Undergraduate Program

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


Why Major in English?

Serious intellectual endeavor starts with passion and curiosity. The Department of English is a place where faculty and students intensely discuss what they love—novels, poems, plays, paintings, films, comics, video games, and other art forms—along with theoretical and philosophical questions related to the study of literature and culture. As part of a course of intensive study, these conversations spark immediate intellectual excitement while building toward the larger end of a liberal education.  Through the wide variety of literary-critical approaches they encounter in classes, English majors cultivate the analytical capacities that will continue to serve them in their personal and professional lives long after graduation.

Studying English at the University of Chicago is very much like attending a liberal arts college: most courses are small, discussion-based classes, and professors, along with graduate student teaching assistants and preceptors, closely mentor undergraduate students’ writing and intellectual development. At the same time, our undergraduates enjoy the intellectual benefits associated with studying at a major research university. Undergraduate majors can take some of their classes alongside graduate students, and all students learn cutting-edge scholarship that has expanded the boundaries of the field from professors with international reputations.

The mission of the Department of English undergraduate curriculum is to provide students with a thorough grounding in humanistic knowledge. Our students analyze fundamental questions about such topics as the formal qualities of individual works and literary genres, the status of literature within culture, the achievements of a particular author, the methods of literary scholarship and research, and the application of theory to literature. The department is also an intellectual melting pot: classes in everything from Medieval Epic to Shakespeare to Radical Documentary to the Literature of 9/11 accommodate majors and non-majors with a large range of interests across methodologies and disciplines. Drawing on the interdisciplinary tradition of the University of Chicago, the department encourages our students to integrate the concerns of other fields into their English studies and therefore maintains close links with the Committee on Creative Writing, Cinema and Media Studies, and TAPS (Theater and Performance Studies), along with other academic programs.

Just Declared an English Major?

For those who have recently declared a major in English, congratulations! To get introduced to the department and our program requirements, please contact the Student Affairs Assistant, Angeline Dimambro (adimambro@uchicago.edu) or the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Adrienne Brown (adrienneb@uchicago.edu).