In the English department at Dickinson College, 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 Cormac McCarthy; 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 view these texts through multiple lenses: historical, cultural, biographical, linguistic, psychological and political. To aid students in becoming independent thinkers and articulate writers, we offer courses in rhetoric, language and expository or creative writing. In a yearlong senior experience, majors write a 35-50 page thesis on a textual subject of their choosing. Because our graduates know how to think critically and write fluently, they flourish in a variety of professions and vocations: they become writers and bankers, teachers and politicians, lawyers and environmentalists, journalists and college professors, activists and world travelers. 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 where, in his words, he learned how “to live deliberately.”
Courses appropriate for prospective majors
ENGL 101, Texts and Contexts
ENGL 220, Introduction to Literary Studies
Test scores and credits that may affect course selection.
Advanced placement: course credit and/or placement
Students who score 4 or 5 on the English Literature Placement Examination are encouraged to go directly into ENGL 220 without taking ENGL 101. Students inclined toward the English major or minor who did not take the AP test, or who scored 3 or below should contact the department chair to discuss a possible waiver. Spaces are in ENGL 220 for first-year students. All students with questions about placement in English are encouraged to email the chair.
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.
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
ENGL 311, 321, 331, 341,351, advanced literature courses
Writing in the Discipline (WID):
ENGL 220, Critical Approaches and Literary Methods (gateway for majors)
ENGL 221, Worshop in Writing
Suggested curricular flow through the major
The English Major requires eleven courses. This is a floor, not a ceiling; our most successful students often take more than the required number. We warmly encourage study abroad (see “Opportunities for Off Campus Study” below).
These guidelines are written for the entering student who knows he or she wants to major in English. Rather than specify the courses that you “must” have in a given semester, the following is general advice regarding courses that we suggest you take during each year. You should think of these guidelines as giving you a fast track into the major – this provides maximum flexibility in your junior and senior year.
English 220 (or 101 and 220.) 220 is the gateway course to the major, so should be taken in the first year.
First Year Seminar
Two courses at the 300 level (two of the 300s must be pre-1800, and two, post-1800)
Four courses at the 300 level
Continue with foreign language and other requirements. Consider courses relevant to the English major, such as English and American history, American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Art and Art History, Religion, Philosophy, Music and Music History, Theater, Film, Sociology, Psychology, and Classical literature.
Four Courses at the 300 Level
If you study abroad, consider taking courses in literature and fields of strength to the host institution. These may include film and new media, foreign languages and literatures, or global and post-colonial studies.
English 403 (fall--first semester of required senior seminar)
English 404 (spring--second semester of required seminar)
Two 300-level English courses
Finish all other requirements: (core courses, electives, language as needed)
For information regarding the suggested guidelines, please feel free to contact an English department faculty member.
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. When you have chosen your topic, focus upon courses to support and deepen your inquiry.
Click here for a checklist worksheet that gives a succinct overview of the major requirements.
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;
- 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.
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 national literary magazine.
Majors have sought out occasions to publish their writing, including in the Dickinsonian, the Square, the 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: A student may request a particular faculty member in the department fro an advisor; the chair assigns an advisor to each student when he or she declares a major in English.
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, material for the Mermaid Players and the like.
Careers: Information about career opportunities is available in the English office and from English faculty.