Honors in English Literature

The application deadline for the 2015-2016 academic year is Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 at 4pm.


You can download the application here.

The Honors Program in English Literature offers a two-quarter Honors Seminar in Fall and Winter quarters (English 398-1, 2). Directed by the Honors Coordinator, Professor Chris Lane, the Honors Seminar provides a select group of senior English majors with opportunities to work closely with faculty advisors, the coordinator, and each other on year-long projects of the students' own design. By engaging in intensive independent research under faculty guidance, Honors students work to develop skills in posing ambitious and promising research questions, exploring the state of the scholarly and critical conversation, framing a good prospectus that enters into that conversation, and producing a powerfully argued, clearly written final project.

The Honors Seminar

All English majors pursuing Honors in English Literature enroll in English 398-1,2 in the Fall and Winter quarters of their senior year. The seminar is limited to 15 students and is led by the honors coordinator. Each student also has an individual faculty advisor (or advisors) whose expertise is appropriate to the student's research topic. In the fall quarter (English 398-1), students in the seminar develop their research topics with the guidance of the coordinator and advisor.  They write a preliminary proposal; meet as a group and individually with the University Library's research librarians; develop bibliographies on their topics; learn to write a critical abstract; hone their bibliographies as they read and annotate their sources; and prepare a final prospectus and outline based on their research.

At each stage, each student presents his or her work to the seminar in a workshop, giving and getting responses and advice. During Winter quarter, students draft a five-page section of their theses, a revised outline, a full rough draft, or a final draft in weekly assignments. Again, they present their work to the class and in small groups and critique each other's work.

Throughout the two terms, the students meet frequently with their individual advisors, who help them shape their topics, develop their primary and secondary reading lists, frame, pursue, and revise their ideas and arguments, and hone their writing skills.

Applying for the Seminar

The Application

2010 Honors candidates & advisors

Junior majors who wish to do Honors projects in English Literature in 2015-2016 must submit completed applications by the deadline, 4pm on April 15th, 2015, in University Hall #215. Students in the seminar are generally expected to have a GPA of 3.6 or higher in the major and to fulfill two further criteria. First, the applicant describes his or her proposed research area, a tentative topic, and a potential faculty advisor. The applicant should discuss the topic with the potential advisor and ask him or her to sign off on the application before it is submitted. (Neither the topic nor the advisor is written in stone; one or the other has been known to undergo radical revision in the Fall.) Second, the applicant submits a clean copy of one of the best academic papers he or she has written for an English Department class (or for a class outside the department taught by an English Department faculty member), with no grade or comments but with the course number and the professor's name.

Your Topic

An Honors project is a hefty undertaking, so you will wish to choose a topic that promises to hold your attention and reward your time and effort. Take time to think about what interests you. Have issues or problems arisen in your previous classes that you would like to pursue? Can you synthesize problems or materials gathered from several different classes to pose a larger question? Have you written a course paper that you would like to develop into a more ambitious project? Is there a professor with whom you would like to work? Note: many students work very successfully with advisors with whom they have not previously studied. The current and incoming Honors Coordinators are available to help you find a faculty advisor.

When you have given some thought to potential topics, approach--by email, appointment, or office hours--a faculty member or members with whom you'd like to work. Don't be shy, and don't be afraid to return several times to discuss your ideas for the project - the professors are there to help you. They may suggest helpful sources, offer guidance on research methods, or help you hammer out a tentative research problem related to your topic. Arising from your preliminary reading and thinking, your proposed topic should lay out in concise form the question or problem you hope to investigate and indicate some of the sources you plan to use in that investigation. A clear research goal and a keen interest in the topic are all to the good; at the same time, you may expect your topic to evolve considerably as you work on it during the Fall.

Return your completed application to the Undergraduate Program Assistant.

Junior Year Abroad Applicants

Students spending part or all of their junior year abroad are advised to meet with the Honors Coordinator in advance of their departure if possible; or to communicate with the program assistant, Honors Coordinator, and advisor by email if they are abroad when applications are due.

Notification and Planning for Fall

Students who are admitted to the Honors program are contacted by e-mail. The incoming Honors Coordinator arranges an introductory meeting for the incoming class in May. The program assistant arranges advance registration for English 398-1 for Fall quarter. Honors students are eligible to apply for Undergraduate Research Grants; see below.

Undergraduate Research Grants

WCAS has funds to support undergraduate research. Honors students can apply for substantial grants--up to $1000--to subsidize travel to research sites and archives, books, photocopying, etc.

The Office of Undergraduate Research is also a valuable resource for students interested in pursuing a research project and offers a summer research grant of up to $3000. You may find information about these grants by using the Grants and Opportunities Search Engines.

Nontraditional Route to Honors

There are occasionally exceptional cases in which a student was not invited into (or was not able to participate in) the honors program in English but nevertheless has an outstanding record of achievement through a series of English 399 enrollments during the senior year. These cases are handled on an individual basis, and care is taken to ensure that students are not nominated for honors unless the quality and quantity of their work is at least as high as is expected for our usual honors student, including completion of a major research project and a final paper reporting on that project, as well as approval by a supervising professor and reader plus the Weinberg Honors Committee. Additionally, that committee will only approve such a nomination if the Honors Coordinator in English has examined the honors paper personally and is satisfied that the case represents no deviation from the department's and the College's high standards for honors.

The Senior Year

By Reading Week of Fall Quarter, each Honors student will have developed a five-page prospectus based on an annotated bibliography, which will be discussed in a full-group workshop, revised, and submitted to the Honors Coordinator and the advisor. During the first week of Winter Quarter, each student will revise the prospectus based on the advisor's and Coordinator's comments. By Reading Week of Winter Quarter, each student will submit a polished draft of his or her honors essay, parts of which will have been discussed in full-group workshops and small group meetings as well as by the advisor and Coordinator. These will be returned in the first week of the spring quarter, and each student will meet as early as possible with the advisor and the Coordinator to discuss necessary revisions. Students receive temporary grades of K in English 398-1 and 398-2. These are changed to letter grades once the final essays, due at the beginning of May, have been read and evaluated by the advisor, the Second Reader, and the Coordinator.

The Honors Essay

An essay deserving of honors is expected to be: approximately thirty pages in length, excluding notes and bibliography; based on a substantial body of literature; in conversation with relevant critical and contextual scholarship; original in its argument; and written in grammatical prose that is clear, concise, and precise. Honors essays are generally expected to follow MLA style.

The department maintains an archive of Honors Theses, which may be consulted by students working on their theses.

Evaluation of the Honors Theses

The final essay is read by the student's advisor, the Second Reader, and the Honors Coordinator. Each reader submits a written evaluation (one to two pages) and suggests a grade. The Honors Coordinator collects these reports and assigns grades for English 398-1,2. Students must receive grades of A- or higher in English 398-1, 2 to be eligible for nomination for Honors in English Literature. The WCAS Committee on Superior Students and Honors makes the final decision for the College. Admission to the honors seminar and completion of a senior essay do not assure departmental nomination for Honors.

2010 Honors dinner


Each year, the English Department awards prizes for original research papers, and honors students are especially encouraged to submit their work. The English Department awards an annual prize for the Best Honors Thesis.


The Honors in English Literature program is demanding, and it is not for everyone. But if you welcome intellectual challenge and stimulation, the opportunity to deepen and hone your skills and achievements in research, thinking, and writing, and the chance to be part of an intensive, mutually supportive intellectual community (our working motto is "One for All, All for One"), you may find the Honors in Literature program a fulfilling capstone to your undergraduate career. Our recent graduates have gone on to graduate programs in literature, divinity, and communication at institutions including the University of Virginia, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, University of Georgia, University of Wisconsin, Oxford, and Cambridge, to law school (one with a full tuition grant from the University of Chicago Law School), and to Teach for America. Many of them look back on it as the most exciting and rewarding experience of their college years.


If you have questions about the program, its relation to your plans for your senior year, possible topics, or any other relevant matter, the Honors Coordinator will be happy to meet with you. Make an appointment by email, or just drop in during office hours.

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