The Department of Comparative Literature was founded in the Fall Quarter of 1968, its charter members being Calvin S. Brown (Head), Nan Cooke Carpenter, Robert Harrison, and Larry Peer. From its inception, the Department offered A.B., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Comparative Literature. By 1972 the Department had seventeen undergraduate majors and twenty graduate students, and in the fall of 1973 the number of faculty doubled, from five to ten full-time faculty members.

In 1985 the Department introduced Chinese language and literature instruction as a component of the curriculum. The South African novelist Mbulelo Mzamane joined the Department in 1988, and that same year, the College administration authorized a search for two additional faculty members to teach Japanese Language and Literature.

By the fall of 1988, through the hiring of Mzamane and the expansion of the Asian language and literature program, the Department had grown to fifteen full-time faculty. In 1991 Lioba Moshi joined the Department, after establishing a program of Swahili language instruction. Thereafter, Comparative Literature became the home for all Asian and African language and literature instruction at the University. Having started with a focus in Western literature, the Department is now a hub of global literary transaction.