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Academic Program

The English Literature department is at the core of a dynamic campus-wide interdisciplinary culture of reading, writing, and lively discussion of texts old and new. In all our teaching and mentorship, we nurture imaginative reading, deep questioning, insightful analysis, and compelling communication skills.

Our small classes and dedicated teachers offer English students access to a supportive, exciting intellectual community. We strive to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need for a life of critical thinking, informed citizenship, meaningful work, sustenance in the face of adversity, and delight in the world. After graduation, our majors find jobs in the ever-expanding range of industries that prize reading, writing, interpretive skills teamwork, and creative thinking.

Program Overview

Our department offers a wide variety of courses, class formats, and approaches to cultural and literary studies, with class sizes from under 10 to over 40. We teach all genres of literature and a variety of interpretive approaches; students can work with rare physical objects in libraries and learn how to analyze texts with computational techniques. We’re interested in the history of texts and other cultural media — their production, circulation, and influence. Students can collaborate with professors on research, or may design and complete their own research projects with faculty guidance. We offer many creative writing workshops, including opportunities for sustained creative projects.

Our majors explore Medieval/Renaissance, 18th and 19th century, and 20th and 21st century literature. Many elect to participate in Swarthmore’s distinctive Honors Program and spend their junior and senior years in immersive seminars and intensive independent projects.

Students may take a special concentration in creative writing, study abroad, and/or acquire teaching certification while student teaching in Philadelphia or its suburbs.

Many of our literature courses introduce students to new developments in race and ethnic studies, and in feminist and queer studies. We regularly teach Asian American literature and cultural studies and offer courses on literature and human rights, literature and the law, and the humanities’ relevance to Environmental Studies. We maintain strong connections with Swarthmore’s interdisciplinary programs, including Black Studies, Film and Media Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Interpretation Theory, Environmental Studies, and Educational Studies. English majors and minors can graduate with multi-disciplinary skills that provide significant advantages in today’s fast-changing world.

Curriculum Overview

First-Year Seminars

Only first-year students are eligible to take these seminars, which are available in the fall and spring. First-Year Seminars (009A-009Z) pay special attention to one or more of the following: close reading, historical context, secondary (i.e., theoretical or critical) reading, or a variety of genres. First-Year seminars also focus on improving analytic essay-writing skills and all English Literature First-Year Seminars count as a Humanities W [Writing] course. 

Gateway Courses

Gateway Courses are open to first-year students through seniors and have no prerequisites. While class sizes are often somewhat larger than seminars, Gateway Courses are designed to be excellent first (or second) English literature courses for any student.  Gateway courses pay special attention to one or more of the following: close reading, historical context, secondary (i.e., theoretical or critical) reading, or genre. Students are welcome to take more than one Gateway Course.

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.

Upper Division Courses

Upper Division courses offer students the chance to explore their literary interests across three historical periods: Medieval/Renaissance, 18th/19th century, and 20th/21st century. Prerequisite for admission to an upper division course will depend on a student's current class. First-Years and Sophomores will need to have completed a Writing course from any Swarthmore department. Juniors and seniors have no prerequisite requirement to enroll in upper division courses. However, before enrolling in an upper division English Literature course, we recommend that juniors and seniors who are not English majors first complete an English Gateway course. Also included in upper division courses are the Methods course (096) required for course and honors majors, Senior Colloquium (099) required for course majors, and senior thesis and independent study options.

Honors Seminars

Honors seminars are 2-credit courses open only to juniors and seniors, with offerings in each of the three historical periods. For admission to an honors seminar, a student must have completed at least two graded courses in English, not counting creative writing workshops, and receive approval from the department chair. Admission to seminars will be based on a student’s prior academic work, her/his ability to interact well in a small class situation, and the shape of the larger course of study articulated in the Sophomore Plan. For oversubscribed seminars, priority will normally be given to honors majors and minors. Students are eligible to enroll in English Literature honors seminars regardless of their chosen honors or course majors.

Creative Writing Workshops

At Swarthmore, the discipline of writing goes hand in hand with the study of literature.  Each of the four English Department faculty members who represent the core of our creative writing program specializes as well in a literary historical field. This expertise permeates all of our workshops, and is especially evident in four specialized courses that combine critical analysis with creative exercises based in literary models: Grendel’s Workshop (070D), Lyric Encounters (070E), Writing Nature (070G), and The Poetry Project (070J). These workshops, as well as several additional courses that similarly combine literary analysis with creative writing exercises, are limited to 15 students and students are not required to submit a manuscript for review before enrolling.

Each spring semester, we offer intensive introductory workshops in fiction (070B) and poetry (070A). These workshops are limited to 12 participants and students are not required to submit a manuscript for review before enrolling.  In alternating Fall semesters, we offer advanced workshops in poetry (070C) and in fiction (070H); instructors for the advanced workshops may be resident faculty or visiting writers. While our introductory workshops typically develop skills through exercises, these advanced courses offer students the opportunity to extend their range and bring individual projects to polished completion. Student writers may also pursue a Directed Creative Writing Project (070K), completing a portfolio of independent work under the guidance of a faculty member. 

Students – whether Course or Honors majors or minors -- who plan a directed writing project in fiction or poetry (070K) must consult with the Director of the Program in Creative Writing and if possible with a member of the Department’s writing faculty who might supervise the project, and must submit a prospectus to the Department by way of application for such work before the beginning of the semester during which the project is actually done. The number of these ventures the Department can sponsor each year is limited. In spring 2024 the deadline for written applications for the Directed Creative Writing Project for 2024-2025 is April 19. For projects proposed for the spring semester, students should confirm their interest by updating their application by the Monday after fall break.