Guide to the Literature Major

Guide to the Literature Major

The English Literature Major comprises three introductory courses, ten core courses, and a research seminar. The introductory courses familiarize students with literary traditions and teach the writing and analytical skills expected in advanced literature courses. English majors are required to take one two-quarter survey of literary history: either English Literary Traditions (English 210-1 and English 210-2) or American Literary Traditions (English 270-1 and English 270-2). They are also required to take English 298, a seminar that teaches fundamental skills in reading and interpretation and exposes students to new ways of thinking about literary texts. Students should take English 298 after the first quarter of English Literary Traditions or American Literary Traditions.

In contrast to the required introductory courses, the core courses offer students wide latitude in defining their own paths through the major. This is your chance to take classes on subjects you feel passionate about . . . and also to venture into the unknown! In order to ensure a reasonable degree of breadth, three core courses must engage primarily with literature written before 1830 and three must engage primarily with literature written after 1830. In addition, students must take one course on American literature, one course satisfying the Identities, Communities, and Social Practice (ICSP) requirement, and one course satisfying the Transnationalism and Textual Circulation (TTC) requirement.

Identities, Communities, and Social Practice courses raise important questions about canonization, representation, and inclusivity by examining literature written by members of non-dominant social groups, primarily in the U.S. and Britain. Courses meeting this requirement examine topics such as African American or Afro-British literature, U.S. Latina/o literature, gender and sexuality studies, and disability studies.

Transnationalism and Textual Circulation courses offer a global perspective on English and American literary traditions. Majors can satisfy this requirement in three different ways:

  • with a course that focuses on literature written in English outside the U.S. or Britain, for instance in South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, or the Middle East;
  • with a course that reads works originally written in a language other than English and explores these works in relation to their engagement with U.S. or British literatures and cultures;
  • with a course that emphasizes the movement of peoples and texts across national borders.

Courses that fulfill the pre- and post-1830, ICSP, and TTC requirements are clearly identified in English Course Listings.

Finally, the required research seminar (English 397) teaches the students how to define a viable research topic, identify and evaluate sources, and craft an extended argument – crucial cognitive skills that also happen to be highly sought-after by employers. Students should register for English 397 during the junior or senior year, after successfully completing 4-6 300-level literature courses.

Note that a single course can satisfy more than one major requirement. For instance, a class on Toni Morrison’s novels might count as a post-1830 course while also fulfilling the department’s American literature and ICSP requirements. Similarly, a particular version of English 397 might count as a pre-1830 course while also satisfying the TTC requirement.

A worksheet to help you keep track of your progress through the English major is available here.

Declaring an English Literature Major

In order to declare the major, simply ask the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) to sign a Declaration of Major form, available in the English Department Office (University Hall, Room 215). The DUS holds extended office hours each quarter, available here. Once your Declaration form has been signed, return one page to the English Department office and take the remaining page to the WCAS Office of Undergraduate Studies, 1922 Sheridan Road.


All majors are eligible to pre-register for up to two English literature courses per quarter. Note, however, that students may only pre-register for a total of two courses across all majors and minors. Pre-registration times are based on class year and student identification number, with seniors beginning on Monday morning. See the Registrar’s website for the specific schedule.