The Major in English

English majors must take a total of 10 courses: one course in literary and cultural history (LCH), the junior seminar (JRS), and eight departmental courses. Courses in literary and cultural history ask questions about tradition and transmission over longer periods, and provide background for more specialized study. The junior seminar is a topical introduction to research methods in the discipline, and prepares students for their independent work. Of the remaining eight required courses, five must meet distribution requirements, and three more may be any ENG or ENG cross-listed courses. There are no formal prerequisites; the department recommends beginning with 200-level courses, but many 300-level courses are also welcoming to first-time English students.

All courses in English follow the department's grading standards. While all courses at the university may be taken P/D/F, including English courses, the English department has returned to the default policy of requiring that courses to be counted as departmentals (i.e., toward the requirements of the major in English) must be taken for a letter grade (not P/D/F).

Literary and Cultural History

The department’s courses in literary and cultural history introduce students to questions of tradition, transmission, and reception. What counts as a tradition is among those questions: it might be generic (a history of melodrama), grounded in origin or identity (early African American literature), or topic-based (the literature of human rights). It is recommended that majors take at least one LCH course early in their departmental studies.

The Junior Seminar

The JRS is an introduction to the methods of research and the arts of criticism, taken in the fall of junior year. Majors are placed in one of four or five seminars when they sign into the department as sophomores. The courses are topical (ranging from realisms to speculative fiction), but all of them involve intensive practice in the reading and writing of literary criticism. Over the course of the semester, junior seminar students will begin work on their junior paper (JP), under the guidance of the junior seminar instructor. During the spring term, JP work will continue, with the junior seminar instructor acting as the student's JP adviser. The JP is submitted in the spring.

During the junior fall, students should plan a program of departmental courses for the next two years. The planned coursework for the junior spring and senior year should be discussed with the junior seminar instructor, who signs the academic planning form and acts as the junior adviser during the fall term.

Departmental distribution requirements ensure breadth in each major's program of study. Of the remaining eight courses required after the LCH and JRS requirements, one must be taken in each of the following five distribution areas:

  • Literature and culture before 1700 (pre-1700)
  • Literature and culture from 1700-1900 (1700-1900)
  • Literature and culture from 1900-present (post-1900)
  • Difference and diversity (DD)
  • Theory and criticism (TC)

Each semester, the department offers a wide variety of courses in each area, and a full list is available on the courses page. You can also find a list of courses past and present organized by their distribution categories. A single course cannot be used to satisfy two distribution requirements simultaneously.

Tracks in Creative Writing and Theater

The English department has many majors with strong interests in creative writing and theater, and offers special programs for students pursuing certificates in those closely related subjects.

  • Creative Writing: students accepted to the creative writing (CWR) certificate program may cognate two CWR courses as departmental courses in English, and may substitute a thesis in CWR for the thesis in English. Final admission depends on the permission of the Program in Creative Writing to write a creative thesis in the spring of junior year. Students not approved to write a creative thesis may cognate one course in CWR.
  • Theater: students accepted to the Program in Theater (THR) certificate program may cognate two THR courses as departmental courses in English.

Cognate Courses

Majors may opt to count one course from another department as a cognate in English, if that course contributes substantially to the student's program of study, including independent work. Cognates must be agreed upon in advance by consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS). Students wishing to cognate a course should email the DUS before the beginning of the semester, with a one-paragraph explanation of how the course would contribute to their work in English. Cognates ordinarily will not fulfill distribution requirements.

Certificate Programs

English encourages students with interdisciplinary interests to bring them to the department, and to pursue connections with literary and cultural studies. Students who will receive a certificate in another discipline, and who can show (in their coursework or independent work) vital connections with their studies in English, may count one course in that discipline toward their studies in English, by permission of the DUS.

The Rule of Twelve

By University rules, a student in the Bachelor of Arts program is limited to 12 one-term courses (plus independent work) in a given department, plus up to two departmental prerequisites taken during freshmen or sophomore year. For the purposes of English, one LCH course may be counted as a prerequisite. Students who exceed the 31 course requirement for graduation may exceed the rule of twelve by as many courses, e.g., if a student takes 32 courses total, they can exceed the rule of twelve by one course. For most English majors, the 12 are primarily courses designated as English courses (ENG courses or cross-listed courses where ENG comes first, e.g. ENG 327/GSS 332). Departmental cognates do not count against the rule of twelve, nor do cross-listed courses where English is not the home department (e.g. AAS 306 / ENG 302 / AMS 306, where the home department, the first listed, is AAS).