College Bulletin 2022-2023 
    Jun 24, 2024  
College Bulletin 2022-2023 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

English Literature



VALERIE SMITH, Professor and President of Swarthmore College
RACHEL BUURMA, Associate Professor
LARA COHEN, Associate Professor 2
ANTHONY S. FOY, Associate Professor
CHINELO OKPARANTA, Associate Professor and Director of the Program in Creative Writing
SANGINA PATNAIK, Associate Professor 1
ERIC SONG, Associate Professor and Chair
SARA BRYANT, Visiting Assistant Professor
RYAN KU, Visiting Assistant Professor
NATALIE MERA FORD, Visiting Assistant Professor, Interim Director of the Writing Associates Program
SHAILEN MISHRA, Visiting Assistant Professor, Writing Associates Program, Interim Multilingual Writing Specialist 
NICOLETTE BRAGG, Visiting Assistant Professor, Writing Associates Program
ALBA NEWMANN HOLMES, Assistant Professor and Director of the Writing Associates Program3                                       
DONNA MCKEEVER, Administrative Assistant 
JOANNE MULLIN, Administrative Assistant, Writing Associates Program 
MIA LIMMER, Writing Associates Program Post-Bacc Fellow

Absent on leave, Fall 2022. 
2 Absent on leave, Spring 2023. 
Absent on leave, 2022-23.

In the Department of English Literature, we study how literature shapes experience. Students learn how to read closely, think inventively, and write creatively and analytically. We offer classes on a wide range of topics, from novels to new media, from critical theory to popular culture, from poetry to digital humanities. In these classes, students explore how the form of a text illuminates its meaning; how literature both reflects and challenges structures of race, gender, sexuality, and class; how historical circumstances enable imaginative expression and how imaginative expression changes history. Our curriculum emphasizes writing in English from the US, the UK, South Asia, the Caribbean, Ireland, and South Africa, and educates students in methods including critical race and ethnic studies, feminist studies, environmental studies, and queer studies. We teach students how to analyze a world of texts and to use their voices in it.

Students are eligible for paid internships during the summer to produce original creative writing projects and pursue guided research in literary study. In collaboration with faculty, students also work on a variety of digital humanities projects based at Swarthmore and at archives and universities nationwide. Along with a vibrant public culture of lectures and events featuring prominent novelists, poets, and cultural theorists, the department creates opportunities for students to present their research to peers and faculty on campus, as well as at regional and national academic conferences. Majors and minors in English Literature succeed in careers as diverse as law, education, medicine, finance, journalism, publishing, academia, and community organizing.

First course recommendations

We recommend that students begin their study of English Literature at Swarthmore by taking a First-Year Seminar or a course labeled “Gateway.” Unless noted, other courses in our department assume some familiarity with the discipline without requiring a formal prerequisite. Courses at the 100 level and some creative writing courses require departmental permission for enrollment.

Applying for the Major or the Minor

The minimum requirement for consideration for the major or minor is the completion of at least two graded courses in English Literature at Swarthmore, other than Composition, Journalism, or Creative Writing credits. Decisions regarding applications will be deferred until two graded literature courses are completed.

Applications are considered in the spring of the sophomore year. Each student will, under the guidance of a faculty advisor, present a reasoned plan of study for the last two years. This plan will be submitted to the department and will be the basis of the departmental discussion of the student’s application. The plan will include a list of proposed courses and seminars that will satisfy the requirements for either the Course or Honors Program and a rationale for the program of study.

Applications for the major or minor are normally considered at a meeting of all department members. Each student is discussed individually. The department has never established a minimum grade point average, nor are certain courses weighted in this discussion more heavily than others. A record of less than satisfactory work in English would certainly give us pause, however, unless it were attributable to circumstances other than academic ability. Students who want to include the English major as part of a double major must have a record of strong work in both majors as well as in other courses.

Course Major

All English Literature majors must complete a minimum of 9 credits in the department, including

  • at least one credit in each of the following historical periods:
    • Medieval and Renaissance literature (Med/Ren)
    • 18th and 19th century literature (18th/19th c.)
    • 20th and 21st century literature (20th/21st c.)
  • English 080 Introduction to Literary Theory
  • English 099 Senior Course Majors’ Colloquium
    As a culmination of the course major, all seniors take English 099, which offers a structured and supportive environment for students writing their senior essays. The course features a mix of literature, criticism, theory, and methodology, plus guest visits and opportunities for students to discuss central issues in the field of literary and cultural history in preparation for their research and writing. Successful completion of ENGL 096 or ENGL 080 is a prerequisite to this course.

Under special circumstances, a course major may elect to write a longer research thesis. Thesis projects do not take the place of ENGL 099, which is required of all course major seniors. For more information, see the description for ENGL 098.

Based on their own interests and goals, all course majors are expected to identify a concentration of at least three English literature credits within the major. Students define this concentration, but are encouraged to discuss their course choices with a faculty member in the department. Sample concentration topics: one of the three historical periods; American, African-American, or Asian-American literature; theory; digital humanities; creative writing; or a particular genre, such as fiction or poetry. Students define their potential concentration within the major as part of their sophomore plan, but may modify their plan as needed during junior or senior year.

Course Minor

All English Literature minors must complete a minimum of 5 credits in the department, including at least one credit in two of the following historical periods:

  • Medieval and Renaissance literature (Med/Ren)
  • 18th and 19th century literature (18th/19th c.)
  • 20th and 21st century literature (20th/21st c.)

Honors Major

English Literature majors who seek a degree with Honors will, in the spring of their sophomore year, propose for external examination a program consisting of four preparations: three in English and one in a minor. Honors majors must complete all general requirements for the English course major, a total of 9 credits in English Literature, with the exception of ENGL 099, the Senior Course Majors’ Colloquium.

Students interested in pursuing honors within a faculty-approved interdisciplinary major, program, or concentration that draws on advanced English courses or seminars should consult with the department chair for early help in planning their program.

The three Honors preparations in the English Literature major (constituting six credit units) must include preparations from at least two of the following historical periods:

  • Medieval and Renaissance literature (Med/Ren)
  • 18th and 19th century literature (18th/19th c.)
  • 20th and 21st century literature (20th/21st c.)

The three preparations will normally be done through seminars, though if approved by the Department, one preparation may be a thesis or creative writing project. Students who wish either to write a thesis or pursue a creative writing project under faculty supervision as part of the Honors Program must submit proposals to the department; the number of these ventures the department can sponsor each year is limited. Students who propose creative writing projects will normally be expected to have completed at least one writing workshop as part of, or as a prelude to, the project; the Honors preparation presented for examination will thus normally consist of a 1-credit workshop plus a 1-credit directed creative writing project. For further information, consult with the department chair or the Director of the Program in Creative Writing.

As with course majors, Honors majors are expected to identify a concentration of at least three English literature credits within the major based on their own interests and goals. Students define this concentration, but are encouraged to discuss their course choices with a member of the department. Sample concentration topics: one of the three historical periods; American, African-American, or Asian-American literature; theory; digital humanities; creative writing; or a particular genre, such as fiction or poetry. Students define their potential concentration within the major as part of their sophomore plan, but may modify their plan as needed during junior or senior year.

Honors Minor

Students seeking an English Literature Honors minor must do a single, two-credit preparation in the department, normally by means of a seminar (or under special circumstances, a creative writing project); the thesis option is available only to majors.

Honors minors must complete all general requirements for the English course minor, a total of 5 credits in English Literature. 

Important things to know regarding credits toward an English Literature major or minor

  • First Year Seminars (English 008 and 009A - 009Z) and Creative Writing courses count toward the major or minor but do not fulfill historical requirements.
  • Creative Writing workshops are graded CR/NC; many students take a number of creative writing workshops toward the major.
  • Academic Writing courses (ENGL 1F, G, etc. or C, Writing Pedagogy) and Journalism classes do not count toward the major or minor.
  • If awarded, AP/IB credit can be used toward the major or minor, but it does not satisfy a historical requirement.

Honors Examinations and Senior Honors Study (SHS)

English Honors preparations consisting of seminars or course combinations will be assessed by a 3-hour written examination set by an external examiner. Written examinations will be followed by oral examinations of 30-45 minutes. Honors preparations fulfilled through seminars or courses also require an SHS submission to be reviewed by the Honors examiner.

A 2-credit thesis or a creative writing portfolio will be examined in a 45-60 minute oral examination.  A thesis or creative writing project does not require an additional SHS submission or a written exam. 

For the SHS requirement, Honors Majors and Minors will revise one paper per seminar for their portfolio, and that portfolio will be submitted to their external examiners. In the case of course combinations used as Honors preparations, students can either present two shorter revised essays (one from each class) or synthesize materials from earlier essays to create a new essay bridging the two classes. In either case, SHS submissions can be a maximum of 4,000 words.

Double Majors

Students may, with the department’s permission, pursue a double major either as part of the Course or Honors Program. Double majors must fulfill all the major requirements in both departments.

For a double major in honors, one of the majors is used as the honors major and the other is often used as the honors minor. See the department chair for further details.

Special Major

Designed by the student in consultation with faculty advisers. If English is the central department, students must fulfill most of the regular requirements and have a minimum of 5 English Department credits as part of the special major. Students must take at least one course each in two of the three historical periods listed above. Students must consult with the various departments or programs involved in the special major and have all approve the plan of study. Only one integrative comprehensive exercise is required. Students may also do a special honors major with four related preparations in different departments.

Major or Minor with a Creative Writing Emphasis

With the range of writing courses open to them, it is possible for students at Swarthmore to pursue a Major or Minor in English Literature with an Emphasis in Creative Writing, by completing three units of creative writing in addition to the usual departmental requirements. One workshop taken outside our English Department may be counted towards the Emphasis.

Student writers may also pursue a Directed Creative Writing Project (070K), completing a portfolio of independent work under the guidance of a faculty member. Some students have used the Directed Creative Writing Project as an opportunity to extend and polish a project begun in workshops - a novel, a linked collection of short stories, a sequence of poems responding to photographs, for example - while others have worked intensively and rigorously to master the sonnet form, or explored through their own work the implications of a theoretical premise - the blurred distinction between dramatic monologue and poetic confession, for example. Because our writing faculty is small, the Department sponsors only a limited number of writing projects each year. Students interested in pursuing independent work in creative writing normally declare their intention in the sophomore plan, and submit a prospectus to the Department in the semester before they hope to begin their project, after consulting with the chair of the Department and with members of the writing faculty.

Students in the Honors Program may present work in creative writing as a field for either a Major or a Minor in English Literature. Normally the two-credit field is defined as a one-credit workshop (most typically 070A, 070B, 070C, or 070H) paired with a one-credit Directed Creative Writing Project (070K), but it is also possible in unusual circumstances for a student to develop a portfolio through writing done entirely within workshops.

For additional information about the Creative Writing program, including more details about the courses mentioned here, visit the English Literature department web site. Printed information about the program is also available in the department office.

Teacher Certification

English majors may complete the requirements for English certification through a program approved by the State of Pennsylvania. For further information about the relevant set of English and Educational Studies requirements, please refer to the Educational Studies section of the Bulletin.

Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate Credit

Students who receive a 5 on the AP test for English Literature and Composition or a Higher IB 6 or 7 will be eligible for one Swarthmore credit, awarded after completion of one English course (ENGL 009 or higher course number). This AP/IB credit can be used toward the English major but it does not fulfill any of the required courses of the major.

Off-Campus Study and Transfer Credit

Students who plan to study away from Swarthmore should consult with the department far enough in advance of such study to effect proper planning of a major or minor. Honors majors in particular should discuss the impact of study abroad on their honors program with the chair and departmental honors advisor. 

In determining which courses of study will meet department criteria for requirements or credit toward a major or minor, the department will rely both on its experience in evaluating the work of students returning from these programs and on careful examination of course descriptions, syllabi, and schedules. In general, to earn one Swarthmore College credit, we expect a course elsewhere to provide 30 contact hours and to require roughly 20 pages of writing, as well as a reading list roughly comparable to a Swarthmore English course’s reading list. 

Course credits for literature in English should be approved before you leave, but no course credits are finally awarded until you present your completed work upon your return to Swarthmore. Beginning with the Fall 2019 semester, you will need to take one English course at Swarthmore to gain credit for an English course taken during study abroad.

Students planning study abroad from Swarthmore should contact the Off-Campus Study Office for additional information and resources, including important information about the credit pre-estimation and approval processes.

Students seeking credit for domestic (USA) off-campus study will need to work with the registrar, the English course credit consultant, and possibly the deans. To find out who the current course credit consultant is for English Literature, contact the department chair or administrative assistant. 

Life After Swarthmore

After graduation, our majors find jobs in the ever-expanding range of industries that prize reading, writing, interpretive skills, teamwork, and creative thinking. We count among our English alums poets and novelists, social workers and scholars, news writers, teachers, broadcast journalists, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, financial analysts, grant writers, publishers and editors, natural or social science writers, doctors, and lawyers. About a third of our graduates head to premiere graduate schools, including Harvard, Oxford, Berkeley, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and NYU.

Swarthmore English literature majors are represented in any field in which analysis, communication, and empathy are integral. Grounded in the mission of Swarthmore, our students leave as well-rounded citizens of the world.

English Literature Courses

20th and 21st Century Courses

Creative Writing Workshops

The department offers two types of creative writing courses.

One course style focuses primarily on creative work: Poetry Workshop (070A), Fiction Workshop (070B), Advanced Poetry Workshop (070C), and Advanced Fiction Workshop (070H). These workshops are limited to 12 participants, graded CR/NC.  Registration for introductory workshops is open but may be decided by course lottery; registration for advanced workshops requires completion of an introductory workshop or permission of the instructor.

Other creative writing courses incorporate more substantial reading and written analytical responses: for example, the First-Year Seminar Grendel’s Workshop (009R). These courses are limited to 12 or 15 participants; some are graded and some are CR/NC; refer to the department web site for the latest information. 

Honors Seminars

Honors seminars are open to juniors and seniors only and require approval of the department chair. Priority is given to honors majors and minors.