University News

English department revamps requirements

Curricular changes will affect students filing concentrations starting this year

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The College Curriculum Council approved the English department’s revised concentration course requirements, the department announced Sept. 2. The new curriculum will apply to students who declare the English concentration this year and after, with students in the class of 2015 following previous course guidelines and the class of 2016 choosing between the two models.

According to the new guidelines, concentrators will no longer be required to take six courses to fulfill the historical part of the curriculum. Rather, one course focusing on the period prior to and one on the period after 1700 will fulfill the historical branch of the new concentration model.

“Many English departments at other universities have more stringent historical requirements for taking a course in Shakespeare or taking three or four courses in designated historical areas,” Keach said. “Now we’ve moved in the direction of relaxing the historical distribution requirement, and we’ll see how that goes.”

The English concentration has also added two new course categories called “How Literature Matters” and “Literature Across Borders.”

“How Literature Matters” was created in response to students’ demand for a gateway introductory course, Gould said. Undergraduates believed “they would have been drawn to a class that focused on literary form and methods and acted as a kind of transition between high school English classes and the critical methods that are germane to academic study for undergraduates,” he said.

“How Literature Matters” courses will be the recommended first step for prospective concentrators. “The current map of the curriculum makes you go all over the place to find different ways into the curriculum,” Foley said. As a preliminary course, “How Literature Matters” will provide more pathways into the English concentration, he said. New courses under this rubric, which will be listed as ENGL 0100, will be offered for the first time next year, but the department has indicated courses that have been taught in previous years that will fill the requirement.

“Literature Across Borders” courses will focus on “literary study across conventional borders, national and otherwise,” Gould said, adding that the category will help supplement the concentration’s elective courses. Undergraduates will be able to take five electives under the new model, compared to three in the previous model.

“We thought it was important to maintain some requirements that focused on historical periods, but we thought that the students in effect would be taking those classes as electives,” Gould said, explaining that the department’s 1000-level curriculum is organized according to historical period.

The concentration will still require a course that incorporates literary theory.

The process of reforming the English concentration began a year ago and was spearheaded by a committee of four English faculty members, including Philip Gould ’83, professor of English and chair of the department, Stephen Foley ’74 P’04 P’07, associate professor of English and director of undergraduate studies, Jim Egan, professor of English, and Daniel Kim, associate professor of English.

During the revision process, the committee reviewed student feedback and English department requirements at peer institutions, Foley said.

“We wanted to be in line with the field nationwide, and I think we’ve achieved that goal.”

Members of the English Departmental Undergraduate Group and other concentrators helped shape the new concentration model, said William Keach, professor of English. Modifications to the requirements stemmed from student requests for “greater flexibility” and more “direct communication,” he said.

The department is currently modifying its course selections to fit the recent changes, Gould said. “We’re in the process of devising, expanding and creating innovative classes that connect with first- and second-year Brown students interested in English,” he said.

“There are many courses that immediately fit (the new model), but this provides a new rubric for faculty to invent new classes.”

“I think the new requirements have way more flexibility for what you want to learn while also providing a wide range of literature,” said Alexandra Cerda ’16, who has chosen to pursue the new requirement model. The previous model “forces you to get an overview of all literature, but I think it does it in a way that isn’t the best.”

But for students who do not have as firm of a grasp on what areas of literature they prefer, the new requirements lack the more guided historical outline of the previous ones, said Crystal Kim ’16.

“The old requirements were kind of nice, because they were a rough outline of ‘Hey, you should read these from each time period, to kind of get a handle on the history of literature and what’s offered in each time period,’” Kim said, adding that the new model is a better fit for students who already have a grasp on their preferences.

“For literature or book nerds, the new requirements are a dream because you get so much freedom.”

The department is “trying to give you more freedom, but I think, because there is already so much freedom here, that it’s good to be forced to take courses from very different time periods,” said Jonathan West ’16, who is leaning toward choosing the previous concentration model.

The English DUG will be holding open hours for discussion and questions regarding the new concentration requirements Sept. 10.

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