SCHWARZ & SPARACIO | How Has English Studies Changed?

Rebecca Sparacio: Since I have the honor of writing a column with Professor Daniel Schwarz, I’ve chosen to have a conversation about how the English major has changed over time. To start, Daniel, what are some of the big picture changes that have occurred within the English department over the years?

Daniel Schwarz: Our department, Rebecca, changed its name to the Department of Literatures in English and stipulated a curriculum where each student is required to take courses from among a group of burgeoning fields that reach into once neglected areas. We need to remember that what English departments have traditionally done well is to teach students how to read closely, carefully and critically and to see the nuances and ambiguities, as well as the passion and power in words, sentences and paragraphs. That is, the English major prepared students for a lifetime of careful reading no matter what field they chose. 

The model for a liberal education in elite universities in the U.K. and the U.S. had originally been a study of classical literature and the focus was on historical criticism and philology. Literature after the 1900s or so was not something serious people studied. The two-year Honors degree in Edinburgh where I did my 1961-1962 junior year left a week or two for the modern authors who followed Hardy. In the post-World War II world, American Literature was still fighting for a place for full curricula representation.