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The Department of Literatures in English offers a wide range of courses in English, American and Anglophone literature as well as in creative writing, expository writing, and film analysis. Literature courses focus variously on close reading of texts, study of particular authors and genres, questions of critical theory and method, and the relationship of literary works to their historical contexts and to other disciplines.
Writing courses typically employ the workshop method in which students develop their skills by responding to criticism of their work by their classmates as well as their instructors. Many students supplement their formal course work in English by attending public lectures and poetry readings sponsored by the department or by writing for campus literary magazines.
The English department seeks to foster critical analysis and lucid writing. We also strive to teach students to think about the nature of language and to be alert to both the rigors and the pleasures of reading texts of diverse inspiration.
As part of the university-wide First-Year Writing Seminars program administered by the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, the department offers many one-semester courses dealing with various forms of writing (e.g., narrative, autobiographical, and expository), with the study of specific areas in English and American literature and with the relation of literature to culture.
Students who major in English develop their own programs of study in consultation with their major advisors. Some choose to focus on a particular historical period or literary genre or to combine sustained work in creative writing with the study of literature. Others pursue interests in such areas as women’s literature, African-American literature, literature and the visual arts, or critical theory. Second-semester sophomores who have done superior work in English and related subjects are encouraged to seek admission to the departmental program leading to the degree of bachelor of arts with honors in English. For students majoring in fields other than English, the department provides a variety of courses at all levels.
The English major provides a foundation in reading, writing, research, critical theory, and critical thinking relevant to a vast variety of fields, including journalism, publishing, authoring fiction and non-fiction, the arts and sciences, law, business, and medicine.
The department welcomes students with double majors or minors outside of English as well as students seeking dual degrees. Students who major in English develop their own programs of study in consultation with their major advisors. Some choose to focus on a particular historical period or literary genre or to combine sustained work in creative writing with the study of literature. The effort of creating or discovering a coherent pattern in the courses selected is itself a valuable part of a literary education, and the department expects students to choose courses with an eye to breadth and variety as well as focus and coherence.
For more extensive information about the English major, see the English Major Guide.
How to apply for the English major
To declare the English major:
- Request a Declaration of Major form and schedule a Zoom meeting with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) by sending an email to Corrine Bruno, firstname.lastname@example.org. The DUS meets with students during office hours in the weeks when classes are in session and during exam weeks.
- Ask an English professor to be your major advisor and obtain email confirmation that they have agreed to be your advisor.
- Ideally you will have a major advisor confirmed prior to your meeting with the DUS. (Consider professors with whom you have taken a class and/or with whom you share an academic interest.)
- If you do not have an advisor confirmed, you can still schedule a meeting with the DUS and submit your completed Declaration of Major form. (See #3, below.)
- The DUS can help you choose an advisor if you do not have one in mind. It may be helpful to check the faculty bios on the English website for potential advisors.
- Once you have a scheduled meeting with the DUS, send your completed Declaration of Major form and your major advisor’s confirmation email (if you have one) together, in one email, to the DUS and the Undergraduate Coordinator at the addresses above.
Please note: Your English major declaration will not be complete until you have met with the DUS and submitted confirmation that an English professor has agreed to be your major advisor.
Completing the English major with honors allows students to independently study a topic they choose and to write a researched, critical paper of at least 40 pages.
Students almost always find the honors thesis to be an incalculably satisfying project and a memorable achievement. Throughout the process, students work closely with faculty, discuss work with other honors students, and get a real taste of the pleasures of advanced scholarship. Work on the honors thesis places students in an intellectual community, and the experience may well carry on into future work and into other intellectual communities beyond Cornell. Many graduate school applicants submit part of their honors thesis as a sample of their critical, scholarly work and of their future promise as scholars. Students preparing for other career paths also benefit from writing a thesis in their senior year.
How to Apply for the Honors Program
To apply for the Honors Program, please complete the Honors Program Application.
The Department of Literatures in English also offers three distinct minors open to non-English majors in all Cornell colleges: “Creative Writing,” “English,” and “Minority, Indigenous, and Third World Studies” (MITWS). Fulfillment of the requirements for these minors will yield a certification on students’ transcripts.
Students may count courses taken at any point in their Cornell careers. Each minor requires students to pass five three- or four-credit courses with a grade of C or higher. No first-year writing seminars will count. Literature courses offered in the English department and courses from another department that are crosslisted with English count towards the minor. In exceptional cases, students may also request special permission from the Advisor to Minors (Satya P. Mohanty, mohanty[at]cornell.edu) to use up to 4 credits of transfer courses, study abroad courses or upper level literature (or other relevant) courses taken outside the English department.
First-, second-, and third-year students may file an online Intent to Minor form at any time. (Students in their last year, please see the instructions for “How to Apply,” following the Intent to Minor form, below.) This initial step lets us know of your interest in a particular minor. We will add your name to the minors listserv so that we can let you know of English-related news and events that may be of interest, such as requests for submissions to literary magazines and writing contests, as well as notification of upcoming Reading Series guests.
How to apply for the English minor(s)
The next step is to apply for certification by declaring your minor. If you complete your minor courses prior to your last semester at Cornell, you should file your Minor Declaration form when you complete your last course for the minor. If you complete some of your minor courses during your last semester, then you must submit the form by the end of week seven in your final semester.
To declare a minor, fill out the online Minor Declaration form for the minor(s) you are completing by clicking the corresponding link below:
- Minor in English
- Minor in Creative Writing
Completion of requirements for the minor will be confirmed by the Advisor to Minors, Satya P. Mohanty.
You will receive an email confirmation when the grades for your courses have been verified and your certification by the English department is complete. The minor designation will be added to your transcript after your conferral date, and when processing by the Arts and Sciences Registrar is complete.
Minor: Creative Writing
Students may count courses taken at any point in their Cornell careers. Each minor requires students to pass five three- or four-credit courses with a grade of C or higher.
Students in the Class of 2019 and later must take:
- ENGL 2800 or 2810: Creative Writing
- ENGL 3820 or 3830: Narrative Writing
- ENGL 3840 or 3850: Verse Writing
- Either ENGL 4801 or 4811: Advanced Narrative Writing or ENGL 4800 or 4810: Advanced Verse Writing
- Any English course in literature or cultural studies, 2000-level or higher, including ENGL 4850 Reading for Writers, Screenwriting, or an alternative course approved by the director of creative writing.
Students may count courses taken at any point in their Cornell careers. Each minor requires students to pass five three- or four-credit courses with a grade of C or higher. No first-year writing seminars will count. Literature courses offered in the Department of Literatures in English and courses from another department that are crosslisted with English count towards the minor. In exceptional cases, students may also request special permission from the Advisor to Minors (Satya P. Mohanty, mohanty[at]cornell.edu) to use up to 4 credits of transfer courses, study abroad courses or upper level literature (or other relevant) courses taken outside the Department of Literatures in English.
Students minoring in English may distribute their courses as they wish from any of the following categories: literature, creative writing, and critical writing/creative nonfiction on the 2000-, 3000-, and 4000-levels.
Minor: Minority, Indigenous, and Third World Studies (MITWS)
Students may count courses taken at any point in their Cornell careers. Each minor requires students to pass five three- or four-credit courses with a grade of C or higher. No first-year writing seminars will count.
Students wishing to minor in Minority, Indigenous, and Third World Studies (MITWS) will choose from a list of departmentally designated offerings in such areas as African American, Asian American, American Indian and other Indigenous, Latino/a, and Anglophone African, Asian, and Caribbean literature.
The MITWS minor seeks to foster comparative thinking across domestic U.S. and international contexts. With this in mind, courses offered in the list of departmentally designated offerings will be literature courses in English or courses in other departments that are crosslisted with English that engage ethnic, indigenous, and/or national literatures. In exceptional cases, students may also request special permission from the Advisor to Minors (Satya P. Mohanty, mohanty[at]cornell.edu) to use up to 4 credits of transfer courses, study abroad courses, or upper level literature (or other relevant) courses taken outside the Department of Literatures in English.
Department of English Courses
Explore Department of Literatures in English courses here.
As an English major, you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities for study abroad, which are available through the Cornell Abroad Program and the College of Arts and Sciences Abroad Program.
English majors may seek to study at a foreign institution, usually during their junior year. Some may spend a single semester away from campus, others an entire year. The Cornell Abroad office has information on a variety of programs at universities around the world. Many English majors pursuing such studies go to the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries, but some choose non-English speaking locations. As long as they continue to meet all college and department requirements, studying abroad can be readily fit into the English major. English majors planning on completing the Honors Program (see below) who are spending the entire junior year abroad may need to take the honors seminar (4910) as seniors. Students seeking to be candidates in the Honors Program should discuss their plans with the Director of the Honors Program in English before leaving campus.
Credit for literature courses taken abroad can in most cases be applied to the 40-hour minimum for the major, the concentration and pre-1800 requirements. Approved requests to apply credit for study abroad to the English major is granted by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) in English (the student’s advisor may not grant this credit). Students must confer with the DUS in advance of going abroad as well as upon return. The first conference will include a review of catalogue descriptions of courses that the student expects to take while abroad (along with alternates); the second will involve a presentation of transcripts, documentation of successful completion of the work, papers, and exams.
No more than 16 credits per year, or 8 credits per semester, of non-Cornell credit may be applied to the major. This restriction applies to study abroad even when that study is conducted under Cornell auspices.
How to Obtain Transfer Credit
Please find important information about requesting approval for study abroad credit and for transferring credit from other institutions on the Arts & Sciences website.
To request credit toward your English major or minor for courses taken through study abroad or at another college or university, please visit our How to Obtain Transfer Credit webpage.
Important: FWS classes and substitutions fall under the purview of the Knight Institute. You must see the "FWS | Substitutions" section of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines website for information and instructions.
English majors and minors pursue many kinds of extracurricular activities related to their studies, from writing for newspapers like the Cornell Daily Sun to editing or contributing to student-run literary magazines such as Rainy Day, Kitsch, and the Cornell Book Review. The editorial offices of Epoch, Cornell’s internationally distributed literary magazine, are located close to the English Department’s office in Goldwin Smith Hall and provide a congenial meeting place for undergraduate and graduate students with a special interest in contemporary writing. The Cornell Literary Society—a group organized by and for English majors and others—plans readings, films, and other events each semester.
The Cornell Literary Society
Organized by and for English majors and enthusiasts, the society plans events each semester to inspire interest in the major. Events may include panel discussions with English department professors, student poetry readings, book club discussions with Cornell authors, pre-performance discussions for theater productions at the Schwartz Center, a mentor program between under- and upper-class English majors and luncheons with visiting writers. The Literary Society is comprised of English enthusiasts of all different areas – from English majors with concentrations spanning literary theory, creative writing, medieval literature, and British literature to English minors and students of other disciplines. Anyone with a love for reading is encouraged to join the listserv and attend the society's monthly mixer-meetings, where students chat in the English Lounge over refreshments. The society's ultimate goals are to inspire interest in the major and minor, establish strong relationships with Department of Literatures in English faculty, and foster a united community among English enthusiasts. Membership is open to ALL undergraduates. For further information, contact Sarah Lorgan-Khanyile, email@example.com or Ramya Yandava, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rainy Day is an undergraduate publication sponsored by Cornell University which strives to publish the best poetry and fiction from colleges and universities across the country. Published biannually in the fall and spring, the publication accepts submissions throughout each semester. For further information, contact email@example.com or visit their website.
Department of Literatures in English events
The Department of Literatures in English coordinates a number of events featuring renowned creative writers and scholars each semester. Visit the English Events and Zalaznick Reading Series webpages for more information.