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What a 21st-Century English Major Looks Like

The English major: it’s not just for graduate school any more

~though it can get you there, too~

The traditional English major has provided the opportunities to explore life-changing novels, plays, poetry, and film; to develop a strong analytic and aesthetic sense for language and culture; and cultivate advanced skills in written persuasion and research that meet the demands of your professional life and enrich your personal life. 

Starting Fall of 2014, Vanderbilt’s new English major will add to these opportunities within our 21st-century context. The New Major is designed to help students use literature—traditional and new, near and far, creative and critical—to take command of the rapidly changing world of communication, literary exchange, and aesthetic experimentation. 

The new English major lets you draw courses from a breadth of options and the depth of its three possible tracks:

  • Program One: Literary Studies (30 required units),
  • Program Two: Creative Writing (30 required units), or
  • Program Three: Specialized Critical Studies (36 units).

The new major starts with an introduction to literature, English 199: Foundations of Literary Study, that provides foundational skills in critical analysis, historical and cultural reading, and creative expression. It culminates in a Capstone course that lets you reflect on the knowledge and skills you've learned and marshal them toward your future. 

Between the foundation and the capstone, you will make a variety of choices to ground your learning in the traditions and histories of literary study. You will select two courses among those focused on the classic literary eras before 1800. You will expand your understanding of literature to capture the diversity of experiences necessary for a 21-st century English major by exploring ethnic American and Anglophone literatures from around the world. You will develop sophisticated literary understanding by selecting among courses focused on advanced modes of engaging literature, such as understanding its relation to the environment, law, or science, or exploring literature through the lens of feminist or psychoanalytic approaches.

You'll work with your advisor to design the major that feeds your curiosity and expands your expertise.  Your English major might involve importing a course from one of Vanderbilt’s other programs or departments, exploring a topic more intensely through an Independent Study, or taking part in honors seminars.  Courses in New Media, Caribbean literature, medieval poetry, and blogging will be options. You can dig deep into single-author courses (e.g., William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, or Toni Morrison) or sweep wide in surveys of eras or genres.

You will take small courses taught with the most effective literary techniques, with plenty of discussion, individualized instruction to hone your writing skills, and opportunities for presentations and collaboration.

Flexible, malleable, complementary: If you have another major you love, strengthen and complement it with literary analysis and creative expression by creating a double major or a major-minor combination.  If you’ve dreamed about studying abroad, that'll work well with your English major, wherever you study from "China to Peru," as 18th century wit Samuel Johnson put it.  

The humanities today is vibrant across the world and across this campus, cultivating skills needed for both the complex demands of being a citizen in an evolving world and a participant in a rapidly changing workforce (see “The Heart of the Matter” ).  A recent study published in Scientific American reported that “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy” (see also the New Yorker on the same subject ). John Keats described the literary world as realms of gold to be traveled.  The new major has been crafted to make that voyage exciting, personalized, and successful.

Whether it is blogging in a course like Professor Garcia’s William Blake and Enlightenment Media , exploring the importance of oral histories through Professor Nwankwo’s Voices from Our America , thinking about online games as literature with Professor Clayton, or going to the myriad readings by visiting writers, our new English major—both inside and beyond the classroom—will challenge your assumptions, pique your imagination, and inspire your learning.

For details of requirements, click here , or call the English department to talk with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Department chair, or an advisor. While you will be able to sign up for the new major in Fall, 2014, you can design your schedule now with it in mind.

S tudents in the old major may take ENG 199 Foundations of Literary Studies for credit as a 200-level elective.

For your convenience, we have developed the linked “blueprints” of each track of the major for you:

So let's clarify things for students by class:

Rising Seniors (ie graduating May 2015; already having declared English major):  You'll probably want to stick to the older major; you can take 199 toward the major if it appeals.

Rising Juniors (ie graduating May 2016) and Rising Sophomores (ie graduating May 2017):  You have the option of whichever major, the old or new one.  You'll want to consult with your advisor which works best for you.

New Freshmen:  You will be doing the new major. As advisors, the faculty in English look forward to discussing the new program with you.