Students in English are part of a dynamic field—readily incorporating new genres and approaches from other disciplines. English at New College includes the “great books,” but also works that are popular or experimental—even some you might not immediately recognize as “literature” at all.
Looking for intellectual challenge? Study the musicality of contemporary and experimental poetry by Charles Bernstein or Cole Swensen, then dig deep into the intertextual connections between the novels of William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. Learn that drama goes beyond Shakespeare to include early Morality Plays with characters like Virtue and Justice, bloodthirsty revenge tragedies, and contemporary works like those of Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks. Then there’s postcolonial literature from the widespread anglophone world, life-writing, travel narrative, personal essay, creative non-fiction, and even film and digital writing to study.
At the college level, English asks key questions about where literary meaning comes from—is it just “there,” or do readers give meaning as they read? Can different readers legitimately discover different meanings in the same text? Performed or oral literature forces us to ask about the of role audiences—does poetry or drama have significance at all except in public performance? Or conversely, is the printed word more powerful or global than that word performed? What makes “literature” special, or can and should we read any text with the eye of a literary critic? Is literature “mimetic,” a reflection of the world in which we live, or does literature have a moral obligation to try to question and improve that world?
If you choose the English Area of Concentration, you’ll learn to work with theoretical approaches, determining which one(s) work best for you and defending your choice—whether that’s Reader Response, narratology, poetics, psychoanalysis, New Historicism, cultural studies, feminist, or disability studies approaches. Writers will also have the opportunity to submit their portfolio for the chance to study with our annual Visiting Writer in Residence —a published writer and experienced teacher.
The skills you’ll develop—from fluid and effective written expression to the ability to read closely and attentively any kind of document or cultural object—carry over into a broad range of careers from obvious ones like education and law to museum work, counseling and therapy, and entrepreneurship. Just look at what some of our graduates are doing.
English graduates from New College have become teachers at K-12 institutions, as well as colleges and universities. They often enter law school or library/media sciences and go on to work as lawyers or as librarians in public and specialist collections. Many have become published writers of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, or trade publications. Website design, account management, publicist for all kinds of companies—you name it, they’ve done it using their persuasive speaking and writing skills, ability to evaluate a situation, and inventive approach to problem solving.
If you are a currently enrolled student considering an English AOC, please see the requirements and expectations and then contact one of the faculty members in the department to discuss your interest. He or she will be able to assist you with planning and with instructions for downloading and completing the AOC Worksheet.
Important note: please do not complete the AOC Worksheet before consulting with a faculty member within the English department!
Our students must complete seven contracts, three Independent Study Projects and a senior thesis project to graduate. Contracts consist of three to five academic activities — courses, tutorials, internships, independent reading projects, etc. — that will develop your personal educational goals during a semester.
Here’s a sample of recent course offerings in English:
Please note that the list below is just a sample of courses in English. For a complete list of courses by semester, please click here.
African American Literature
In this course we will explore a key question in contemporary literary studies: in the words of critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “what importance does ‘race’ have as a meaningful category in the study of literature…?” One major focus will be the concept of “signifying”—how do works of African American literature respond to each other, how do African American authors establish a critical relation to non-African American authors? When we examine the signifying of such writers as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Octavia Butler, how do we conceive of an African American literary tradition? Our reading will also include words from the Harlem Renaissance, the period of Realism, Naturalism, and Modernism, and the Black Arts movement; the last section of the course, “Conjuring,” will deal with such women writers as Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou. Students will write two eight-to-ten-page papers and will be expected to participate actively in class discussions. This course is most appropriate for students who have taken at least one college level course on American literature; enrollment may be limited.
“It was wonderful to find America,” says Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson on Columbus Day, “but it would have been more wonderful to miss it.” In this course we will explore the comic vision of America in literature and in film. In our reading of literature we’ll examine such topics as the legacy of Old Southwest humor (Longstreet, G. W. Harris, Thorpe, Faulkner); humor and race (Chesnutt, Hughes, Hurston, Reed, Bambara, Twain, J. C. Harris); “black” (absurd) humor and its precursors (West, Barth, Heller); and women’s humor (Fanny Fern, Holley, Loos, Parker, Welty, O’Connor, Bombeck, and many others). Movies for the course will be selected from the following: Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films; Marx Brothers films; adaptations of stage comedies (Arsenic and Old Lace, You Can’t Take It With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner); comic classics of the thirties and forties (Bringing Up Baby); and the class’s choice of contemporary films. Students who are not interested in humor should consider taking the following course, described by Woody Allen in Getting Even: “Psychopathology: Aimed at understanding obsessions and phobias, including the fear of being suddenly captured and stuffed with crabmeat, reluctance to return a volleyball serve, and the inability to say the word ‘mackinaw’ in the presence of women. The compulsion to seek out the company of beavers is analyzed.” This course is open to students who have taken at least one college course on American literature; for other students, permission of the instructor is required. People with college experience in film study are especially welcome. Students will write two eight-to-ten-page papers, a statement of goals, and a self-evaluation, and will be expected to participate actively in discussions. Enrollment will be limited to 25.
Becoming Jane Austen: The Romantic-era Novel and Women Writers
The subject of sequels, films, reading groups, fan clubs, websites, and even satires, Jane Austen is one of the great cult authors of English literature. Moving beyond “Aunt Jane” the fine painter on “two inches of ivory,” or the woman writer who established the novel as a feminine and feminist form, we will locate Austen’s work and writing in the larger field of her contemporaries and some influences.
The latter half of the eighteenth century included the rise of British abolitionism, the impact of enclosing the commons and changes in landscape gardening, a decrease in the significance of the royal family and the British aristocracy, the growing impact of both trade and professions such as the Navy, and a marked increase in the number of professional women writers. Jane Austen was complexly the product of the “long eighteenth-century” (1680—1830); she composed her first drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Pride and Prejudice between 1795-1798, in a period of Revolutionary fervor and nationalist backlash. Not the lone or intellectually isolated writer that we used to imagine, Austen was both complexly engaged by and in some tension with her contemporaries, including Ann Radcliffe, Elizabeth Inchbald, Frances Burney, Jane West, Elizabeth Hamilton, Maria Edgeworth, Susan Ferrier, Mary Robinson, Hannah More, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), Charlotte Smith, Amelia Alderson Opie, Thomas Love Peacock, Walter Scott, and others. Reading Austen with some of her immediate predecessors and contemporaries situates her work among important gothic fictions, educational and moral fictions, evangelical writers, the historical novel, the national tale, the moral tale, and a range of alternate narrative traditions.
In this course we will read the bulk of Austen’s fiction alongside other novels that influenced her or that were contemporaneous. Some poetry and essay may be included, but the focus will be on the novel form. There may be an option to read a “Chawton House” collection novel of your choice, making use of the resources provided by the special collection of women’s writing collected at Austen’s brother’s estate. This class is directed to more advanced students of literature and may be limited.
Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a collection of tales of love and marriage, sex and death, magic and religion, mastery and servitude, battles and shipwrecks, talking animals and practical jokes, and a great deal more besides. Even in its unfinished state, it is an astonishingly ambitious and successful exploration of the range of social and narrative types in the rapidly changing England of the fourteenth century. While the tales contain examples of most of the major genres of medieval narrative (the romance, the fabliau, the beast fable, the moral exemplum, the saint’s tale, the tragedy, and the sermon), Chaucer’s handling of this material consistently defies convention, offering problems rather than solutions and demanding active involvement from his readers in the face of some very unreliable and idiosyncratic narrators. The frame narrative of a group of pilgrims from a wide variety of occupations and backgrounds telling tales on their pilgrimage to Canterbury allows for a diversity of narrative voices and experimentation with the relationship between the tale and its teller. The course will focus on Chaucer’s strategies of narration and his experiments with genre and audience. We will read 10-12 of The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English. The course will involve a small amount of philology, but Chaucer’s English is close enough to modern English that reading it is more a matter of learning a few conventions and pronunciations than learning a new language. Students are expected to participate actively in class discussion and write a few brief translation exercises, two short papers, and one 10-12 page seminar paper. Previous experience with Middle English is not expected, but some familiarity with medieval or Renaissance European literature, history, art, or religion would be helpful. Enrollment will be limited to 25.
Critical Theory in the US: An Introduction
This course examines the dominant strains of critical theory pertinent to literary study in the US and their critiques. Students will have an opportunity to become familiar with the range of critical theory from Classical and New Criticism through deconstruction and post-structuralism up to current cultural, historical, and postcolonial approaches. In addition to reading each theorist closely for his/her argument, we will investigate the assumptions and philosophical presuppositions built into each theoretical approach. For example, why does New Criticism work so well with poetry and less well with prose fiction? What are the implications of focusing on close textual analysis rather than historical or social context? We will note the ways in which new theoretical approaches are often born from the old, either in imitation or in contention. While this course is primarily concerned with the implications of critical theory for literary study, we will read several key theorists whose work is most clearly aligned with other disciplines including Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida, Laura Mulvey, Michel Foucault, and Donna Haraway. In addition to theoretical texts, we will read four short literary texts and try out some of the approaches we have studied. Further, some of the theoretical texts themselves put the division between ‘literature’ and ‘theory’ into question. An underlying concern of the course will be thinking about what is the proper work of theory, and what is the relation of critical theoretical discourse to literary analysis. Students are expected to write 4 short 2-3 page response papers, to give one in-class presentation on a theoretical article of their choice, to write one longer 7-8 page paper, and to participate actively in discussion.
This course focuses on the longstanding and fascinating relationship between jazz and American poetry. Jazz is often referred to as the only uniquely American art-form, performing through its sounds and forms much of this country’s complex cultural heritage. Our project in this class will be to examine the thematic, structural, and conceptual interchange between jazz and American poetry of the last hundred years. The thematic treatment of jazz in American poetry is perhaps the most obvious element of this exchange – one need only think of Langston Hughes or the Beat poets of the 1950s. These same examples also bring to mind the role of jazz as a structural or stylistic influence, what we might call the jazz cadence of American poetry. As we will find, the jazz aesthetic also has broader conceptual implications for poets who do not so much seek to mimic jazz with their poetry, but, rather, write out of an artistic perspective deeply rooted in jazz. We will read several major figures in jazz poetry, including Hughes, the Beats, Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez, Michael S. Harper, Nathaniel Mackey, and Sonja Sanchez (among others). We will also read the work of some lesser-known but remarkable poets who work with jazz, such as Wanda Coleman, Erica Hunt, Ed Roberson, and John Taggart, and we will listen to and watch several performances of jazz poetry. Throughout the class, we will be interested in how American poetry participates in the sometimes heated debates that shape the history of jazz, particularly as those debates bear on questions of race and gender. Students are expected to participate actively in class discussion and give one class presentation; writing will consist of occasional informal reading responses and three 4-6 page papers. This class is directed to more advanced students of literature and may be limited.
Lines of Sight: Poetry and the Visual Arts
Perhaps the most famous poem written by the British Romantic poet John Keats contemplates a visual work of art, “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” As the poem concludes, this urn apparently breaks into speech, proclaiming, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” a gesture that is not only brilliantly enigmatic, but that also situates the poem as an important part of a very long and still active tradition revolving around questions of beauty, truth, and representation in poetry and images. The technical term for this tradition is ekphrasis, poetry written in response to the visual arts, and it extends from at least Homer to the twenty-first century. In this class, we will consider the breadth of this tradition, reading poetic responses to visual art (mostly, but not only painting) by Homer, Virgil, the British Romantics (in addition to Keats, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth), the Anglophone modernists W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams, poets of the New York School (especially John Ashbery and Barbara Guest), and the contemporary poet Cole Swensen. There will be others, but these are the biggies. We will also read key theoretical texts, including selections of foundational works such as G. W. F. Hegel’s Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Laocoön, as well as modern treatments of the relationship between poetry and the visual arts by Charles Altieri, Murray Krieger, and W. J. T. Mitchell. As we will find, the ways in which poets respond to the visual arts change over time, conditioned by and giving expression to their larger cultural, philosophical, and political contexts. This class is directed to more advanced students of literature and may be limited.
Literature and Psychoanalysis
This 7-week module-course will provide an introduction to psychoanalysis and its literary implications. We will read several psychoanalytic treatises of different schools, ranging from Freudian psychoanalysis to object relations to film-theory, including work by Sigmund Freud, Franz Fanon, Nancy Chodorow and Laura Mulvey. In conjunction with the more overtly theoretical work, we will read literary texts including “The Strange Story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Turn of the Screw, Dutchman,Measure for Measure, To the Lighthouse and will also view some films. Students will write a brief paper on each segment of theory and literature and are expected to participate actively in class discussion. This course is open to beginning students interested in Literature or Psychoanalysis. Enrollment will be limited to 20.
Mapping America: An Introduction to American Literature
In this course we will examine American cultural identity and cultural change by constructing a “map” of America, with works of literature ranging from the voyages of discovery to the present. Each section of the course will trace a particular region of the country over a period of history. Our survey of New England, for example, will begin with John Winthrop’s model of a Christian community in his famous sermon of 1630: “we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. . . .” Thoreau’s Walden probes the links between the cycle of nature at a Massachusetts pond and the workings of the human spirit; Mary Wilkins Freeman’s turn-of-the century regionalist stories portray, with humor and with empathy, the struggles of ordinary New Englanders, most of whom are older women. The section will conclude with Frost’s poetry.
Other reading will include works by Douglass, Chesnutt, Faulkner, and Welty (the South); Dreiser, Brooks, and Erdrich (the Midwest); Whitman, Hughes, and Malamud (New York); Native American oral poetry, Steinbeck, Momaday, and Chavez (the West); and Hurston (Florida). Students will write two eight-to-ten page papers, a statement of goals, and a self-evaluation, and will be expected to participate actively in class discussions. The course is open to all students; enrollment will be limited to 25.
It can be easy to miss things in a poem, or read something into one that isn’t there, but it can be so much fun to discover what is there. Poems don’t usually offer their ideas or narrative ‘content’ divorced from their sometimes peculiar way of putting things; instead, they convey complexes of feeling and thought by using language with attention to its materiality; for language is an object to the senses just like color or sound, and it’s just as capable of triggering primal and even unconscious associations. This course is designed to help students learn to trust their perceptions of simple (often unnoticed) elements, such as image, metaphor, and other tropes; the line, meter (or lack thereof), sentences, stanzas, repetition, and other organizational units; rhyme, silence, and other sound effects; persona and voice; narrative or disjunctive modes; and basic forms. While that seems like a lot to keep track of, it’s more a matter of accounting for what we’re (already) perceiving, and building on such primary associations to build complex appreciations of a poem’s arguments or concerns. Come put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip. Or ponder love’s austere and lonely offices. It is not Margarét you mourn for. drive, he sd, for/ christ’s sake, look/ out where yr going. Short exercises in and outside of class, and very short papers, combined with sustained attention to poems, will help students gain confidence in reading poems and in thinking and writing about poems as experience. We will be using John Frederick Nims’ and David Mason’s Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry. This course satisfies the English AOC requirement for Textual Analysis and Close Reading.
This course will explore two of the most ambitious works in English literature: Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Written less than a century apart, these poems attempt to do for England what their authors understood Homer’s Odyssey and Illiad and Virgil’s Aeneid to have done for classical Greece and imperial Rome: to both demonstrate and epitomize the glorious history and worthy aspirations of the civilizations that they came to represent in the popular mind. Given England’s relative political and, many would argue, cultural insignificance in early modern Europe, to write an English national epic was an act of unmitigated gall, and astonishing hope for the significance of both the nation to its world and its writers to the nation. Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is an enormously complex moral and political allegory borrowing the forms of both classical epic and medieval romance, in which knights representing holiness, temperance, and chastity, among others, do battle with enchanters, sorceresses, and monsters representing greed, deception, and the Catholic church. The preface claims that the poem’s purpose is “to fashion a gentle manor noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.” We will examine Spenser’s investigation of the forces that shape England and the English gentleman, and his work’s attempts to become one of them, and then move on to Milton’s Paradise Lost , which, less optimistically, seeks to find “fit audience, though few.” Milton’s epic on the fall of humanity into original sin is a product of both his conscious effort to model himself on the poetic career of Virgil, the great poet of Augustan Rome, and his intense involvement with the political and religious controversies of his day. His attempt to write the English national epic never explicitly mentions England, and explicitly expects a hostile reception in its native country. The character who most closely resembles the epic hero of Homer or Virgil is Satan. We will explore these and other paradoxes of Milton’s Christian epic. Our most important tool for investigation will be close readings of the text, but we will also pay attention to contemporary political, religious, and poetic theories and the course will involve some secondary criticism. Students are expected to attend class consistently, actively take part in discussions and write four response papers (1-2 pages), two short essays (4-6 pages) and a term paper(10-12 pages). This course is designed for students with previous coursework in literature, classics, or pre-modern history; enrollment will be limited to 20.
Shakespeare: Language and Identity
This course will cover a substantial amount of Shakespeare’s lyric and narrative poetry in addition to plays from all four genres he worked with—History, Comedy, Tragedy, and Romance– in the context of the social, literary, and theatrical environments of London late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and early in the reign of King James I. The course will focus on Shakespeare’s exploration of the pleasures and perils of language as a means by which identity is constructed by both the self and others. This is a broad survey of Shakespeare’s career and will involve about a play a week. Students are expected to write several short papers, present one performance project, and participate actively in class discussion. This course is designed for beginning students of literature and non-majors; enrollment may be limited. This course satisfies the English AOC requirements for Historical Engagement and Textual Analysis and Close Reading.
Twentieth-Century British and American Drama—Realism and its Discontents
This course will survey the major trends in British and American drama in the twentieth century, exploring the ways the theater in both countries worked with and against the conventions of both naturalistic drama and the utterly artificial well-made play. The drama of the last century is enormously varied in the issues it addresses, the types of characters it presents on the stage, the techniques it uses to do so, and the audiences it envisions. This variety reflects the consistent interest in the drama of the last hundred years in how people see the world around them, and how these ways of seeing can be changed. Realistic drama’s attempt to use what Bernard Shaw called the “problem play” to bring contemporary social issues to the attention of the public by representing them on stage was as much an experiment with vision as the absurdist drama of Beckett was in its suggestion that the forms of society are devoid of human meaning. The majority of the plays we read in this class explore the limitations of realism, and offer new ways of seeing the societies in which they participate. Authors may include Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Caryl Churchill, August Wilson, Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, David Henry Hwang, Susan-Lori Parks, Oscar Wilde, Sam Shepard, Anna Deveare Smith, Tony Kushner, and Brian Friel. Students are expected to participate actively in class discussion, present an oral report on a play the rest of the class has not read, present one performance project, and write two short papers and a take-home final. This course is open to all interested students, although enrollment may be limited.
Virginia Woolf: Art and the Artist
This 7-week module-course covers a selection of the novels of Virginia Woolf and is open to beginning students of literature. Arguably one of the creators of “stream of consciousness,” Woolf has been an important site of critical contention, from the sensitive invalid of British literature to the “guerilla in victorian skirts” of the Feminist canon. We will focus on her novels as both exemplars of modernist British fiction and as challenges to British social order. We will examine both the stylistic experimentation of Woolf’s writing and its exploration of the social and psychological world. Novels to be considered include Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves,Orlando, and Between the Acts. We will also read some essays and short stories, and selected critical essays on Woolf’s work. Enrollment will be limited to 20.
Sample of Graduate Schools Attended by NCF Students in English
Each academic experience builds toward your senior thesis project. It’s required for graduation, and our students tell us that while it’s demanding, it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. To learn more about the three common pathways for the senior thesis project in English, click here. Here are some examples of thesis projects in English:
“‘A Maneuvering Business’: Courtship, Family, and Marriage in Novels of Manners (Burney, Austen, Edgeworth)” by Adella Irizarry
“A New Multimedia Edition of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera” by William Mayo
“Annihilation, Negation, and Revelation: Deconstructive Trauma and the Mysterious/Unknown in the Works of Emily Dickinson and Flannery O’Connor” by Megan Kathleen Pinckney
“Between ‘Scylla and Charybdis’: Navigating through Ulysses” by Hunter Felt
“Fearing the Future: The Uncanny Child and Modern Children’s Literature by L. Frank Baum, Neil Gaiman, and J. K. Rowling” by Sean Marlow
“Form or Fascism?: Exploring Genre and Innovation in Three Nontraditional Sonnet Sequences” by Kathleen DeBolt
“Jazz Poetry: The American Idiom” by Isabel Maioriello-Gallus
“Marginalized Learning: The Role of Peritext in Ben Jonson’s Hymenaei and The Masque of Queens” by Jessica Lynn Stone
“The Quest to Find Utopia: From Thomas More to Aldous Huxley” by Caitlin Riopel
“Reclaiming Representations: The Revisionist Work of Ishmael Reed” by Laura Van Dillen
“Subversion Subverted: Exploring Women’s Roles in Early Modern Domestic Tragedy” by Monica Tedder
“To Hell House and Back: Theatre as Evangelical Outreach” by Suzanne Mooney
“Illustration as Interpretation: Illustrations of John Milton’s Paradise Lost” by Brittany Hill
“Killing Pearl: When Hester Chooses Infanticide – Confronting Motherhood and the Redemptive Fantasy of The Scarlet Letter in Suzan-Lori Parks’s The Red Letter Plays” by Alison Reid
“Strange Bedfellows: Toward a Unified Analysis of Beckett and Shepard” by Brian Hughes
“’to isolate her out of the loud world:’ Towards a Maternal Continuum in the Writings of William Faulkner” by Rebecca Nelson
“Why a Duck? Self, Locality, Community, and Relevance in the Work of Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe” by John Witte
The Jane Bancroft Cook Library at New College is home to a broad assortment of books, scholarly journals, national and international databases, and other print and electronic media related to the study of English and is available to students throughout the year. The library is also home to the College’s Academic Resource Center (ARC), which hosts a number of services of interest to English students including the Writing Resource Center (WRC) and the Language Resource Center (LRC).
Each spring, New College hosts a Visiting Writer-in-Residence, a published writer who teaches classes and holds workshops for students interested in creative writing. The writer-in-residence also gives public readings in the community. Recent writers-in-residence include:
Shira Dentz, author of black seeds on a white dish and Leaf Weather whose poems and stories have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, New American Writing, jubilat and Brooklyn Rail.
Adam Davies, author of The Frog King, Goodbye Lemon and the comic-crime thriller, Mine, All Mine, with nonfiction published in the New York Timesand appearances on NPR and A&E’s Breakfast with the Arts.
Sandy Florian, author of Telescope, 32 Pedals & 47 Stops, The Tree of No,Prelude to Air From Water and On Wonderland & Waste.
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Students in our English program regularly receive internships to assist as writers and editors for local magazines and newspapers and to mentor and teach students in local schools. Here is a look at some of the local organizations at which our students have recently interned: