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Core Course Descriptions

Our core curriculum is designed to introduce you to the rich history of literature in English, and to give you the tools to analyze written discourse critically and creatively.  The English core will teach you to think broadly, read closely, and write compellingly.

Historical Core

A year-long sequence that traces English literature from its origins to the present. How has literature in English developed from the earliest Anglo-Saxon poem to the latest science fiction novel, from the age of manuscript to the age of Facebook? This year-long sequence considers how the impulse to tell stories, express feelings, and shape ourselves and our realities in language has persisted through, even as it has been shaped by, historical changes such as the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of the internet. It sets well-known literary masterpieces in cultural context even as it considers how texts are canonized, forgotten, rediscovered, and reinterpreted.

English 100A. Literary History I

Beginning-1630. Authors may include Bede, the Beowulf poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, Sir Thomas Malory, Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne.

How and when did the concept of English literature take hold among readers and writers? This course commences hundreds of years before the printing press was invented or America discovered. It traces the development of key literary concepts and forms, including the notion of literary character, agency and subjectivity, the use and meaning of poetry, and the adaptation of conventions (such as courtly love) to changing circumstances. What was the literary impact of conquest and colonization, Humanism, the Reformation, and the printing press?

English 100B. Literary History II

1610-1865. Authors may include William Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, Jane Austen, William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emily Dickinson.

This course begins with a Protestant monarch overseeing a single established church. By its mid-point, England, America, and France have all been transformed by violent revolutions in church and state. And by its final weeks, the American Union is under threat. The literary landscape undergoes drastic changes. As people of "middling" station learn to read and write, the epic yields to the novel as the dominant means of telling stories. Women became influential writers and consumers of literature. And the very success of the prosaic promotes a reaction among the Romantics, who insist on poetry's role in self-cultivation and cultural reformation. In the newly formed United States a new generation of writers anxiously strives to forge a national literature on par with Old World traditions, yet expressive of peculiarly American ideals, conditions, and dilemmas.  

English 100C. Literary History III

1850-present. Authors may include Walt Whitman, George Eliot, William Morris, D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, and Tom McCarthy.

How did literary texts engage with forces of modernization, industrialization, and colonialism in the nineteenth century, and with urbanization, world wars, the resistance to Western political domination and the emergence of global networks in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? As women and people of color become more fully integrated into the cultural and political public spheres, what it means to be a person, or a character, alters dramatically. In a world that seems increasingly fractured, literary texts seek new ways to intervene in the rapidly changing landscapes of modernization and post-modernization. As they employ different media from the nineteenth-century serial novel to the contemporary hypertext poem, narrative and poetry creatively encounter film, television, pop music, and digital culture. In the process, they redefine the roles of authors, narrators, lyrical voices, characters, and ultimately readers themselves.

Additional historical requirement, a.k.a. "H" course.

English 100A, 100B, and 100C lay out a map of English literary history. In "H" courses we follow a single path--be it a problem, a theme, a methodology, or a genre--through that terrain. In these courses, we learn that histories are narratives that we create once we decide what questions to ask, and what paths to follow.

Methodological Core

English 160. Poetry and Poetics

What is a poem? How are poems shaped? How has poetry, as a written art, changed over time? How is a poem made, and what forces go into that act of making? This course looks at the poem in history as well as the history of the poem. Because the identity of the poet is a major factor in form, our journey may take us from a First World War poet, to an American beat poet weaving protest phrases with biblical echoes, to the masterly villanelle of a Welsh musician or the dazzling laments of a young Sylvia Plath. And since we emphasize the making of form (poetics) you may be asked not just to look at form, but to participate in it: to write a villanelle or a sonnet and to understand through that process how poetry makes a lasting mark on our memory and our world.

English 161. Narrative and Narrative Theory

An introduction to stories and storytelling--that is, to narrative. What is narrative? When is narrative fictional and when non-fictional? How is it done, word by word, sentence by sentence? Must it be in prose? Can it be in pictures? How has storytelling changed over time? Focus on various forms, genres, structures, and characteristics of narrative.

English 162. Critical Methods

Behind every great critical essay lies a method. These courses introduce students to some of the interpretive procedures that critics use when they sit down to explain a text, a genre, or a literary movement.

Senior Seminar

English 164. Senior Seminar

Small seminar designed as a capstone experience to the English major, offering an opportunity for students to synthesize and reflect on their study and interests in the English major. Seminars may emphasize the craft of writing a lucid, intelligent, and convincing piece of literary criticism, or other broad questions of literary research, analysis, and practice. This seminar also fulfills Stanford’s “Writing in the Major” undergraduate requirement for English.


For a comprehensive listing of the core requirements, please visit Explore Degrees.

For course descriptions, please visit Explore Courses.