About the Department

Open Letter

The recent online dispute concerning white-nationalist appropriation of medieval symbols, in particular the harassment, threats against, and demeaning of an untenured scholar of color during that dispute, serves as a stark reminder that our academic pursuits do not exist in isolation from the hate, racism, and violence that continue to play a powerful role in US politics and in the social and legal arrangements that endanger the safety and well-being of people of color throughout the country. We wish to reaffirm that our role as scholars and educators centrally includes the fostering of a culture of inclusiveness and mutual respect that prizes our diversity rather than seeing it as a threat. Such a culture depends on a willingness to listen carefully to other viewpoints, and to engage critically with them, in ways that respect norms of reasoned argument and the use of evidence. Particularly in the context of emotionally and politically charged issues, it is crucial to respect the right to freely express and argue for one’s views, especially when they are controversial or run counter to popular opinion. But when disagreement takes such forms as bullying, racially charged attacks, and the glorification of violence against those with whom one differs, then speech is no longer primarily a matter of the expression of ideas, viewpoints, or opinions, and an invocation of the right to free speech is a distraction from the real issue. There is a crucial difference between speech that makes claims and articulates ideas, and speech that demeans, intimidates, or harms others. Such hostility has no place in academic life. It is our responsibility as scholars not only to condemn and repudiate hatred expressed in speech and other forms of action, but to model forms of discussion that manage criticality in a spirit of open inquiry, committed to acknowledging and thinking through the difficult histories and difficult present in which we are all embedded.

Signed:
Lauren Berlant, Adrienne Brown, Bill Brown, Timothy Campbell, James Chandler, Rachel Cohen, Rachel DeWoskin, Maud Ellmann, Frances Ferguson, Rachel Galvin, Edgar Garcia, Elaine Hadley, Baird Harper, Timothy Harrison, Heather Keenleyside, Janice Knight, Loren Kruger, Ellen MacKay, Mark Miller, W.J.T. Mitchell, Benjamin Morgan, John H. Muse, Deborah Nelson, Sianne Ngai, Julie Orlemanski, Srikanth Reddy, Lawrence Rothfield, Lisa Ruddick, Benjamin Saltzman, Zachary Samalin, Jennifer Scappettone, Joshua Scodel, David Simon, Eric Slauter, Christopher Taylor, Sonali Thakkar, Vu Tran, Kenneth Warren, John Wilkinson, Lynn Xu


About the English Department

The English Department at the University of Chicago has a long and illustrious history and a vibrant present.  From the 1930s through the 1960s the department was known foremost for the Chicago School of criticism—a mode of analysis and evaluation grounded in the work of Aristotle.  From a subsequent generation Wayne Booth famously emphasized the rhetorical force and narratological complexities of prose fiction. 

More recently, distinct and wide-ranging interests converge in the commitment to both history and theory: to modes of historicizing literature and culture, and to different modes of conceptualizing the form, function, and effect of discursive and visual texts.  The department has a long-standing stake in two journals, Modern Philology and Critical Inquiry.  Members of the Department both build on and contribute to the fields of anthropology, history, philosophy, and the visual arts. Our coverage of chronological fields extends from the Medieval era to the twenty-first century, and the Department includes a broad range of subfields, media, and genres: from epic and romance to graphic narrative and video games, from theater to transnational literature to literary intersections with science. The many workshops offer students and faculty opportunities to present and discuss work in progress and to hear and comment on current work by scholars from other institutions.

The undergraduate major in the Department attracts the largest number of students in the Humanities at the University and offers emphases in both literary analysis and in creative work. The PhD program is small; between four and 16 new PhD students enter each year. A number of students in the MAPH program (a master's degree program in the Humanities Division) concentrate their work in the English Department.

The Department continues to hire junior and senior faculty to consolidate our strengths in the chronologically defined fields, and to expand our offerings in creative writing, transnational Anglophone literatures, new media, and other developing areas of inquiry.