Department of English


The curriculum in English has as its goal the cultivation of advanced literacy.

The bachelor's degree in English represents broad acquaintance with British, American, and world literature written in English as well as its cultural and historical contexts. Discussing this literature in the classroom teaches the ability to articulate and defend ideas, to appreciate the value of ideas different from one's own, and to cooperate in reaching measured consensus about the concerns raised by individual works. Extensive writing is required in virtually all English courses, with the expectation that English majors will learn to turn research and critical thinking into cogent arguments expressed in a clear and interesting style.

Is Melville's Captain Vere right in ordering the execution of Billy Budd? Is there some way to explain Samuel Johnson's criticism of Milton's Lycidas as "easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting"? Why has Jane Austen become a best selling author two centuries after the publication of her novels? How has the emergence of post-colonial writers in English during the last half century challenged the received canon of English literature? These are the kinds of questions English majors read, think, and write about, questions that demand judicious assessment of textual and historical evidence as well as informed aesthetic and ethical judgment.

The English major equips students to address such questions by offering a broad range of courses, authors, and approaches. Different ways of looking at literature, literary history, language,and culture are fostered by the diversity of our program and by the wide-ranging scholarly interests of an outstanding faculty, which includes eight members of The University's Academy of Distinguished Teachers and many other recipients of The University's highest teaching awards. Although English majors are required to take courses in specific areas to ensure a breadth of experience in reading and writing, the major is also flexible enough to allow students to develop concentrations in such areas as creative writing or cultural studies. The program also fosters connections with other University programs, including Women's Studies, African and African American Studies, Humanities, and the foreign language departments, which cross list courses with English.

Literacy is not only the goal of the English major, but also the starting point for a lifetime of engagement in professions that need literate employees. English graduates are people who read and think and know how to communicate effectively. Although some English graduates pursue careers in teaching either at the secondary or college level, most take the skills learned in their English classes into other fields. The English Department sends quite a number of graduates on to law school, where the skills of analytical reading and argumentation are highly valued. Other professional schools, especially those that require research and writing, are also happy to receive English majors, while some graduates receive a different kind of post-graduate training in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or Teach for America, often leading to careers in public service. English graduates who enter the job market right after graduation report that getting the first entry level position may be a challenge, but once in they advance faster than more narrowly trained students because they are better equipped to learn what the company or organization needs and how they can adapt their training to meet those needs.