Karen-Margrethe Simonsen has been elected to lead the Coordinating Committee for the Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages Series (CHLEL), which conducts research within literature across borders.
Researchers from various countries work together in the CHLEL. The goal is to publish experimental comparative histories about the literatures written in European languages – with an international framework.
According to Karen-Margrethe Simonsen, the project was started because people now realise that a country doesn’t just have one language, or one literature. There are most often many different languages and literatures within the same country:
“Old histories of literature were written based on the individual nations that were dominant during specific phases of the development of literary history, but the picture is much more complex. In Denmark we also have Greenlandic and Faroese languages and literatures. In the Czech Republic there is, for instance, a German minority literature, and books are written in Dutch in the previous Dutch colonies. You could also ask if Holberg belongs to Danish comparative literature or Norwegian. It’s all about where you draw the borders,” says Karen-Margrethe Simonsen, associate professor in comparative literature, School of Communication and Culture.
This is why the CHLEL is publishing a different type of international comparative history of literature which gives the “small” languages and literatures a place.
Previous publications from the CHLEL include one about the Central-Eastern European area focusing on the religious, linguistic and cultural connections between countries like Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
According to Karen-Margrethe Simonsen, authors don’t necessarily regard themselves as part of one specific nation, and comparative literature should be able to show this:
“Very often, authors get inspiration from across national borders and also have a sense of community across borders. We’re working on the second volume of a comparative history about the Iberian Peninsula, where Portuguese and Spanish are addressed together. In Spain there are strong regions in, for instance, the Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia. The authors write in their own languages, but their literature is related to the literary history of Spain. We’re trying to bring in the smaller literatures and rethink the development of Spanish literature in that context,” explains Simonsen.
Sometimes the CHLEL’s publications spring from specific topics or problems, for instance oral literature, the impact of the media on literature, or a slavery project originating in Reading Slavery, which is a project at Aarhus University, supported by the Velux Foundation, which also includes researchers from around the world.
Information about the CHLEL:
The Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages Series (CHLEL) is a publication series of literary histories which was launched by the ICLA (International Comparative Literature Association) in 1967. The ICLA is a large, international organisation for comparative studies, involving countries all over the world.
The CHLEL committee consists of sixteen scholars from the USA, Spain, Belgium, the UK, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.