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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
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)
- One beginning prose course: ENGLISH 90. Fiction Writing or ENGLISH 91. Creative Nonfiction
- ENGLISH 146S Secret Lives of the Short Story
- One intermediate prose course: any ENGLISH 190 series or 191 series
- One beginning poetry course: ENGLISH 92. Reading and Writing Poetry (Can be fulfilled with a poetry literature seminar)
- Four elective literature courses (One of the courses may be fulfilled with a creative writing workshop)
English and Creative Writing (Poetry)
- One beginning poetry course: ENGLISH 92. Reading and Writing Poetry
- One literature course in poetry approved by a Creative Writing Professor
- One intermediate poetry course: any ENGLISH 192 series
- One beginning prose course: ENGLISH 90. Fiction Writing or ENGLISH 91. Creative Nonfiction (Can be fulfilled with a prose literature seminar)
- Four elective literature courses (One of the courses may be fulfilled with a creative writing workshop)
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, Vaughn Rasberry. 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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, Vaughn Rasberry, 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:
- PHIL 80 Mind, Matter, and Meaning (WIM): Prerequisite: introductory philosophy course.
- 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.
- Aesthetics, Ethics, Political Philosophy: one course from PHIL 170 Ethical Theory series.
- Language, Mind, Metaphysics, and Epistemology: one course from PHIL 180 Metaphysics series.
- History of Philosophy: one course in the history of Philosophy, numbered above PHIL 100 Greek Philosophy.
- 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.
- Two additional elective courses in the English department.
- One capstone seminar of relevance to the study of Philosophy and Literature.
Literature 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:
- Four elective courses chosen from among those offered by the Department of English, one of which may be a creative writing course.
- 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.
For a comprehensive listing of all English Major requirements, please visit Explore Degrees.
**Attention majors and prospective majors: the most current and updated degree requirements are located on the Stanford Bulletin which can be viewed here.