The English Major at St. Olaf

Literature is one of the most compelling ways in which humans have recorded and reflected on their lives, imagined different worlds, and communicated one with another. It offers the pleasures of artistic expression combined with the rewards of empathy and insight, knowledge and inspiration.

Drawing on 1500 years of literature from Geoffrey Chaucer and John Milton to Emily Dickinson, Chinua Achebe and Toni Morrison, the English major encourages students to dig deeply and to range widely, crossing borders and exploring diversity both in content (authors, literary genres and historical periods) and in form (critical and creative approaches).

In discussing and writing about what they have read, students develop an informed understanding of the force of literary language and improve their own powers of communication, analysis, and persuasion. In the department’s creative writing courses, students can nourish their own verbal creativity while working with literary forms from the inside.

Requiring courses from four Categories (Literary History, Cross-Cultural, Cross-Disciplinary and Genre), the English major is structured around the premise that students be exposed to a variety of conceptual approaches to literary study.  It introduces majors both to the traditional methodologies of literary history and genre studies and to the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural methods that are redefining literary canons and strongly influencing scholarship as we move into the 21st century.

Some English majors may be headed for graduate programs in literature; some plan to teach; some are creative writers. Others may be preparing for careers that reward strong communications skills, in fields such as publishing, law, business, or community service. Within a framework that requires English majors to experience multiple approaches to literature, the major allows students flexibility in shaping their course of study to their individual interests and aspirations.

Requirements for the Graduation Major

Level I: English 185 (Literary Studies)

Level II: 3 courses: one from Cross-Cultural Studies, one from Literary History, and one from either Cross-Disciplinary Studies or Genre.

1. Cross-Cultural Studies
Cross-cultural courses treat literature as a human expression that embraces both commonality and differences within and across cultures. They may focus on global literatures in English and/or multicultural literatures within a single nation. Such courses also employ critical approaches designed to address cross-cultural literary issues.

In order to satisfy the expectations of the cross-cultural category, a course must focus on one or more of the following: Anglophone literature (English-language literature from Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia, and other locations outside of North America, Britain, Ireland, and Australia); ethnic American literature; or the English-lanugage literature of one or more minority communities in Britain, Canada, or another nation. The study of works in translation–for example, a course in Ibsen in English translation or a Turkish literature course taken abroad–while excellent experiences, do not fit the English major’s category of cross-cultural study.

2. Literary History
Courses satisfying the Literary History requirement are designed to trace the process of literary change, examining the development of literary styles, conventions, and forms. They may focus on one national literary tradition or examine literature from two or more nations.  While not limited to traditional “period” surveys, these courses present an approach to literature that emphasizes generic variety and chronological breadth.

3.  Cross-Disciplinary Studies
Cross-disciplinary courses approach a topic, author, genre, or period from at least one disciplinary perspective in addition to that of literary study. These courses recognize disciplinary perspectives as distinct ways of knowing, and compare and combine such perspectives in literary analysis.

4. Genre
Genre refers to a group of works united primarily by a specific form or shared formal elements rather than by theme, topic, historical period, or country. The genre studied may be broad, such as narrative fiction, or narrow, such as the elegy. Genre courses address form through writing, the study of literature, or both, and require students to think critically and creatively about the formal qualities of literature.

1800 requirement: Among all courses taken at level II (category-specific and elective), one must be in literature before 1800; one must be in literature after 1800.

Six electives, two of which must be at Level III.
Here students can pursue their own particular interests and give their major the emphasis they choose: as authors or historical periods; genres, topics and theoretical approaches; a focus on creative writing. An IS cannot count toward one of the three required courses at Level II; An IR cannot count for one of a student’s two Level III requirements. Any course offered in the English department can count as an elective in the major.