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English faculty greenlights concentration restructuring

Changes would condense literary era requirements, add new courses on importance of literature

Faculty members in the Department of English approved a proposal to restructure the undergraduate concentration last week.

The changes must still be confirmed by the College Curriculum Council in order to become official, and no timeline exists for when the revisions will take effect, said Stephen Foley ’74 P’04 P’07, associate professor of English and director of undergraduate studies.

If the changes are approved, the English concentration will require students to take one course in each of two literary eras — before 1700 and after 1700 — rather than two courses in each of three areas ­— Medieval and Early Modern Literatures, Enlightenment and the Rise of National Literatures and Modern and Contemporary Literatures, said Jim Egan, professor of English.

Egan, who chaired the committee that developed the proposal, said the nonfiction writing track will require 10 instead of 11 courses, and concentrators in the track will no longer need to take a course in nonfiction literature.

The department is working to create a group of courses that will count toward a new requirement, tentatively named “How Literature Matters.” The concentration will also require students to take a class in the category “Literature Across Borders,” which will focus on how texts are construed across different cultures, Egan said. “It’s a version of a kind of multiculturalism course.”

The department will aim to make the system of selecting courses clearer by making class descriptions more informative and overhauling the course numbering system, said Philip Gould ’83, professor of English and chair of the department.

Faculty members designed the revamped curriculum to make English more welcoming to students, Gould said. “It’s a more manageable package.”

Egan said the changes sprang from an effort “to reimagine the English requirements in light of the changes to the way we study literature and the way we study humanities.”

Historically, students who have declared their concentration before changes became official have had the prerogative to choose whether to fulfill the new concentration requirements or the old ones, Egan said, adding that this will likely be the case should the new changes pass.

The number of English concentrators has plummeted since the department’s requirements were last modified in 2011, Egan said, adding that feedback from undergraduates prompted the new changes. There were 43 concentrators in the class of 2013, down from 66 the previous year, according to data from Focal Point.

Several English concentrators said the new requirements would not drastically change the courses they plan to take.

The current concentration presents a balance of requirements that provides enough freedom for students to study their areas of interests while ensuring they explore literature beyond their comfort zone, said Lynette Lim ’16. Even without requirements, Lim would have forced herself to take classes outside modernism, which is her main interest, she said. “Nothing changes for me.”

“Although it’s a pain, it’s useful to take two classes in each period” to provide a well-rounded experience within the field,  said Hannah Smith ’16.

Fiora MacPherson ’16 said studying the original three tracks is important to gathering a holistic view of literature. “English, more than anything else, shows how works speak to each other across cultures and generations,” she said.

A new selection of courses on why literature matters might present valuable information, but the department must make sure not to lose the interest of students who already love and appreciate literature, Smith said.


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