty in these areas. Among the various faculty members who have helped me think about my research, I certainly want to mention my dissertation committee members: Elin Diamond, who introduced me to the pleasures of modern drama scholarship, Andy Parker, who stimulated me to think of literature in tandem with philosophy, and Ben. Sifuentes-Jáuregui, who encouraged me to think of comparative literature (and queer figuration) in terms of circulation.

Although it took me all the way into my third year – when I was preparing for my Ph.D. exams – to decide that modern drama would be my main field, I am grateful for everything that I read and studied (my coursework in Comparative Literature, English, Spanish, French and Women’s and Gender Studies, and also my ever expanding multi-genre reading list) leading up to that moment. I am fortunate that our program allowed me a certain amount of time and flexibility to figure out what I really wanted to say and do. And of course, I am equally blessed that my committee helped me apply for grants, allowing me to do archival research in Buenos Aires and Madrid, and for a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship. My main piece of advice to students in the program would be: remain politic about real constraints (such as time and funding) without losing sight of what you really want to investigate; you will need your enthusiasm, wits and a lot more to finally write the dissertation. And although you can (and probably will) read up for the rest of your academic career before you ever fully “get it,” I found that jumping into dissertation chapters much more effectively stimulated my thinking and my creativity. Don’t delay too much, and instead enjoy the practice of writing.


Graduate Student Conference: Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature

The Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature invites you to its 2016 graduate student conference:


March 3, 2016

With a Keynote Address by JOSÉ DAVID SALDÍVAR (Stanford University): “Negative Aesthetics and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

The Conference will feature graduate student presentations on the following panels:

– Remapping the Urban and Reclaiming Lives.
– Genealogy and Decolonial Epistemology.
– The Anthropological of the Inter-Space.
– (De)Colonial (Ab)Use of the Theological and the Spiritual.

If you are planning to attend, please formally RSVP here.

Spring 2016 Workshop, Digital Lab Series: Exploring HathiTrust

Spring semester has started, and several extra-curricular activities and workshops are being launched at Rutgers. One that might be particularly interesting for graduate students in Comparative Literature  is the Digital Lab Series, hosted by Rutgers Libraries and sponsored by the Digital Humanities Initiative at Rutgers.

The first workshop was held on January 20, at Alexander Library. Titled “Exploring HathiTrust Digital Library” and conducted by Melissa Gasparotto, librarian at Rutgers specializing in African, Latin American Studies & LGBTQ Studies, Spanish & Portuguese, the workshop was meant to introduce students and scholars to HathiTrust, a repository of over 13 million digitized books. Launched in 2008, HathiTrust is a collaborative project involving several research institutions, libraries, and universities from North America, Australia, Spain, and Lebanon (Rutgers has recently joined it). Although English remains the most represented language, comparatists can find precious material in many other languages. Furthermore, the overall high-quality and precision of full-texts and metadata, as well as the immediate availability of books that used to be accessible only trough microfilms, make the collection a true gold mine of research material.

HathiTrust Languages

During the workshop, Melissa Gasparotto illustrated different search functionalities: HathiTrust offers basic full-text or catalogue searches and more advanced instruments of text retrieval. Language, format, time period are only few of the multiple categories available to users, who can combine them using Boolean expressions. Although some material is subject to copyright, hence not fully accessible (in these cases only metadata can be consulted), the possibility to download full-texts (when available) differentiates HathiTrust from similar projects, such as Google Books. Being able to download rare, if not unique texts, in PDF format, is not the only interesting functionality HathiTrust offers. Members can in fact build their own collections and eventually share them. They can also access collections built by other scholars who have decided to make them public.

HathiTrust, in fostering collaborative work by making available large collections of documents, can be a very powerful resource for literary scholars, both from a quantitative and a qualitative perspective. In the next workshop, on January 26, Francesca Giannetti will focus on how to develop more complex analyses of documents and will explain how to produce data visualizations by using the algorithms provided by the portal.