what we major in when we major in english

I’m teaching our senior seminar this semester, a capstone course for the English major. Here’s my description:

This semester you should conduct the most thorough research and engage in the most challenging thinking of your college career so far. There are two threads to this class. First, you will reflect on and synthesize what you’ve learned over the last four years about literature and culture, theory and research. You will also fill a gap you identify in your undergraduate education. Second, you will think and talk about what comes next for you, after you graduate. Most of our class sessions will be devoted to (and most of your grade will be based on) the research required for your Capstone Paper, which is the first thread. However, we will also discuss topics relevant to the second thread in class and in individual conferences in my office.

Because this is a seminar, the content of class meetings will be shaped and driven by you, the students. You are responsible for presenting your research as well as for responding to others’ presentations. Come to class fully prepared each and every time the class meets.

Here’s what we did for today as we started thinking about ways to imagine what an English degree looks like:

  • Print a copy of your college transcripts and separately list all of your English courses. Make some notes (from memory, if necessary) on the readings and assignments you completed for these courses.
  • Read our U’s academic catalog description of the English major and familiarize yourself with the department’s offerings and the major’s requirements.
  • Conduct the same research at other schools by reading the catalogs of at least 10 other colleges and universities. Your selection strategy should be threefold. First, choose some nearby schools: Clemson, USC Columbia, Furman, Wofford, Converse. Next, pick a mixture of the “flagship” institutions of nearby states and private schools in those state: for example, the University of Georgia, Emory University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Davidson, the University of Virginia, the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University. Finally, look at schools from some other parts of the United States: for example, the University of Kansas, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Washington. How do their offerings and requirements differ from ours? Be prepared for this research process to take a few hours.

This turned out to be a pretty interesting discussion, though I’m too pooped right now to provide much detail. I will suggest that you go look at Emory’s requirements and UGA’s requirements. These are pretty significantly different ways of designing a degree.

For Tuesday, I’ve assigned these essays:

I think I’m really going to like this class.

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5 thoughts on “what we major in when we major in english

  1. I totally, totally love the title for this post, which I assume is also the title for the class. And this sounds like a fantastic structure to the course, which is also significantly different from how my undergrad institution dealt with these issues (instead of a senior seminar capping the major, there was an “intro to the major” lecture course, for example).

  2. I am very tempted to share with you exactly what passed for an English major where I was an undergrad. Not that there weren’t great classes to be taken or some outstanding professors…but you could get by without doing much. I would have fainted with joy over that course description as undergraduate, by the way.

  3. Ngugi wa Thiongo’s “The Abolition of the English Department” is really good for these purposes as well. This term will be the first time I’ve taught it in the gateway class, but it has always worked well for me in more advanced classes.

  4. What a GREAT idea! I’m bookmarking this so that I can come up with a variation on it for my “How to Grad School” methods class. I think starting off everyone with thinking over their undergraduate careers as English majors (or not, in some cases) would be an excellent entry into then thinking about what the heck a “Master” of English is.

    Thanks for sharing this, G!

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