The English Major

The English major encompasses and offers students training in creativity, interpretation, and analysis across three main areas of study. 

Literature, Culture, and Media Creative Writing Language and Linguistics

Literature, Culture, and Media studies the range of literature in English from its medieval origins to its global present while also training students in critical interpretation of texts, objects, film, and digital media. Students can focus in areas such as the African Diaspora, gender and sexuality, composition and rhetoric, folklore, postcolonialism, and critical theory.

Creative Writing offers students the opportunity to practice a literary art form (fiction, poetry, and/or creative nonfiction) with the guidance of published writers. Students work to develop technical skills specific to each genre and enter into aesthetic conversations with the literary community.  

Language and Linguistics provides a new perspective on something we normally take for granted: language. Courses in this area investigate the English language by considering its contemporary structure and historical development as well as the broader principles that shape English and all languages.

  • English majors must take at least 30 credit hours in English, satisfying requirements listed below. At least 24 hours must be at the 3000-level or above. At least 9 hours must be at the 4000-level.
  • No more than 40 hours of English courses may be counted toward graduation. The required hours of English composition (ENGL 1000) are excluded from this maximum. We recommend taking these hours before enrolling in any literature courses numbered 2000 or above.
  • A single course may count for 1, 2, or 3 of the three categories of Breadth of Study, Depth of Study, and Historical Coverage. A single course may not count more than once in a single category.


English 2100: Writing about Literature

Often considered the “gateway” course to the English major, English 2100 provides instruction in the fundamentals of writing about literature.  Designed with the needs of declared or prospective English majors and minors in mind, it employs a broad theme or topic in order to introduce students to the basics of literary research, interpretation, and criticism. A central goal of the course is to familiarize students with a variety of critical and theoretical approaches that are used in the study of literature.

Breadth of Study

Students take at least 1 course from each of the following areas at the 3000-level and above.

a. Period Studies and Surveys
Courses in this area examine texts in their historical context, whether through the broad sweep of the survey course (such as “American Literature from 1865 to the present”) or by a more in-depth look at a single period (Medieval, Romantic, Victorian, Harlem Renaissance, Modernist, etc.). These courses consider how historical events and developments shape culture and texts (and vice-versa).

b. Author Studies
Courses in this area focus on an individual or several selected authors or artists. Such courses might consider, among other topics, the relationship among works by the same author, connections between the author’s life and his or her work, and the features and achievements that make this work distinctive.

c. Genre Studies; Thematic Studies
This heading encompasses two separate categories of courses. Genre Studies introduces students to a textual kind, its conventions, and its history. Broad literary genres include the novel, poetry, drama, and the essay, but also may be more narrowly defined (Bildungsroman, tragedy, dramatic monologue, etc). Thematic Studies explores a shared theme among works that may or may not belong to the same period.

d. Theory and Methods
Courses in this category give primary attention to the frame of inquiry and/or the method by which knowledge-making takes place.

Historical Coverage

Students take 3 courses that focus on literature written prior to 1890. One of these must focus on literature written prior to 1603.

Depth of Study

Students must take 3 courses in one area of specialization listed below

a. Medieval Literature
b. Renaissance / Early Modern Literature
c. 18th and 19th Century Literature
d. 20th and 21st Century Literature
e. African Diaspora Studies
f. Postcolonial & Global Literatures
g. Literary, Critical or Rhetorical Theory
h. Creative Writing 
i. Composition & Studies in Writing
j. English Language and Linguistics
k. Folklore Studies
l. Film and Digital Studies
m. Gender and Sexuality Studies
n. Other (subject to English Department Advisor approval)

Description of Depth of Study Areas:

A.  Medieval Literature:  Medieval literature is capacious in its forms, striking in its innovations, and wildly diverse in its interests. Medieval writings are multi-lingual, spanning centuries and ranging from epic poetry to lyric, from drama to prose narrative. They bear witness to the invasions, inventions, religious controversies, and assimilations that inaugurated key concepts such as human rights and romantic love. Courses focus on our language’s Old English beginnings and extend through the late medieval period, incorporating British, European, and global literature.

B. Renaissance/Early Modern Literature:  The Renaissance/Early Modern period in Britain is not only the age of Shakespeare and other unforgettable dramatists, but the source of some of the funniest, strangest, smartest and most beautiful lyric and epic poetry in English. With course topics ranging from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Shakespeare on film, a concentration in Renaissance/Early Modern literature allows students both to study the history and culture of the past and to become familiar with works and genres that have remained influential for subsequent writers to the present day. 

C. 18th and 19th Century Literature:  Literature of the 18th and 19th centuries saw the emergence and rise to dominance of the novel. Along with the novel, the period saw dramatic transformations in poetry, drama, and non-fiction (including essays, speeches, pamphlets, letters, etc.). These transformative literary works reflected the times themselves, which were filled with revolutions of many kinds (political, technological, cultural, philosophical and religious). Courses in this area often focus on the emergence of women’s writing, the problem of slavery, the consequences of urbanization, and the promises and perils of global expansion.

D. 20th and 21st Century Literature:  20th and 21st Century Literature is shaped by the increasingly rapid changes that define modernity—changes in technology, in national and geopolitics, in the ways in which the world’s cultures and peoples are more connected and more divided. Studying 20th and 21st century literature means trying to appreciate and understand the ways in which the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, film, and even popular music of the times reflect and reflect upon this changing world. Courses in this area focus on a wide range of topics from history to economics to racial, gender, and sexual identity to the experiments with form that characterize much of the artistic production of the period.

E. African Diaspora Studies:  African Diaspora literature celebrates, interconnects, and critically explores the histories, as well as the flourishing literary and cultural productions, of the Black Atlantic. Covering the creative, theoretical and critical terrains of Africa, African America, Afro-Caribbean, Black Britain, and emergent discourses of Black Asia, African Diaspora literature illuminates and deepens the folk and oral traditions, life-writings, poetry, fiction, drama, films, and intellectual exchanges by authors and other cultural workers of African descent. In their cross-referentiality, African Diaspora Studies courses recognize the geographic discreteness but also underscore the broader intersections of the lived experiences, thought, and creativities of peoples of African descent.

F. Postcolonial & Global Literatures:  Postcolonial & Global literatures is a transhistorical and transnational category of writing that appears in a variety of forms, ranging from novels, drama, and poetry to film, music, and digital media. Focusing on courses in this area will allow you to read texts from North America, the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. It encompasses various perspectives on empire building and its aftermaths and explores themes such as race, gender, sexuality, indigeneity, migration, sovereignty, and diaspora. The courses offered in this area provide opportunities to examine how a history of empire and capitalism is central to literary developments around the world, while learning about theoretical concepts like colonialism, postcolonialism, neocolonialism, Orientalism, nationalism, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and globalization.

G. Literary, Critical, or Rhetorical Theory: What is distinctive about the works that we read in English classes and what methods are available for interpreting them?  Most of our courses focus on a specific genre or period, which means that we are engaged in defining a relatively narrow category, such as silent film, medieval mystery plays, or modern poetry. Drawing on ancient traditions of rhetoric and poetics as well as other disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, and gender studies, courses in the Theory area ask broad questions concerning interpretation, the aesthetics of reading, and the politics of inclusion and exclusion—questions that are relevant to almost every other course in English and to the practice of interpretation in everyday life.

H. Creative Writing: Creative Writing offers students the opportunity to practice a literary art form (fiction, poetry, and/or creative nonfiction) with the guidance of published writers. Our courses involve a wide variety of activities, such as reading classic and contemporary literature, reporting on literary magazines, journaling, collaborating with peers, and experimenting with various formal structures from sonnets to podcasts. Other assignments might involve imitation, word games, experiential and archival research, performance, book arts, author visits, Skype interviews, peer editing, workshop, and revision. Students work to develop technical skills specific to each genre and enter into aesthetic conversations with the literary community.  

Note: Students choosing to satisfy Area H (Creative Writing) for their depth of study requirement will take an additional 3 hours (33 total) to complete their coursework and satisfy the requirement for 24 hours at the 3000+ level because several courses in this sequence are numbered below the 3000 level.

I. Composition & Studies in Writing: Classes in Composition and Writing Studies give students the chance to expand the possibilities of what it means to write. Some classes will provide opportunities to write in new genres, while others will introduce you to different ways of approaching the process of writing.

J. English Language & Linguistics: Linguistics provides a new perspective on something we normally take for granted: language. Courses in this area investigate the English language by considering its contemporary structure and historical development as well as the broader principles that shape English and all languages. How are sounds different from letters? Why do children overgeneralize grammatical rules (e.g. “foots”)? Why do some of Shakespeare's rhymes not work today? These illustrate the kinds of questions students may explore as they refine their understanding and appreciation of language.

K. Folklore Studies:  Folklore Studies embraces the unofficial art of the modern world, as it appears in many forms and among diverse subcultures and groups. It includes, for example, verbal genres such as proverbs, fairytales, jokes, and urban legends, and nonverbal genres such as graffiti, food rituals, memes, quilting, festivals, and tattoos. Courses in this area focus on the intersections between folklore and social identities (gender, race, disability, ethnicity, locale, subculture, etc.), and between folklore and diverse media (Internet, film, video, photography, print, etc.).

L. Film & Digital Studies: The study of film and digital media involves attention to a tremendous range of electronic forms, their historical development in the U.S. and globally, and diverse theories accounting for human interactions with our many kinds of screens. Courses in these areas often focus on visual and sonic film language, film genres (documentary, westerns, animation, zombie films, film noir, television dramas, etc.), the cinema of particular groups (such as women in film, African American cinemas, Indigenous media), and film and media theory. In addition to these critical studies courses, Digital Storytelling courses include camera-based and animated production as well as audio storytelling and writing for digital media.

M. Gender & Sexuality Studies: Gender and sexuality studies introduces students to an exciting array of cultural narratives and critical perspectives about gender and sexuality and their intersection with race, class, nationality, and other dimensions of diversity. Crossing boundaries and challenging traditional categories, courses invite students to explore a myriad of voices, literary traditions, genres, and themes that illuminate how gender is constructed in literature and culture. Courses may focus on African diaspora women writers, gender and poetics, feminist and queer theories, women’s self-expression, LGBTQ representation, and women and film.  


Diversity Requirement

English majors must take one (3-hour) course that focuses on issues such as race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. Each semester a list of approved courses will be made available to students.


Capstone Experience: English 4970 or English 4996 (if choosing honors sequence)

Additional Options:


Students may take an additional 3 hours (33 total) to complete 4995, the Honors Thesis. In order to apply to do this, students must have a 3.3 GPA (3.5 GPA in the major and a 3.3 GPA overall as of Fall 2015). Note that 4996 (the Honors Senior Seminar) will count towards the 9-hour requirement for 4000-level classes, but the 4995, the Honors Thesis, will not.

Internships and Independent Research

Students making satisfactory progress towards completion of degree requirements are encouraged to explore possibilities for gaining professional experience through internal or external internships. They are also encouraged to follow up on the various opportunities to pursue independent research sponsored by the department, the College of Arts and Science, and other divisions of the University. Note that only 3 credits of internship or independent study (English 4940, 4950, 4955 or 4960) will count towards the major’s 4000-level requirement or towards the 24 hours at the 3000+ level.

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