Something for Everyone: The Redesigned English Major

In response to national trends and the changing shape of the academic discipline of English,  University of Connecticut’s Department of English has designed a new plan of study for its majors. Offering enhanced flexibility with respect to requirements and an array of new, optional tracks, the new major constitutes a significant development for the department and its students.

The curricular redesign – the product of several years of faculty-wide conversations both formal and informal – was finalized last year by the Department of English Courses and Curriculum Committee. This committee typically reviews new course ideas and advises faculty members on course development, but had, for the last several years, also worked with the entire English faculty to develop a new curriculum. The new major course of study, faculty believed, needed to center on social justice, prepare students with skills for the ever-changing workplace, and build on the existing strengths of its diverse, productive faculty. “As a major, English has always prepared undergraduates for a wide range of careers after graduation,” stated Clare Costley King’oo, Associate Professor and Interim Head of the Department of  English. “But, like all majors,” she added, “it must be redesigned at regular intervals to respond to the changing needs of each era.”

For example, a key problem with the old major was its complexity. To combat this problem, the Committee devised a simplified “Core+4” concept: 6 required “core” courses plus 4 electives from anywhere in the department, regardless of field or format.  The “core” includes one introduction to the major course (typically taken at the beginning of one’s studies), one advanced study seminar (typically taken at the end of one’s studies), and two courses each in the areas of “Literary, Cultural, and Linguistic History” and “Antiracism, Globality, and Embodiment.” 

While students have freedom of choice with respect to their “+4” elective courses, they have a great deal of choice in how they meet the needs of these “Core” requirements as well. In “Early Literary, Cultural, and Linguistic History,” students may choose any two of seventeen different courses, from Medieval Literature to Maritime Literature before 1800; in “Antiracism, Globality, and Embodiment,” students may choose two of twenty-two courses, with at least one course focusing on Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or Asian/American literary and cultural traditions. 


Introduction to Literary Studies (1 course)

Early Literary, Cultural, and Linguistic History (2 courses)

Antiracism, Globality, and Embodiment (2 courses)

Advanced study or seminar (1 course)


Professor Chris Vials was the Chair of the Courses and Curriculum Committee that saw the passage of the new plan of study. “The idea of the Core,” Professor Vials remarks, “is to give general competency of the major, but also direct students towards classes that may be outside of their comfort zones.” Students may then round out their major requirements by taking any four other courses in the department, from Children’s Literature to Chaucer, from the Modern Novel to African American Literature, and from Literature and Science to Jewish American Literature and Culture. For a look at the entire, current English course catalogue, please click here.

While developing the new major, the committee had the opportunity to reflect on areas of faculty strength within the English department and to organize existing coursework into sensible paths or tracks through the major. Students have long done this informally, in consultation with friends, parents, and advisors, choosing to take clusters of courses that speak directly to their passions and career aspirations. And, the department has had a few concentrations in the past, like Irish Literature, Teaching, and Creative Writing. But the old major, with its many requirements, often made pursuing a track challenging. 

The streamlined new major, with its heightened flexibility, enables students to do this more easily. The department has therefore designed eight optional tracks for students to follow: Creative Writing; Cultural and Media Studies; English Teaching; Irish Literature; Literature, Antiracism, and Social Justice; Literary History and Legacies; Literature of Place and Environment; and Writing and Composition Studies. To Professor Vials, these tracks allow students to consolidate and display, with professional certification, their strengths for “employers, careers, or further graduate study and training. [… I]f you want to demonstrate that you have used your major to cultivate certain skills, you can do that by following a track.”

At the end of the day, what does all this mean? It means that the major is more accessible, more customizable, and more responsive to the present exigencies of our social, economic, environmental, and cultural climate. When it comes to this new plan of study, Professor King’oo is optimistic about the future: “With our updated plan of study, I am confident that English will continue to set students up for success—in whatever they choose to pursue—as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century.”

English is a field that allows students to explore existential and social questions as they impact individual lives while building very practical skills that are prized by employers. Summarizing the achievement of the faculty with this new major plan of study, Professor Vials remarked: “Now that we’ve adopted this new major, the University of Connecticut is at the vanguard nationally. We have put social justice and antiracist perspectives more at the center; we’re flexible; we have plenty of space for students to explore any discipline of English that they would like. We respect both the past and the future of literature; we look forward to what English can bring while also recognizing what English has already brought. That’s very special.”

For a closer look at the new major, please click the link here.