We study texts and our relation to them as readers and writers. The text might be an epic poem by John Milton or Derek Walcott; a novel by Jane Austen or Ralph Ellison; a Shakespeare play or a Chris Ware graphic novel; a Clint Eastwood film or an Elizabeth Bishop lyric. Our common work is to learn to understand these texts through multiple lenses, including the historical, cultural, biographical, linguistic, psychological and political. In a yearlong senior experience, majors write a 35-50 page research thesis on subject of their choosing.
Because our graduates know how to think critically and write fluently, they flourish in a variety of professions and vocations. Dickinson English alumni are writers and bankers, teachers and politicians, lawyers and environmentalists, journalists and college professors, activists and civic leaders. As we read, think, and write, our goal is to learn to live reflectively and imaginatively, to lead thoughtful, examined lives. Long after the last paper is written and course credit recorded, reading literature and writing continue to give our graduates the imaginative space Thoreau found at Walden—the space “to live deliberately.”
Courses appropriate for prospective majors
ENGL 101 Texts and Contexts
ENGL 220 Introduction to Literary Studies* (pre-requisite = ENGL 101 or first-year seminar with an English faculty member)
ENGL 221 Workshop in Writing
ENGL 222 Topics in Methods and Theory
* English 220 is the "gateway" course to the English major. Students may take ENGL 101 and 220 concurrently.
Students who score 4 or 5 on the English Literature Advanced Placement Examination are encouraged to go directly into ENGL 220 without taking ENGL 101. Spaces are in ENGL 220 for first-year students.
Transfer students or students entering with college credits should contact the chair before selecting courses for the first semester, since prior courses have to be evaluated for equivalence in the English major.
Please contact the department chair with any placement questions.
For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: English.
Courses that fulfill distribution requirements
Humanities (Division I B)
ENGL 101 Texts and Contexts (first-year students, whether wishing to fulfill a distribution requirement or contemplating a major in English, should enroll in a section of ENGL 101, unless the student brings an AP credit, in which case 220 is the appropriate course)
ENGL 222 Topics in Methods and Theory
Writing in the Discipline (WID)
ENGL 220 Critical Approaches and Literary Methods (gateway for majors)
ENGL 221 Workshop in Writing
US Diversity, Global Diversity
Many English courses fill the US and Global Diversity requirements. Please see course descriptions for details.
Suggested curricular flow through the major
The English Major requires a minimum of eleven courses: ENGL 101, ENGL 220, 6 300-level English courses (including two 300-level courses focused on literature up to 1800 and two on literature after 1800), 403, 404, and an elective. Eleven courses is a floor not a ceiling; we encourage students to take more than the minimum number of courses, and to work with their faculty advisors to develop a robust selection of courses in English and related disciplines.
Click here for a checklist worksheet that gives a succinct overview of the major requirements.
Here is a suggested distribution of courses:
English 101 or first-year seminar with an English faculty member.
1 or 2 300-level English courses
2-4 300-level English courses
English major elective
2-4 300-level courses
Most English majors study abroad, and our majors go *everywhere.* If you study abroad, consider taking courses in literature and fields of strength in the host institution.
English 403 (fall)
English 404 (spring)
Two 300-level English courses
The senior experience in the English department is a yearlong course, English 403-404. During the spring term, seniors will workshop their senior thesis in three parts. The process brings all participants together as writers and peer editors to produce a thesis between 35 and 50 pages.
All senior theses in English are eligible for honors nomination. Exemplary of the finest senior theses in English, an honors project:
- advances a cogent, ambitious, and thoroughly-researched argument;
- includes a judicious selection of, close engagement with, and focused analysis of, details of text(s);
- situates itself in and contributes to germane scholarly fields (e.g., literary studies, film and media studies, cultural history);
- exhibits remarkable methodological sophistication and creativity;
- demonstrates the writer’s critical self-awareness and informed investment in the project; and
- achieves a clear voice and confident prose.
A select number of theses are nominated for honors by the faculty teaching English 404. Honors are determined by a committee of English faculty appointed by the chair.
Independent study and independent research
The English Department offers independent study and research in literature and in expository and creative writing for content not covered in regular courses. A list of professors and their special interests is available in the English office, 4th floor, East College 400. As a general rule, no more than two independent studies or independent research courses may be counted toward the major; exceptions must be approved by the department chair. Students must secure a professor with whom to study and submit proposals (covering topic, methodology, preparation, relevance to educational goals, bibliography or primary and secondary sources, director, and course requirements) normally in the semester before the study is to be undertaken. See the academic department coordinator for English for the necessary forms.
Students who are interested should gain experience by writing for The Dickinsonian or The Dickinson Review, the college's literary journal. English majors have done internships with state and local government agencies, newspapers, public relations firms, and the media.
The English Majors Committee ("EMCs")
The EMCs are a group of English majors who plan and host intellectual and social events for the department; coordinate the annual Cogan Alumni Fellowship events; organize departmental days of service; advise on faculty hiring, promotion, and review as well as curricular matters; and support the inclusive, collaborative environment of the English department.
Belles Lettres Society
Founded in 1786, the Belles Lettres Society is one of the oldest active literary societies in the country. In addition to sponsoring a variety of events for Dickinson writers and readers, Belles Lettres publishes The Dickinson Review, a literary magazine.
Majors have sought out occasions to publish their writing, including in the Dickinsonian, the Square, Postscript, Dickinson Magazine, and the Carlisle Sentinel.
Opportunities for off-campus study
Majors and prospective majors should begin thinking about study abroad early in their sophomore year. Talk to your advisor, professors, and the department chair about study abroad opportunities. Our program in Norwich, England, at the University of East Anglia, is convenient and enriching for our students; the credits transfer back to Dickinson easily. We also have a selective program at Mansfield College, Oxford for students with a 3.7 GPA or above. Successful admission to this program requires that a student show depth in the major by second semester of the sophomore year; please consult Dickinson's Mansfield Oxford information on the Center for Global Studies and Engagement website. Many of our students also study in Cameroon, India, and other Asian and African countries; this study requires careful planning to ensure successful completion of the major.
Advising: The chair assigns an advisor to each student when they declare a major in English. A student may request any faculty member in the department for an advisor.
Related activities: We encourage students who wish to become English majors, or who like to write, to make the most of the opportunities to write on campus and develop a portfolio. Such opportunities include The Dickinsonian, The Dickinson Review, Belles Lettres Society, internships, eXiled, material for the Mermaid Players and the like.
Careers: Information about career opportunities is available in the English office and from English faculty.