Did You Know?

The Brandeis English department trains students not only in skills for the present but also in deep knowledge of the past.

All our graduates learn to think and write, and all gain familiarity with the culture and literature of their times.

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Department Overview

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The Department of English is committed to the study and analysis of literature in English, from its origins to the present day. We teach and study not only poetry and prose, but also films and newer media and technologies (journalism of all sorts, television and the Internet, for example) and place these texts in historical and geographic context.

We study the past for at least two reasons: because literary works shape themselves as a tradition in which dialogue, disruption, revision and influence occur over time; and because, for many of us, context is integral to comprehending the particular novel, poem or essay under study. When we teach "Paradise Lost," for example, we want our students to know something of the English Civil War. When we read "Moby-Dick" in the classroom, we immeasurably enrich our analysis of the text if we can discuss Ahab as at once a commentary on 19th-century Manifest Destiny and a reconceptualization of Milton’s Satan. 

Extension over the globe complements immersion in the past. Wherever people rely on English — wherever some version of the tongue is spoken and written — from London to Edinburgh to Dublin to Boston to Toronto to San Francisco to Kingston to New Delhi to Lahore to Harare to Sydney to Wellington, we consider it our mission to study the literature and culture in which and to which it is put to use. Even a partial listing gives some sense of the extraordinary enlargement that has made Anglophone writing the lingua franca of literate persons everywhere: Naipaul, Coetzee, Gordimer, Roy, Achebe, Rushdie, Walcott, Lessing, etc.

We teach a wide variety of genres within literature in English. The main rubrics might be poetry, prose, drama, media, under which a vast array of overlapping and heterogeneous subcategories will fall. These will put the kinds of qualities that we study to different use, depending, for example on whether they are fictional or not, political or not, persuasive or expressive, public or private, philosophical or historical, religious or secular, etc. The discrimination and analysis of these qualities and categories, their similarities and differences, belong to literary (and media) criticism, and we therefore teach the practice of criticism, but we do so by also teaching its theory, its history, and its philosophy. None of these categories is hard and fast in practice, and in different contexts any of them might merge with any other.