Literatures & Cultures in English

Requirements apply to previously declared concentrations only.

The concentration in Literatures and Cultures in English is one of the largest humanities concentrations at Brown. The study of English may be pursued as preparation for graduate work in literature or other disciplines or as a complement to a general liberal education. Please follow the links on the left to detailed information about concentration requirements, honors programs in literature or nonfiction writing, and other areas of interest to potential and current concentrators.

For 40 years the English Department at Brown has been at the forefront of innovations in research and teaching in the field of English studies. A pioneer in the now widely accepted interdisciplinary approaches to literature, the Brown English Department has been a leader more recently in the turn toward a transnational perspective on literature and culture and away from the static national model informing, most prominently, the isolation of "American" from "British" literary studies. In the last few years, the literature faculty has organized itself into three research areas: medieval and early modern literatures and cultures; the Enlightenment and the rise of national literatures and cultures; and modern and contemporary literatures and cultures. A description of this tripartite organization, along with detailed information about the research and publications of individual faculty members, can be found on the Faculty pages.

The new transnational perspective allows for research and teaching that correspond to the dynamic movements of English across the array of national contexts in which its literature has been produced and read. English at Brown has also been committed to the premise that literary works both shape and are shaped by particular historical settings. Put simply, this means that literature has both historical specificity and contemporary relevance. While students need historical knowledge, they must also remain open to the possibility that some aspects of a literary work from yesterday may first come to light today through the prism of our own historical moment.

In addition to our innovative program in English literatures and cultures, the English Department's curriculum at Brown includes an exciting range of courses in nonfiction writing. The Nonfiction Writing Program offers courses in critical writing, the research paper, journalism, creative nonfiction, and writing-intensive literature-based courses. We encourage students to take a variety of these courses and discover various ways of conceptualizing writing and putting those concepts into practice. Honors programs in English offer outstanding students the opportunity to engage in advanced work in literature and in nonfiction writing. We award a number of prestigious prizes annually for literary and cultural criticism as well as nonfiction writing.

English concentrators take an active role in undergraduate life at Brown, in particular as writers for the Brown Daily HeraldThe Independent, and a number of campus publications.

Requirements for the Concentration in Literatures and Cultures in English

About the Concentration

Studying English at Brown is the best way to gain an introduction to the works and traditions that produce our sense of what it means to be a member of the human community. For 40 years the English Department at Brown has been at the forefront of innovations in the field of literary studies. A pioneer in interdisciplinary methods of reading, the department has also led a turn toward "transnational" approaches -- a response to a world in which works of literature and literary criticism increasingly appear against a global rather than national backdrop. Our emphasis, as students, scholars and teachers, is on understanding how meaning is produced historically, and how literature contributes to and is formed by that process.

Students concentrating in English will learn to think about the relation between a literary text and its moment in history; develop a sense of the work as shaped by, and shaping, contemporary practices and debates; and encounter critical models as bodies of knowledge with their own histories, tensions and traditions. The principle of our activity in the English department is an alertness to our own historical moment as a prism in which new aspects of a work may come to light.

Concentration Requirements

The concentration in Literatures and Cultures in English consists of ten courses. The ten courses must include one course in literary theory or the history of literary criticism as well as two courses in each of the following areas:

  1. Medieval and Early Modern Literatures and Cultures
  2. Enlightenment and the Rise of National Literatures and Cultures
  3. Modern and Contemporary Literatures and Cultures

Students are encouraged to choose at least one course in each area that will provide a coherent sense of the literary history and the major critical developments during a substantial portion of the period covered by the area.

Concentrators also choose a four-course focus from one of the following focus areas: (a) historical development of literature, (b) historical period, (c) Anglophone, post-colonial, and multicultural studies, (d) American, British, or another national/regional literature, (e) gender and sexuality, (f) genre, (g) theory, (h) nonfiction writing, or (i) independent. For further information about these specializations, see below.

A given course may satisfy two requirements (for example, a designated Area I course may also satisfy a focus requirement). However, a total of ten courses must be completed to satisfy requirements for the concentration. Five of the ten required courses must be at the 1000 level or above.

As many as two courses dealing primarily with the practice of writing rather than the interpretation of literature may be counted as electives toward the concentration. This provision differs slightly for students focusing in nonfiction writing (see below).

These courses must be 1000-level courses. Such courses may not be counted toward theory or scholarly area requirements.

Concentrators may count one ENGL0200 Seminar in Writing, Literatures, and Cultures as an elective in the concentration, but such courses may not be counted toward theory, scholarly area, or focus requirements.

Up to two courses outside the English Department (e.g., Comparative Literature, History, Modern Culture and Media Studies, American Civilization, foreign literatures, Classics, Medieval Studies, Program in Literary Arts) may count toward the concentration requirements. Such courses must be approved by a concentration advisor. (Courses from other departments that are cross-listed with the English Department are regarded as English courses and do not require advisor approval.)

All substitutions and/or exceptions must be approved by the concentration advisor in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. A substitution or exception is not approved until specified in writing in the student's concentration file housed in the English Department.

Models for the Four-Course Focus

A. Historical Development of Literature

The study of the history of English literatures throughout the centuries, from earliest medieval writings to 21st-century world English, directed to exploring how literary canons and models of literary history form and change. Students will complete at least one course from each of the following four categories: medieval (7th-15th centuries), renaissance and early modern (16th-17th centuries), 18th-19th centuries, and 20th-21st centuries. Students are encouraged to take a history course in one of their areas of study, as an elective.

B. Historical Period 

The in-depth study of a single area of scholarly research of literatures in English by taking four courses in any one of the following areas of study: (I) medieval and early modern literatures and cultures; (II) enlightenment and the rise of national literatures and cultures; or (III) modern and contemporary literatures and cultures. Within the area, students may focus on a particular genre or on a particular theme or problem.

C. Anglophone, Post-Colonial, and Multicultural Studies 

The study of literature as a cultural production that reflects, mediates, and creates competing conceptions of race, ethnicity, nationalism, and colonialism.

D. American, British, or Another National/Regional Literature 

The study of literature in English produced: 1) in the American colonies and the United States, 2) in Great Britain and the British Isles, or 3) in another nation or region with a tradition of literature in English.

E. Gender and Sexuality 

The study of literature as a cultural production that reflects, mediates, and creates social conceptions of gender and sexuality. Students choosing this specialization may explore not only the implications of historically specific constructions of gender and sexuality, but also the effects of these social constructions on literary authorship, genre, textual reception, and language itself.

F. Genre 

The study of a particular literary genre such as narrative, poetry, or drama. With the approval of the concentration advisor, students may specify other genres and modes such as nonfiction prose, autobiography, satire, etc. With advisor approval, a 1000-level course dealing with the practice of writing in the focus genre may count as one of the courses in the four-course focus.

G. Theory 

The study of theoretical models of literary production, interpretation, and value. Emphasis may fall upon one or more of the many aspects of theory: aesthetics, historical materialism, feminist theory, psychoanalytic theory, semiotics, the history of literary criticism, etc. Two of the courses are expected to cover fields of literature.

H. Nonfiction Writing

The study and practice of nonfiction writing as integrated with the student's interest in literature. For example, students interested in creative nonfiction may choose to study travel writing, memoir, science writing, literary journalism, or historical narrative. Three advanced-level nonfiction writing courses (ENGL1140, 1160, 1180, 1190, or 1200) may count toward the focus (and thus the concentration); the fourth focus course must come from relevant literature offerings.

I. Independent 

This focus allows students to specialize in an interest not covered by those described above. A proposal for an Independent focus must be approved by the English Department's curriculum committee.