This essay considers the shifting valences of “world” and “literature” in the American academic context of the past half century. The first part of the essay, which takes up the debates during the 1950s and 1960s on the teaching of world literature in translation, looks particularly at the institutional differences between the Ivy League programs in comparative literature and the world literature programs that were growing rapidly at large midwestern state universities. Damrosch argues that we are now better able to mediate between the demands of elite and mass education and between work in original languages and in translation. In the second part Damrosch proposes that the fundamental tension today has shifted to the question of the place of literary studies in a multimedia age, and he explores how we can make affirmative use of the common translation of classic texts across not only languages but media.

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