Introduction to the Undergraduate Program

The program in English and Comparative Literature fosters the ability to read critically and imaginatively—to appreciate the power of language to shape thought and represent the world—to be sensitive to the ways in which literature is created and achieves its effects.

The major has several points of departure, grounding the teaching of critical reading in focused attention to the most significant works of English literature, in the study of the historical and social conditions surrounding literary production and reception, and in theoretical reflection on the process of writing and reading and the nature of the literary work.

The courses the department offers draw on a broad range of methodologies and theoretical approaches, from the formalist to the political to the psychoanalytical, to mention just a few. Our courses range from the medieval period to the 21st century. We teach leading authors alongside popular culture, traditional literary genres alongside verbal forms that cut across media, canonical British literature alongside postcolonial, global, and trans-Atlantic literatures.

The major points to three organizing principles for the study of literature—history, genre, and geography—requiring students not only to take a wide variety of courses but also to arrange their thinking about literature on these very different grids. The major gives them broad exposure to the study of the past, an understanding of the range of forms that can shape literary meaning, and an encounter with the various geographical landscapes against which literature in English has been produced.