English Major

How did literature evolve from Chaucer to Toni Morrison, from a time before the printing press to our modern digital landscape?

Stanford’s English curriculum features a team-taught, yearlong core sequence that traces the big picture of literature’s development from the Middle Ages to the present. Each class offers a lively exploration of key literary themes, movements, and innovations. English majors also learn critical tools for analyzing literature through three broad course requirements, in poetry, narrative, and methodology. Students gain a contextual framework and are prepared to take the department’s wide range of electives.

Courses for the 2023-2024 academic year are available now! Find them here.

English Major Core Requirements

The English Department’s required core courses introduce you to a body of knowledge and fundamental skills that are essential for you to master if you are to flourish as a reader, writer, and critic. After taking a basic set of courses with your classmates, you should find yourself able to reflect in common with them on the enterprise of interpretation and expression, even as you pursue your particular interests and passions through elective course work.



  • ENGLISH 160: Poetry and Poetics 
  • ENGLISH 161: Narrative and Narrative Theory 
  • One WISE class (ENG 5 Series) 
  • 10 series 
  • 11 series 
  • 12 series 
  • One pre-1800 historical literature class

Emphases and Electives

The English major offers a number of emphases, which help you to focus your literary study in a particular area, whether you’re seeking to learn the art of creative writing, or to understand the philosophical power of literature.  Your chosen emphasis will help you to select a group of electives or cross-listed courses in other departments that give a coherent shape to your interests.


This field of study is not declared in Axess. It does not appear on either the official transcript or the diploma. This program provides for the interests of students who wish to understand the range and historical development of British, American and Anglophone literatures and a variety of critical methods by which their texts can be interpreted. The major emphasizes the study of literary forms and genres and theories of textual analysis. In addition to the degree requirements required of all majors and listed above, students must complete at least 35 additional units of courses consisting of:

  1. Seven additional approved elective courses, only one of which may be a creative writing course, chosen from among those offered by the Department of English. In place of one of these seven elective courses, students may choose one upper-division course in a foreign literature read in the original language.
Literature and Philosophy

This subplan is printed on the transcript and diploma and is elected in Axess. Students should meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, awoloch [at] stanford.edu (Alex Woloch), concerning the Literature and Philosophy focus. This track is for students who wish to explore interdisciplinary studies at the intersection of literature and philosophy while acquiring knowledge of the English language literary tradition as a whole. In addition to the degree requirements required of all majors and listed above, students must complete at least 40-50 additional units of approved courses including:

  1. PHIL 80 Mind, Matter, and Meaning (WIM): Prerequisite: introductory philosophy course.
  2. Gateway course: ENGLISH 81 Philosophy and Literature. This course should be taken as early as possible in the student's career, normally in the sophomore year.
  3. Aesthetics, Ethics, Political Philosophy: one course from PHIL 170 Ethical Theory series.
  4. Language, Mind, Metaphysics, and Epistemology: one course from PHIL 180 Metaphysics series.
  5. History of Philosophy: one course in the history of Philosophy, numbered above PHIL 100 Greek Philosophy.
  6. Two upper division courses of special relevance to the study of Philosophy and Literature. Both of these courses must be in the English department. A list of approved courses is available on the Philosophy and Literature web site.
  7. Two additional elective courses in the English department.
  8. One capstone seminar of relevance to the study of Philosophy and Literature.
Lit in a Foreign Language

This subplan is printed on the transcript and diploma and is elected in Axess. This track provides a focus in British and American literature with additional work in French literature; German literature; Italian literature; or Spanish literature. These subplans appear on the diploma as follows: English & French Literature, English & German Literature, English & Italian Literature, and English & Spanish Literature. In addition to the degree requirements required of all majors and listed above, students must complete at least 40 additional units of approved courses including:

  1. Four elective courses chosen from among those offered by the Department of English, one of which may be a creative writing course.
  2. A coherent program of four courses in the foreign language literature, read in the original language, approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies in English and by the relevant foreign language department.
Interdisciplinary Studies

This subplan is printed on the transcript and diploma and is elected in Axess. This program is intended for students who wish to combine the study of one broadly defined literary topic, period, genre, theme or problem with an interdisciplinary program of courses (generally chosen from one other discipline) relevant to that inquiry. These courses should form a coherent program and must be relevant to the focus of the courses chosen by the student to meet the requirement. Each of these courses must be approved in advance by the Interdisciplinary Program Director. In addition to the degree requirements required of all majors and listed above, students must complete at least 40 additional units of approved courses including:

  1. Five elective literature courses chosen from among those offered by the Department of English. Students must select two of these courses in relation to their interdisciplinary focus.
  2. Three courses related to the area of inquiry. These courses may be chosen from disciplines such as anthropology, the arts (including the practice of one of the arts), classics, comparative literature, European or other literature, feminist studies, history, modern thought and literature, political science, and African American studies.
  3. In addition, students in this program must write at least one interdisciplinary paper. This may be ENGLISH 197, Senior Honors Essay; ENGLISH 199, Senior Independent Essay; ENGLISH 194 or 198, Individual Research; or a paper integrating the material in two courses the student is taking in two different disciplines.

For more information about the interdisciplinary emphasis, please read these guidelines

Creative Writing

This subplan is printed on the transcript and diploma and is elected in Axess.This program is designed for students who want a sound basic knowledge of the English literary tradition as a whole and at the same time want to develop skills in writing poetry or prose. In addition to the degree requirements required of all majors and listed above, students must complete at least 40 additional units of approved courses, in either the prose or poetry concentration:

English and Creative Writing (Prose)

  1. One beginning prose course: ENGLISH 90 series, Fiction Writing or ENGLISH 91 series, Creative Nonfiction
  2. One short story literature seminar
  3. One intermediate prose course: any ENGLISH 190 series or 191 series
  4. One beginning poetry course: ENGLISH 92 series, Reading and Writing Poetry 
  5. 20 units of elective literature courses (One of the courses may be fulfilled with a creative writing workshop)

English and Creative Writing (Poetry)

  1. One beginning poetry course: ENGLISH 92 series, Reading and Writing Poetry
  2. One literature course in poetry approved by a Creative Writing Professor
  3. One intermediate poetry course: any ENGLISH 192 series
  4. One beginning prose course: ENGLISH 90 series, Fiction Writing or ENGLISH 91 series, Creative Nonfiction (Can be fulfilled with a prose literature seminar)
  5. 20 units of elective literature courses (One of the courses may be fulfilled with a creative writing workshop)

Honors in English

Are you getting beyond the two-week, 6-8 page English paper?
Have you wanted to challenge yourself to think deeply and to write at length?
Are you curious about what it means to produce knowledge in English studies?
Have you wondered what extended supervised research in English entails?
Would you like to earn a capstone achievement to your degree?

If so, consider pursuing Honors.

What is the Honors Program?

The Honors Program in English is open to all undergraduate English majors regardless of career aspiration or post-graduation plans. Honors students have entered a wide variety of careers: medicine, law, business, marketing, journalism, industry, doctoral programs in English and other disciplines, teaching, and arts administration, to name a few. Students who complete the Honors Program are awarded the degree BAH (Bachelor of Arts with Honors).

The program involves intensive study of a research topic of your choosing supervised throughout your senior year by a faculty member and a graduate student mentor. With these one-on-one mentorships, you will produce a 40-60 page honors thesis and will develop supportive peer friendships with others in the Honors cohort. The Honors Program aims to be both an inspirational and aspirational forum for advanced literary study. It cultivates a lively intellectual environment within which you can test your ideas, germinate sophisticated critical approaches to historical and/or contemporary texts, and build interpretative, analytical and compositional skills that will have a lasting impact on your intellectual and professional life wherever the future takes you.

Interested students are invited to attend the English Honors Info Session on Thursday, February 29 at 12:00pm in the Terrace Room.

How do I apply?

Admission to the Honors Program is selective; the deadline for 2024-25 admission is Friday, April 19th, 2024 at 4pm

Application Form

Application form must contain the following items:

  • A one-to-two page proposal (see below)
  • A writing sample from an English course
  • A brief letter or email from one faculty member who has agreed to serve as thesis advisor
  • The name of an additional faculty referee who could comment if necessary on your writing abilities
  • An unofficial transcript (a cumulative 3.7 GPA in English is required, although the Honors Director will look at all compelling aspects of a candidate’s application) If you are unable to access your transcript, please email Alice Staveley, staveley [at] stanford.edu (staveley[at]stanford[dot]edu).

What is a thesis proposal?

The thesis proposal should give your reader a strong sense of the intellectual merits of your project. What author(s) and text(s) do you wish to study? What particular critical arguments do you foresee interrogating by means of these texts? What historical period(s) will inform your research? What have you discovered already about this topic? What further questions or research avenues might you need to pursue to refine your approach?

Curriculum Details

  • Once applicants are selected for admission to Honors in early May of their junior year, a more detailed prospectus with bibliography is due at the end of Spring quarter.
  • Students accepted into the Honors Program may participate in the voluntary, fully funded Bing Honors College, a residential boot camp held every September for thesis writers across the university. Confirmed Honors students are invited to register online for Bing Honors College in May-June of their junior year.
  • Honors students take 15 units of Honors in their senior year: 5 units (English 196A. Senior Honors Seminar) in Autumn + 10 thesis units (English 197. Senior Honors Essay) distributed over the Winter and Spring.
  • Theses are due in early May . In mid-May, students present their research at a year-end department Colloquium open to friends, family, faculty, mentors, and the wider Stanford community. Plan to invite those who have supported you throughout your undergraduate years!

Recent Thesis Titles

  • Spools, Hats, and Handbags: Narrative Entropy in the Plays of Samuel Beckett
  • “I Have a Story to Share”: The Personalization of the National Epic in Moby-Dick and Heart of Darkness
  • Spatial Setting, Malleable Maps: Los Angeles in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange
  • “Instant Nostalgia”, or, Longing under Late Capitalism in Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge
  • Utterance in Exile: Monstrous Aesthetics in Old English Verse
  • “by whyche they came to honour”: Reputation in Malory’s Le Morte d"Arthur
  • How Milton’s Rhythms Work
  • Graced By Another: Gabriel Marcel and the Experience of Intersubjectivity In Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find
  • Books vs. Bombs: Reading Objects in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient
  • Kincaid’s Carnival: Performance, Identity, and the Reader in A Small Place
  • Masks, Origins, and Copies in Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker
  • The “African” Novel at Bookshelf’s Edge (and the Online Afterlife of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
  • Magical Orality in Tess Uriza Holthe’s When the Elephants Dance


Read what former honors students say about their experience:

“I look back on writing my thesis as one of my best Stanford experiences.” --Bhavya Mohan (‘06), Doctoral Student in Marketing at Harvard University

“Great program. The critical thinking skills I gained from the honors English program are surprisingly very useful in medical school.” --Anne Ritchie (‘08), Medical Student at UCSF

“I believe participating in honors absolutely helped me in my job search (even in a completely different field). Having it on my resume gave me confidence and usually made an impression on people I interviewed with. […] To anyone considering the honors program: Do it, do it, do it!” --Melinda Kilner (‘10), Process Designer at Inkling

“…students learn ways of thinking and self-confidence that stay with them throughout their life, beginning with the challenges of the first job searches and first job experiences. Still 6 years into my work, I consciously apply the skills I learned, and these have been vital to my ability to succeed.” --Edward Boenig-Liptsin (‘06), Program Manager at Google

“I remain immensely grateful for my experience in the honors program. I am currently pursuing a doctorate in another field after spending several years working as an art critic and editor—positions I no doubt would have been reluctant to assume, if not for the confidence I gained through writing a thesis.” --Joanna Fiduccia (‘06), Doctoral Student in Art History at UCLA

“I would wholeheartedly recommend the English honors program to anyone considering it. It enhanced my critical writing skills, taught me how to tackle a large research project, but more importantly, it was FUN.” --Aysha Pamukcu (‘07), Public Interest Lawyer & Editor

“[Honors] substantially influenced my ability to write, to consolidate a very large amount of information, to work with self-discipline, and to engage with a territory of critical writers and [their] works. Best of all, it gave me confidence that I CAN write coherently and with purpose at length!” --Rachel Kolb (‘12), Rhodes Scholar, Masters Student in Literature at Oxford University

“I think that participating in the honors program and being able to discuss a major independent research project made an impression on my post-graduate employers in the publishing industry.” --Alison Law (‘10), Production Editor at No Starch Press

How to think about Honors

Although students apply for honors in their junior year, if you are interested in the possibility of eventually applying, talk to your individual professors or the Honors Director, Alice Staveley, at any time during your undergraduate career from first year and beyond. Thesis topics are vast and various and can take many different forms. Think about what courses, writers, or ideas have most animated your imagination; what connections keep coming back for you across multiple platforms, inside or outside the classroom; what writers you have sampled and enjoyed, but whose lives and careers you wish to investigate more fully; parse the literary history or critical methods core courses to follow up with seminar courses that broaden your study of a particular theory, writer, theme, or historical period; take courses outside the department that might compliment your literary interests (for instance, a course on 19th century British history if you’re interested in the 19th century British novel, etc.). Drop by professors’ office hours! They are there waiting, eager, and willing to talk about any number of topics with you that, over time, may well become your thesis.

Literary texts do not live in a vacuum

They emerge from particular historical circumstances, they are influenced by earlier texts, and, if they are sufficiently strong, they change the literary tradition in which they are produced. That’s why our sequence of Historical Courses (English 10, 11, and 12) introduces you to some of the most important developments of English and American literature from its origins to the present.

A history of representing the self in words

Historical watersheds such as the invention of printing, the Protestant Reformation, the expansion of the British Empire, the Great War, and the creation of the internet; the rise and fall of genres such as romance, the epic, and the novel; the genesis of literary movements such as Humanism, Romanticism and Modernism -- all this and more is part of the story of English and American literature. By the time you have finished the historical sequence, you should have a good sense of what questions to ask yourself–and what contexts to research–when you read any text, from a Renaissance sonnet to a contemporary science fiction novel.

Literary history in the big picture

In addition to our historical sequence, a pre-1800 course will offer indepth attention to a particular writer or historical question, or else will trace fundamental literary questions across a wide expanse of time, to highlight the nature and importance of historical change and the nature of literary development.  How has the idea of a theater changed from the York Corpus Christi play (15th c.) to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949)?  By encountering these and other topics, you should learn how the histories we tell depend on the questions we ask, the assumptions we bring to the historical record, and the archive we establish. You should also learn how much is at stake when we declare what is pre-modern, what is modern, and what is post-modern.

Mastering interpretive methods

Our methodology requirements, Poetry and Poetics and Narrative and Narrative Theory, introduce you to some of the most important interpretive methods we use to bring literary texts to life. In the first, you learn about poems as formal artifacts that tell their own history of human expression. In the second, you learn to think about story telling from a technical perspective. What is it? How does it work? How has it changed over time? In addition, a "Writing Intensive Seminar in English" (WISE) course will introduce you to a range of critical methods, while offering a writing-intensive experience in a small seminar environment. WISE courses also satisfy our Writing in the Major (WIM) requirement.