Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature Emerita
Research Fields: Ruth Wisse undertook the study of literature because it seemed to offer more information and experience than any other branch of knowledge. She moved from English into Yiddish and Comparative Literature for similar reasons. Yiddish might appear to be a minor literature, written as it is in the vernacular of a small people, the Jews, in only one of their several languages, and only since about the sixteenth century. Yet because Yiddish literature registers the personal and collective experience of much of European Jewry and their American descendants, and given that European Jews have been all too much at the center of modern history, Yiddish literature turns out to be exceptionally revealing, dramatic, original, and important. Its study has led Professor Wisse from an initial interest in The Schlemiel as Modern Hero to a revised investigation of “the liberal betrayal of the Jews,” which is the subtitle of her latest book If I Am Not for Myself. In between she wrote A Little Love in Big Manhattan about two Yiddish poets in America, a study of I.L. Peretz, and edited a number of anthologies of Yiddish prose and poetry in translation.
Founded as a graduate program in 1904 and joining with the undergraduate Literature Concentration in 2007, Harvard’s Department of Comparative Literature operates at the crossroads of multilingualism, literary study, and media history.