The English major is solidly built on the materials of literary history, stretching from Chaucer to Shakespeare, Austen and Blake, to Woolf and Yeats, Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain, and to the most recent literature by writers such as David Foster Wallace, Toni Morrison, J. M. Coetzee, and Seamus Heaney. It is designed to develop writing skills in tandem with the study of literary works. The English major prepares students for careers in law, business, and medicine as well as all other fields in which verbal fluency is crucial (journalism, teaching, publishing). Such preparation coincides with other goals in our small classroom settings: the opportunity to engage in enriching conversations with peer scholars, to enter into other cultures through literary study, and to experience the rewards of discussing fiction, poems, and plays in a community of enthusiastic readers and exceptional writers.
English Major Freshman Seminars
The Department of English offers every semester freshman seminars that explore literature from a variety of perspectives. Current offerings include Literature and Science, American Traditions, Literature and Justice, Literature and the Invention of Love. These seminars are small group experiences designed and led by senior professors in the department. They introduce incoming students to literature as a unique source for analyzing the complexity of the human situation. The moral, philosophical, psychological, historical, and theological contexts in which literature comes to life are central to these seminars. They appeal to students who are still uncertain about the direction of their studies and to those who already lean toward majoring in English. We believe that these seminars provide an ideal introduction to the interdisciplinary concerns that occupy literary studies today.
The English Department has formulated a new system of requirements for the English Major, which are set out below as “Requirements for New English Majors (class of 2014 and later).” Our existing system, which applies to students who will be seniors in 2012-2013, is included below as “Requirements for Students of class 2013 and earlier.” Between these two sets of requirements is a set of guidelines for students who may have started the Major in the existing system and wish to follow the rubric of the new requirements: this comes under the heading “Making the Transition.”
Our new requirements include a new set of prerequisite courses—2151: Early Texts and Contexts, and 2152: Modern Texts and Contexts—which are, in effect, critical surveys of the literary history of the major literatures in the English language: American, British, and Anglophone. These surveys are designed to provide each of our students with a basic knowledge of the major figures and movements in the history of literatures in English; these courses will also develop a vocabulary of critical analysis that familiarizes our students with current issues in literary criticism as well as topics of longstanding scholarly importance. From this basis, our students will move into the Major, whose new requirements include three upper-level courses (300 level and above), which are drawn from the five historical areas listed below, and one course in literary theory, and four free electives. An important principle in this system is the student’s ability to choose areas of historical focus, and this is a value that will be put into practice in the close discussion each student has with his or her faculty adviser each semester. Another expression of the value we place on the student’s ability to develop individual interests lies in the equal measure of required (4) courses and elective (4) courses.
2151 Early Texts and Contexts
2152 Modern Texts and Contexts
4 required courses:
3 Historical (3 out of 5 periods, any of which may be filled by American, British, or Anglophone, with at least one course from each of these two Groups):
The Eighteenth Century
The Nineteenth Century
The Twentieth Century and later
1 Literary Theory
10 courses in all (including 2 400 levels)
In order better to understand our students’ experience in the English major, the department requires graduating seniors to complete a capstone project, in which they assemble a portfolio that documents and comments on their work in the major. This portfolio is expected to contain an analytical essay composed by the student for a 200-level English class and for a 400-level English class, as well as a brief essay that reflects on the student’s learning experience as a major. The 200-level paper should represent some of the student’s earliest work in the major, while the 400-level paper, if possible, should be taken from the student’s most recent coursework and should ideally be a paper employing secondary sources. The reflection essay should be 3-4 pages long and respond to the following prompts:
How would you describe the difference between the 200-level and the 400-level essay in terms of the skills you learned in the time between writing them? (Think about categories such as argumentation, synthesis, organization, and analysis.)
Looking back over your career as an English major, which learning experiences (e.g. courses, internships, extra-curricular activities such as tutoring, etc.) have most clearly contributed to the work you accomplished in the 400-level essay?
Graduating seniors are required to turn the portfolio in to the department’s academic coordinator, Sarah Hennessey, by April 15 (for those graduating in December, it must be finalized by the end of November). To complete the capstone project, students must meet with their major advisors to discuss their reflection essays and their general experience as a major. This conversation should take place no later than the last day of reading week in the semester the student graduates.
Goals for an English Major
The learning goals for an English major may be summarized under four basic headings:
- Core Skills
- Reading and thinking skills that enable students to recognize, analyze, and interpret subtle and complex differences in language use across a broad range of texts.
- Research and writing skills that enable students to develop thought-provoking questions and ideas and present them in clear and compelling arguments.
- Proficiency in producing and communicating knowledge in open-ended, highly interactive settings.
- Higher Level Skills
- An understanding of literary activity as a means of thinking about the world and shaping relations to it. Central components of such an understanding are: aesthetic sense, nuanced judgment, critical self-reflection, appreciation of the diversity and complexity of human experience, and the imagination of different ways of being in the world.
- The ability to develop lines of inquiry from literary into extra-literary fields.
- Historical Knowledge
- Knowledge of major works, movements, and genres of English literature in their cultural, historical, and intellectual contexts, including Anglophone and minority literatures, from the middle ages to the twenty-first century.
- Understanding of Theory
- The ability to understand and work with a range of literary and cultural theories.
To fulfill this concentration, students must take five courses in Creative Writing, including at least three upper-division courses. Students will specialize in one particular genre – poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction – ultimately taking a 3-course sequence in that genre (200-, 300-, and 400-level). Students must take at least one creative writing course outside their genre of specialization, a requirement that can be fulfilled by courses in screenwriting or playwriting or by courses in the other primary genres named above.
Typically, a student will take two 200-level courses in different genres in order to choose an area of specialization. After this, the student would proceed to complete the sequence of three courses, with at least one at the 400 level, as well as one additional upper-division course.
The concentration will not change the current requirement structure in the English Major; the number of courses in literature, as well as the prerequisites and the existing requirements in literary history and theory, will all remain in place. The 400-level course in creative writing will not count as a 400-level seminar for the purposes of the English Major requirements. An English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration will thus require 36 hours (with nine upper-division credit hours counting as electives in the Major and an additional six hours of writing courses for the concentration).
Students from other majors may still pursue the Writing Minor, which features no specific creative focus. The Minor requires a course in expository or argumentative writing and does not require any sequence in a single genre; there is no intended interaction with the study of literature as such in the Writing Minor.
- For a course to fulfill the requirements for a major in English a student must receive a grade of C or better.
- Under ordinary circumstances, only one cross-listed course not home-based in English may be counted toward the 24 units of required upper-division work. The two required 400-level literature courses must be home-based in English. Problems and questions may be referred to the student’s major advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
- Department courses satisfying the Arts and Sciences Advanced Writing Requirement may be counted toward the major.
Your advisor can help you achieve goals of depth and diversity in preparation for graduate school or employment. Before the end of junior year, majors are strongly encouraged to consult with their advisors about plans for fulfilling remaining major requirements. Discussion of the projected program of study with the advisor will enable you to complete the major on the basis of thoughtful choices rather than last-minute availability.
Students with a special interest in creative or expository writing may count toward the major up to nine upper-division units in courses labeled Writing. Alternatively, students may wish to take a Writing Minor (15 units) in addition to an English Major, and in that case are advised to take courses labeled ELit exclusively for the major, courses labeled Writing exclusively toward the minor.
Courses at the 400 level assume greater skill in critical reading and writing than do those on the 300 level, require more extensive reading, and are designed for advanced undergraduates and first-year graduate students.
A student may count no more than six (6) units of University College and/or Summer School courses toward the major. Before registering for any of these courses, permission from the Director of Undergraduate Studies must be obtained.
Only one prerequisite for the major may be taken in University College or Summer School, subject to departmental approval.
Students seeking credit toward the major for course work done in Ireland or the UK must complete their 200-level prerequisite courses and at least two upper-level courses in English literature before going abroad. In order to realize the benefits of study abroad, students should aim to achieve preparation comparable to that of the British students themselves. (See below for further information under “Study Abroad.”)
A student may count three units of 300- or 400-level course work in the literature of another language toward English Major electives provided that the reading for the course was done in the original language and that the course in question is not also being credited towards another major or minor program.
At least half of the courses at the level of 300 or above for any major or minor in the College of Arts and Sciences must be completed in residence at Washington University.