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Honors Program

Honors Applications for 2019-2020 Are Now Closed. 

The Honors Program provides an opportunity to write a thesis during your senior year and to earn the designation “Honors in English” or “High Honors in English” on your diploma and transcript. More importantly, it provides the chance to explore a topic, whether critical, creative, or a combination of both, in an in-depth way and to produce a memorable final thesis that is kept in bound form in the English Department and may be archived on the Vanderbilt Library Digital  Archive.  

In the Fall Colloquium and the Spring Thesis Course, students work closely with classmates and advisors to develop and complete an excellent project. Some students elect to develop their Honors projects based on work already or concurrently begun in other curses. For double majors, the Honors Program can be an opportunity to combine your two fields of study in to a single project. Whether you are considering graduate school or another career path, we are sure you will find the Honors Program an exhilarating opportunity.


In order to be eligible for the Honors Program, students must maintain a 3.4 GPA overall and a 3.6 GPA in the major. Applications are due in the spring of your junior year.

Most Honors students complete at least one Honors Seminar before senior year. First-year students and sophomores contemplating Honors in the major should consider selecting Honors Seminars in their schedule for next year and discuss the program with their advisors.

Applying to the Honors Program in English

The deadline for applying to the Honors Program has passed for 2019-2020, but will reopen for juniors next Spring. Here is a link to the previous year's Application, which is subject to change and provided for illustration only.  In addition to the application, students are required to attach a 5-10-page writing sample.

For questions or more information, please consult your advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

If You Are Accepted To The Honors Program...

The following are the requirements to complete the Honors Program once admitted:

  • Complete all the requirements of the English major
  • Take at least 6 credit hours in Honors seminars. All students are eligible to take these courses, provided that they have either a 3.4 GPA or permission from the instructor. Most Honors applicants complete at least one Honors seminar prior to senior year. An appropriate graduate seminar or seminar from a study-abroad program may be substituted for one Honors seminar.
  • Earn at least a 3.4 GPA overall and 3.6 in the Major.
  • Be admitted to the Honors Program in spring of junior year and take ENGL 4998 in fall of senior year.
  • Write a thesis (ENGL 4999) and pass an oral examination about its subject in the spring of senior year. For secondary education double majors, EDUC 9770 can be substituted for ENGL 4999 with the consent of the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Please note that successful completion of the Honors Program involves 33 hours of English courses, in accordance with the College requirement that all Honors Programs require an additional course beyond the major.

Fall 2019-Spring 2020 Honors Seminars

Below is a list of English Honors seminars for the 2019-2020 academic year. These courses, some of which meet the Diverse Perspectives or Pre-1800 requirements, have enrollments restricted to fifteen students with at least a 3.4 GPA. The level of study, as well as the personal attention of the professor, makes for an excellent intellectual experience.

Fall 2019

English 3622     Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers (counts toward Diverse Perspectives)

Hortense Spillers                   TR 11-12:15 

This course is devoted to the study of women writers in the context of Nineteenth-Century America.  Full of portentous change for insurgent, emergent, and suppressed populations, the Nineteenth Century brings about sweeping developments in popular and official culture that will test the new republic of the United States to the breaking point; this “second revolution” at mid-century will engender expansive notions of citizenship with the emancipation of enslaved communities across the southern tier and growing agitation for the rights of women. But just as these momentous changes are reflected in the dynamic literary identity of the United States, the place of women writers in the spread of mass culture is assured as it creates an unprecedented social and political phenomenon; that is to say, between the War of 1812 and the Civil War—roughly five decades of national life—American popular writing rests primarily in the hands of women. As a result, we will pursue three main goals in this course: 1) examine some of the chief practitioners of the new women’s literature and gain practice in literary criticism by writing about them; 2) inquire into the problem of form as we engage it in the works at hand, and 3) study the process of canon-making with regards to a national literature.  Assignments will include 2 papers and a final research project.  Readings will include:

Emily Dickinson’s Poems;  Woman in the Nineteenth Century by Margaret Fuller;  Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe;  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs/Linda Brent;  Crusade for Justice by Ida Wells Barnett;  The Awakening by Kate Chopin;  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

English 3890       Comparative Modernisms: Ireland, France, Japan  

Mark Wollaeger                       TR 11-12:15

What do revolutions in modern literature look like? “Modernism” is the umbrella term given to a series of revolts against prevalent traditions in art, literature and culture that occurred roughly from 1850 to 1950 (depending on where one looks). This honors course in English pursues a comparative study of modernist literature from Ireland, France, and Japan. Most accounts of international modernism start with nineteenth-century France, and for good reason: Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert are often considered the first modern poet and novelist, respectively, and their key works, Flowers of Evil[Les fleurs du mal] and Madame Bovary, were both published in 1857 (and both were put on trial for obscenity). A thorough account of French modernism would take us up through the twentieth century, but our French focus will of necessity remain most intensively on the nineteenth century. Irish modernism roughly coincides historically with Anglo-American modernism – in 1922, the so-called annus mirabilis of twentieth-century modernism, T. S. Eliot published The Waste Landand James Joyce published Ulysses(only one of which was put on trial for obscenity) – and Japanese modernism is also predominantly a twentieth-century phenomenon. Our collective aim will be to arrive at a deeper understanding of modernism by examining how these three national strands of the international movement overlap, diverge, and build on one another. 

All non-English texts will be read in translation, though we’ll pay some attention to the source languages when possible. Beyond Baudelaire and Flaubert, other French texts will include samples of Symbolist poetry (e.g., Stéphane Mallarmé). Our main Irish authors will be W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. Our readings of Japanese modanizumu, or modernism, will focus on fiction (1913-1938), including work by Yasunari Kawabata, Ito Sei, and Junichiro Tanizaki.

Spring 2020 

ENGL 3361 Restoration and the 18th Century: Evil in the Age of Reason

Scott Juengel: TR 1:10 - 2:25 PM (counts as Pre-1800)

The eighteenth century that witnessed the rise of Enlightenment philosophy and the ambitions of democratic reason also gave us the gothic novel, the Illuminati, chattel slavery, and the Marquis de Sade.  In other words: the brighter the illumination, the more obdurate the shadow.  This seminar explores how a period of historical overconfidence had to turn its attention to the problem of evil.  With the emergence of increasingly secular forms of culture, malign spirits and demonic possession no longer provide a ready alibi for all that is bad in the world.  How does a sophisticated modern age understand something as base as evil?  The semester will begin with Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost and will likely end in the Victorian age when the discipline of psychology begins to break off from philosophy: in between we will read gothic novels by Radcliffe and Austen, philosophical fictions by Voltaire and others, tragic theater, ghost stories, libertine narratives, selections from moral philosophy, etc.  In addition to selections from theoretical texts, the course will likely use Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton UP, 2015) as an organizing “textbook” for our deliberations.