Descriptions of English Concentration Requirements

Descriptions of English Concentration Requirements
How Literature Matters (ENGL 0100)

Addressing topics about which professors are especially passionate, these introductory courses aim to deepen and refine students’ understanding of how literature matters: aesthetically, ethically, historically and politically. Students not only engage with larger questions about literature’s significance, exploring the particular kinds of insights and thinking it is especially suited for conveying, they also gain a deeper awareness of the critical methods we use to understand and analyze it, engaging with matters of form, genre and media. Finally, these courses help students develop their skills as close, careful readers of literary form and language.

Literature Across Borders/Literatures of the Color Line

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois famously proclaimed in The Souls of Black Folk that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” Courses in this category explore the complex ways in which literary texts have addressed American histories of race, ethnicity, and empire. They may do so from the vantage point of ideas about difference and hierarchy that predate the modern conception of race and by engaging with earlier histories of conflict and contact. These courses explore issues of intersectionality as well, highlighting how race operates in relation to other structures of difference such as gender, sexuality and class.

Literary Theory and Cultural Critique

The late-twentieth century saw a revolution in the field of literary studies in the United States, as critics turned their attention to the contextual and historical nature of our categories of knowledge. This turn to theory was influenced by developments in psychoanalysis, linguistics, philosophy, political theory and sociology and by the emergence of social movements that challenged such structures as patriarchy, homophobia, racism, imperialism, economic inequality, and environmental violence. The avenues of inquiry opened up brought an increased awareness of the implication of literature in the operations of power and ideology; a sense of the potential for literary modes of presentation to challenge and displace such operations; and a new attention to the role of gender, race, empire, class, and sexuality in the formation of the literary work. Courses that satisfy the Literary Theory and Cultural Critique requirement explore some dimension of these issues – either directly, taking as their primary focus a set of theoretical questions or debates, or indirectly, by examining a compelling topical question of social and political significance through works of literature and literary theory.

Medieval and Renaissance Literatures (Pre-1700)

These courses, which center on Medieval and Renaissance literary works, cast light on periods that can come across to us as both familiar and strange. They focus our attention on how literatures from these periods depict concepts such as aesthetics, romance, gender, sexuality, race, power and politics in ways that are like and unlike how we tend to think of them today—on how pre-modern or early modern works can both defamiliarize the categories of experience and identity we tend to take for granted and also suggest something of their origins. Several courses under this rubric will also engage with recent literary and filmic adaptations of works from these eras, exploring how many such works continue to function as vibrant and at times ambivalent inspirations for the literary imaginings of later periods. 

Literatures of Modernity (Post-1700)

These courses explore the many strands of writing in English that have emerged from the eighteenth century through the present, shaping the contemporary world. These literatures reflect on political, economic, and intellectual history, from the idea of the nation and the structures of capital through the rise and dissolution of empire and the emergence of postcolonial states, including the forms of race, gender and sexuality that cut across them. Courses also examine how aesthetic works can shape and critique their moment: they look at genres like the novel and short story, poetry, drama, essays, and new, hybrid forms that have arisen with expanding digital media; they also take up a multitude of literary movements whose influences remain with us today, including Romanticism, realism, naturalism, modernism, and post-modernism.