The Department of Literatures in English offers a wide range of courses in literatures of the English-speaking world, from medieval romances to contemporary novels and film. Students develop their own paths through the major, experimenting with historical periods, genres, forms and methodologies that might be unfamiliar, while also developing expertise in areas of specific interest to them.
The department stresses critical analysis, incisive writing and speaking, and we encourage our students to take initiative and responsibility for the enterprise of interpretation. With their advisers, English majors design a personalized program of study that deepens their understanding of diverse genres, textual traditions, and periods. The major culminates, in the senior year, in an independently written essay of 30-40 pages, developed during a senior research seminar in the fall semester and individually mentored by a faculty member in the spring. Students are encouraged to take at least two English courses at Bryn Mawr or Haverford before signing up for the major or minor.
News and Events
November 5, 2020
The Department of Literatures in English at Bryn Mawr College stands in solidarity with its striking students and joins with them in rage and mourning for the Black victims of state-sanctioned violence, most recently the murder of Walter Wallace, Jr. at the hands of the Philadelphia Police Department as well as all the far too many other Black trans, women, men, and gender non-conforming people whose futures have been foreclosed. We recognize the pain, anger, and exhaustion experienced by our BIPOC students as they contend with the constant exercise of systemic violence against Black persons.
We also recognize that the systems of harm that devalue Black life are deeply engrained in the institution of the College itself. In itemizing the Bi-Co’s administrative and pedagogical complicity with white supremacy and anti-Blackness, our BIPOC student strikers have bravely shown us how we as teachers, scholars, and administrators can reshape our campus into an equitable and anti-racist space. Their demands are not only acts of critique and disruption but also acts of care and creative visioning. We are deeply grateful for the necessary but taxing work undertaken in the Bryn Mawr and Haverford strike letters and in the Open Letter to the Bi-Co. We acknowledge and appreciate that this labor has been led by Black women, women of color, and queer, trans, and non-binary BIPOC students on both campuses.
Following the lead of our brave student scholar-activists and their demands, we commit to:
· Cancel all classes (synchronous and asynchronous) and assignments until further notice. We will also be holding space and teach-ins for students for reflection, discussion, strategizing, learning, and community-building; these will be open invitations for our students, but there will be no penalty if students do not attend.
· Guarantee that no students or faculty participating in the strike will be subject to any academic or professional penalties.
· Guarantee that when the strike ends, professors will consult with students to determine the most humane pathway forward for the remainder of the semester, including with regard to assignments and assessments.
· Guarantee the continued support of the department for its students of color, particularly BIPOC students, including but not limited to classroom spaces that engage with material beyond the white literary canon.
In addition to committing ourselves to these demands, those of us who specialize in literature have additional obligations to advance our students’ anti-racist vision. In particular, we must actively contend with the origins of our own discipline, which elevated both the English language and Anglo-centric literature for global export. Indeed, our College’s own particular histories of racism and anti-Semitism were shaped by - amongst many others - a professor of “Anglo-Saxon” philology and literature, M. Carey Thomas, whose legacy we have yet to contend with fully. Acknowledging how “English” literature is imbricated in histories of white supremacy, settler colonialism, slavery, imperialism, nativist nationalism - as well as heteropatriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism - is a necessary first step in reckoning with our own complicity in the structures of harm and injustice outlined by our students.
Reading literature and theory that raises our consciousness is vital for imagining and building the institutional and cultural changes demanded by BIPOC student strikers. We pledge to prioritize decolonial learning in our department by centering minority voices in our curricula and by engaging in the discussions about privilege and marginalization that anti-racist work requires.
As a measure of our commitment to decolonizing the canon, we recently renamed our department The Department of Literatures in English to signal that English is neither a nationality, nor singular. This change is pending approval by the College administration. (Update: The request to officially change the department name was approved on Nov. 19, 2020.) As further actionable steps, we pledge:
· To evaluate all of our course content to make sure all courses align with our anti-racist and decolonial commitments
· To institute a yearly speaker series that features BIPOC scholars
· To continue to ensure that every time we run a job search in the department, BIPOC students are centrally involved in the process
· To meet with BIPOC, undocumented, and FGLI students to discuss how we as a department can best support them
We stand with you in this strike for a better future and a more just Bi-Co.
Yours in solidarity and desiring the dismantling of systemic oppression,
The Department of Literatures in English