English

Stephanie Burt, Director of Undergraduate Studies 
Leah Whittington, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies 
Beth Blum, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies 
 
Humans use stories to cope and thrive, from prehistoric cave paintings to distilling experience in novels, screenplays, and hip hop rhymes. By studying English literature, you will learn how to analyze and appreciate the language of the past and to contribute to the narrative of the future. You will develop expertise in interpreting others’ rhetoric and learn to communicate meaningfully yourself, skills that are more crucial than ever with the explosion of online forms of textual exchange. In addition, you will be exposed to the dazzling imaginary worlds that have brought readers and writers together across vast expanses of space and time.
 
The path through English normally begins with the Gateway Course, English 10: Literature Today. This wide-ranging lecture course, exploring writing since the year 2000, is geared particularly towards students in their first or second years as an introduction to English literary study at Harvard. The course focuses on work by contemporary writers from around the world and speaks directly to today’s urgent problems—exclusionary and divisive politics, economic disruption, technological innovation, social alienation, racism, misogyny, colonialism.
 
Our two Common Courses, normally completed by the end of sophomore year, give students the tools they need to succeed in the concentration. English 20: Literary Forms, introduces the concepts of style, form, and genre, exploring how writers use literary language to address personal and societal concerns and challenges. English 97: Sophomore Tutorial: Literary Methods, looks at the questions that arise when we make the written word an object of study. What is the secret power of literary interpretation? How do our personal histories inform encounters with literature? How do critical race theory, psychology, gender studies, linguistics, political science, philosophy, and more alter our approach to reading and writing? Together, the Gateway and Common Courses provide a shared foundation for literary study among each year's cohort of students.
 
Junior tutorials, required of all concentrators, let students define their own areas of study and produce original research on that topic. Through additional electives, students pursue a range of topics and approaches, always exploring how literature reflects and changes the world. Among their electives, concentrators must include three courses focused on literary periods (pre-1700, 1700–1900, and 1900–2000), which provide students the historical knowledge essential to understanding literature’s transformations. In studying historical literatures, students learn how each literary period struggles to find new expressions to fit its contemporary moment by building on earlier innovations and styles. Most elective courses meet one of these period requirements.
 
Through their coursework, students will acquire knowledge of:
  • the global breadth and historical depth of writing in English;
  • some of the myriad bodies of imaginative writing produced in the English language, in its many and proliferating forms, across space and time;
  • the roles of genres, intellectual traditions and media, and of the cultural forces of privilege, oppression, and marginalization, in shaping literary production;
  • the history of English studies as a field, and what is at stake in that history. 
English concentrators can pursue either the Honors Program or the Elective Program. Students in the Honors Program write a two-semester senior honors thesis or a one-semester senior project. In either format, students may investigate a critical topic or produce creative work. Professors in the English faculty direct all theses or projects. The Elective Program omits the senior project or thesis. A third option, for honors candidates only, is a joint concentration, which culminates in a thesis supervised by faculty in English and one other department. All honors candidates must have a concentration grade point average of 3.40 or higher and of 3.60 or higher for the joint concentration.
 
We offer a wide array of creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as work for screen, stage, and other media. Our workshops are small, providing writers an opportunity to focus intensively on one genre. All undergraduates may apply for admission to creative writing workshops, though preference is given to English concentrators.
 
A degree in English prepares students for any field that values clear expression, careful reading, critical thinking, and persuasive writing. Our concentrators go on to careers in media and publishing, as novelists, journalists, playwrights, and poets, as well as to careers in law, education, business, medicine, politics, and many other fields. They will enter those fields confident in their ability to:
  • speak and write persuasively and with nuance in one or more literary genres, including the genres of non-fiction;
  • enjoy literary texts aesthetically (in the body) and philosophically (in the mind);
  • analyze texts from stylistic, generic, contextual, and theoretical perspectives;
  • understand the difference between good and bad arguments;
  • conduct research and present it lucidly in oral and written forms;
  • read, perform, and write literary texts with a trained awareness of how they at once shape and are shaped by the societies in which they are written and received.
We commit ourselves to helping students immerse themselves in the literary worlds they know and love, discover new worlds they might not think to explore, acquire the means to find their own paths, and sustain themselves on their intellectual and creative journeys.
 
The requirements detailed below apply to students declaring a concentration in English beginning in academic year 2020-21.  Students declaring the concentration prior to 2020-21 should consult the relevant archived version of the Handbook for Students and contact the department for further information.
 
REQUIREMENTS 
Honors Program: 14 courses (56 credits) 
  1. Required Courses and Tutorials – 4 courses 
    1. English 10: Literature Today 
    2. English 20: Literary Forms 
    3. English 97: Sophomore Tutorial: Literary Methods 
    4. English 98r: Junior Tutorial 
  2. Electives – 8 or 9 courses 
    1. One must primarily address texts written before 1700 (see 4.2) 
    2. One must primarily address texts written between 1700 and 1900 (see 4.2) 
    3. One must primarily address texts written between 1900 and 2000 (see 4.2) 
    4. Two may be creative writing workshops (see 4.3) 
    5. One may be a related course from outside the English Department (see 4.4) 
    6. Note: A student writing a two-semester senior thesis completes 8 electives. A student writing a one-semester senior project completes 9 electives. 
  3. Senior Thesis or Senior Project – 1 or 2 courses 
    1. The Senior Thesis: The two-term senior tutorial, English 99r, culminates in an honors thesis. Students may investigate any critical or research question in literary studies, or may write an imaginative work in any creative genre. Theses are by application during the junior year. Students applying to write a creative thesis should have taken at least one course in creative writing by the middle of their junior year. Thesis applicants may be asked to propose a senior project in its place. 
    2. The Senior Project: Students may instead complete a senior project in the fall semester. Senior projects may resemble senior theses, but on a smaller scale, or may explore more public-facing forms of writing. Students who choose this option will be eligible to receive a departmental degree recommendation of “honors” or “high honors.” 
  4. Other Information 
    1. Grading Basis and Concentration Grade Point Average: All letter-graded courses taught by English department faculty will count for the concentration grade point average. Courses counting for concentration credit must be taken for a letter grade. The only exceptions are the senior thesis tutorial and one Freshman Seminar, if taught by a member of the English department faculty, which are graded SAT/UNS. 
    2. Historical Period Requirements: Courses meeting these requirements introduce students to the variety of writers and genres that make up the 1300-year tradition of literature in English. 
    3. Creative Writing Courses: Admission to creative writing courses is by application only. No more than two creative writing courses may count toward the total number of required courses for the concentration. Students may apply to and enroll in as many as their plan of study can accommodate. 
    4. Related Course: Students may petition to count one related course (ordinarily from other humanities departments) as an English elective. 
    5. Oral Examination for Highest Departmental Honors: To qualify for a departmental degree recommendation of highest honors, all eligible senior honors concentrators must take an oral examination during reading period of their final term. Eligibility is determined by concentration grade point average and thesis grades, explained in detail on the department’s website. 
Elective Program: 12 courses (48 credits) 
  1. Required Courses and Tutorials – 4 courses 
    1. English 10: Literature Today 
    2. English 20: Literary Forms 
    3. English 97: Sophomore Tutorial: Literary Methods 
    4. English 98r: Junior Tutorial 
  2. Electives – 8 courses 
    1. One must primarily address texts written before 1700 (see 4.2) 
    2. One must primarily address texts written between 1700 and 1900 (see 4.2) 
    3. One must primarily address texts written between 1900 and 2000 (see 4.2) 
    4. Two may be creative writing workshops (see 4.3) 
    5. One may be a related course from outside the English Department (see 4.4) 
  3. Thesis – None 
  4. Other Information 
    1. Grading Basis and Concentration Grade Point Average: All letter-graded courses taught by English department faculty will count for the concentration grade point average. Courses counting for concentration credit must be taken for a letter grade. The only exception is one Freshman Seminar, if taught by a member of the English department faculty, which is graded SAT/UNS. 
    2. Historical Period Requirements: Courses meeting this requirement introduce students to the variety of writers and genres that make up the 1300-year tradition of literature in English. 
    3. Creative Writing Courses: Admission to creative writing courses is by application only. No more than two creative writing courses may count toward the total number of required courses for the concentration. Students may apply to and enroll in as many as their plan of study can accommodate. 
    4. Related Course: Students may petition to count one related course (ordinarily from other humanities departments) as an English elective. 
Joint Concentration: 7 or 9 courses (28 or 36 credits) in English 
Upon approval from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, honors candidates may combine a concentration in English with a concentration in another department, supervised by advisers in each department. Joint concentrators may declare English to be either their primary or allied concentration; the requirements are the same for both, with the exception of the thesis tutorial (99r), which is listed in the primary concentration. Ordinarily, only students with a concentration GPA of 3.60 or above, an overall strong record, and a clearly formulated project across two disciplines will receive approval. A joint senior thesis is required. 
  1. Required Courses and Tutorials – 4 courses 
    1. English 10: Literature Today 
    2. English 20: Literary Forms 
    3. English 97: Sophomore Tutorial: Literary Methods 
    4. English 98r: Junior Tutorial 
  2. Electives – 3 courses 
    1. One must primarily address texts written before 1700 (see 4.2) 
    2. One must primarily address texts written between 1700 and 1900 (see 4.2) 
    3. One must primarily address texts written between 1900 and 2000 (see 4.2) 
  3. Senior Thesis – 0 or 2 courses 
    1. The Senior Thesis: The two-term senior tutorial, English 99r, culminates in an honors thesis and are by application during the junior year. Students may investigate any critical or research question in literary studies, or may write an imaginative work in any creative genre. Students applying to write a creative thesis should have taken at least one course in creative writing by the middle of their junior year.  
    2. Note: If English is the allied field, the senior tutorial is taken in the primary concentration and the student does not enroll in English 99r. 
  4. Other Information 
    1. Grading Basis and Concentration Grade Point Average: All letter-graded courses taught by English department faculty will count for the concentration grade point average. Courses counting for concentration credit must be taken for a letter grade. The only exceptions are the senior thesis tutorial and one Freshman Seminar, if taught by a member of the English department faculty, which are graded SAT/UNS. 
    2. Historical Period Requirements: Courses meeting these requirements introduce students to the variety of writers and genres that make up the 1300-year tradition of literature in English. 
    3. Creative Writing Courses: Admission to creative writing courses is by application only. Students may apply to and enroll in as many as their plan of study can accommodate. 
    4. Oral Examination for Highest Departmental Honors: To qualify for a departmental degree recommendation of highest honors, all eligible senior honors concentrators must take an oral examination during reading period of their final term. Eligibility is determined by concentration grade point average and thesis grades, explained in detail on the department’s website. 
The requirements outlined above are intended for students declaring a concentration in English beginning in academic year 2020-21. Detailed requirements for students 
 
ADVISING 
The English Department is committed to providing high quality advising to undergraduate concentrators, prospective concentrators, and any Harvard student interested in the study of English literature. Each concentrator is paired with a faculty adviser, with whom students discuss substantive and practical plans of study. All concentrators are encouraged to visit other members of the English faculty during scheduled office hours. The staff of the Undergraduate Program Office is available to discuss specific questions regarding the program. 
 
RESOURCES 
English concentrators may apply for department-administered awards and fellowships. These range from funds for thesis research to post-graduate scholarships and annual essay, fiction, and poetry prizes. 
Odile Harter is the library liaison to the English Department, and is available to answer research questions. 
Child Memorial Library, located on the top floor of Widener Library, is the English Department research library and open to all students. Its extensive, non-circulating collection comprises works from all areas and periods of English and American literature. Maintained and staffed by graduate students, Child Library is dedicated to providing up-to-date, scholarly editions of authors, as well as a cross-section of recent and influential criticism. 
 
HOW TO FIND OUT MORE 
The Guide for Concentrators, along with all advising worksheets and forms, is available on the department website
Questions may be directed to the English Department Office at 617-495-2533, or to any member of the staff: 
ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December
Concentrators
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
2019
English
236
209
197
182
159
153
163
155
144
144
130
116
English + another field
6
6
4
4
9
9
8
12
11
9
17
13
Another field + English
3
3
1
1
4
2
6
4
8
11
12
9