Who is an English Major?

An English major (or minor) has to love to read and want to study how to read critically, productively, and imaginatively.

In English, we love stories. That is a given. But no one gets a degree just for loving stories. Students of English commit to learning about literary art in all its forms, to becoming knowledgeable about the development of literature throughout history, to cultivating a curiosity about writers and texts that they have yet to discover, and to mastering the ability to write critically about these things. A degree in English represents proficiency in the discipline's knowledge, methodologies, theories, and requisite technical skills.

Knowledge

  • of literary genres and styles
  • of literature from different periods
  • of literary works from different national traditions
  • of modes of literary criticism, literary theory, and analytical methodology
  • of the intertextual relations between and among all of the above

Skills

  • critical reading, which seeks and addresses the significant issues in texts and their various contexts
  • critical writing, from developing a précis and summary to descriptive and explanatory paragraphs, to the various longer forms of analytical and intellectual essay-writing (comparative, argumentative, interpretive, creative)
  • grammatically proficient prose

An English major, therefore, loves reading and writing, is committed to creative and critical thought, and approaches the study of literature with rigour and joy. Such enthusiasm and devotion is necessary for success in the major, because English is a reading- and writing-intensive program. For every three hours of class time, there are at least an additional five hours of homework spent reading, writing, and thinking and then re-thinking, re-reading, and re-writing! Of course the work takes time, but it gives great pleasure both in itself and from the new ideas it can generate. Futhermore, English majors express their ideas aloud and in writing.

Success in English courses requires students to be informed participants in class discussions and to write well. Both are acquired skills requiring considerable practice and patience. Informed participation means being able to make ready reference to textual evidence while speaking in class, to express one's ideas clearly, to listen to and learn from others, and to be open to surprise. A good essay goes through many drafts, and true revision - seeing both the content and the form in a whole new light - requires a shift in thinking which rarely happens in a single night. English majors are expected to commit themselves to a university career of shrewd reading, to become ready participants, and to produce writing that is careful and intelligently considered.