The English Department at Vanderbilt has been training tomorrow’s leaders to enter a variety of fields for many years. Our graduates have gone on to earn degrees in medicine, law, business, journalism, and to pursue advanced degrees in either creative writing or English language and literature. Whatever field they eventually pursue, however, our majors enter their chosen career with carefully honed skills in analytic reading, writing, and argumentation. They can claim a thorough education in the English literary tradition. In addition, the department’s increasingly interdisciplinary and transnational focus enables majors to become conversant with non-western literary texts and traditions and literary theory. Beyond teaching a body of literary works, the department’s courses aim to give our students sophisticated skills in literary and cultural analysis—skills that equip them well for a lifetime of ongoing education.
By offering three distinctive programs, the Department of English encourages individual students, in consultation with faculty advisers, to personalize their studies while still acquiring the breadth of knowledge and skills of the traditional English major. Our curriculum provides extensive coursework in the history of British and American literature, in literary theory, and in expository as well as creative writing. Our diverse offerings—both at the level of broad survey as well as more advanced, specialized topics in literary movements and problems—reflect the interests of students and faculty in the ever-widening area of English studies.
The English Department offers a broad array of freshman writing courses organized around such topics as “Women Poets in America,” “Existential Fictions,” “Poetics of Science,” “British War Writing,” and “Religion, Science, and Literature.” Majors choose from among broad survey courses on the English literary tradition and more specialized seminars on particular literary problems or movements. Among our recent regular course offerings are: “Feminist Theory,” “Shakespeare and Film,” “African American Women Writers,” “Literature of the Caribbean,” “James Joyce,” “Revenge Tragedy,” “Literature, History, Trauma,” “American Masculinities,” “Ovid and the English Renaissance,” “The Politics of Identity in Latino/Latina Literature,” “Worlds of New York,” “American Literature and Consumer Culture,” and “Genetics in Literature, Film, and Media.”
We encourage students to take at least one of their elective classes outside the department—in History, Philosophy, or Fine Arts, for example—to complement their course of study. While Programs I and II, in Literary Studies and Creative Writing, respectively, require 30 hours of coursework, students opting for Program III, in Specialized Critical Studies, design a 36-hour program of study. In consultation with an adviser, Program III majors plan 18 hours of coursework around a particular period (e.g., 19th century America or the Renaissance), genre or movement (the novel, romanticism), aspect of intellectual history (law and literature, literary theory), or other area of special interest. In recent years, our Program III majors have most frequently chosen such organizing principles as Literature and Film, African American and Diaspora Literature, and Literary Criticism and Theory.
The Department’s Honors program allows qualified majors the opportunity to pursue advanced studies in small, intensive discussion sections. Recent Honors seminars include “Violence and Desire in Chivalric Romance,” “Modernism and Primitivism,” “Theatricality and the Aesthetics of Performativity,” “Rule and Misrule in Early Modern England,” “Gothic Theory: Caribbean,” and “Toni Morrison.” Students who take these sections and go on to write an Honors thesis in their final semester may graduate with Honors or High Honors.
The English Department encourages its students to participate in a number of study abroad programs to enhance their study of literature and culture with overseas study and travel. Our majors regularly study abroad both through Vanderbilt programs and programs sponsored by other universities in Australia, Italy, France, Denmark, and China. For students on campus, the English Department’s Gertrude Vanderbilt and Harold S. Vanderbilt Visiting Writers Series brings writers to campus every year to give public readings from their work and to meet with students. There is a spring Literary symposium with a different theme each year. These have included African American Writers of the South, Asian American Writing, Writing in Different Genres, and Memory and Imagination. Writers as diverse as Garrett Hongo and Yusef Komunyakaa, Ellen Douglas and Antonya Nelson, Billy Collins and Karen Yamashita have been guests. Every other year, the English Department hosts a visiting writer for a semester who teaches creative writing classes and takes part in the spring symposium. Peter Guralnick, Philip Levine, James McConkey, and Randall Kenan have held the position recently. Finally, the Department offers a number of awards every year to recognize excellence in undergraduate achievement, awards for best contributions in poetry and short stories as well as the analytic essay.
Because it has a large number of faculty members with diverse interests, the English department is able to offer small courses taught with the most effective literary techniques, opportunity for discussion, individualized writing instruction, and opportunities for presentation and collaboration. Many of the faculty have dual appointments in other departments and programs, contributing to the interdisciplinary nature of the major. In addition to the program in literary studies, we offer a wide range of creative writing courses taught by award winning writers. Please see our web site for specifics: vanderbilt.edu/english
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of English
Benson Science Hall