Sep 28, 2020  
Course Catalog 2019-2020 
Course Catalog 2019-2020 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]


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Gillian Johns, Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies; Chair
Laura Baudot, Associate Professor of English; Director, Gertrude B. Lemle Teaching Center; Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences
Jennifer Bryan, Associate Professor of English
Jan Cooper, John Charles Reid Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition and English
William Patrick Day, Professor of English and Cinema Studies; Director, Cinema Studies
DeSales Harrison, Associate Professor of English; Director, Creative Writing
Wendy Beth Hyman, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature
T. Scott McMillin, Professor of English
Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, Donald R. Longman Professor of English and Cinema Studies
Jeffrey Pence, Associate Professor of English and Cinema Studies
Geoff Pingree, Professor of Cinema Studies and English
Danielle Skeehan, Assistant Professor of English
Harrod Suarez, Associate Professor of English and Comparative American Studies
Natasha Tessone, Associate Professor of English
Carol Tufts, Associate Professor of English and Theater
David L. Walker, Professor of English and Creative Writing
Sandra Abelson Zagarell, Emerita Donald R. Longman Professor of English


English, or the practice of literary study, is integral to the work of the Humanities. Interpretation is integral to the work we do in English. For students who enroll in courses in the English department, the “literary” remains a crucial, but not the only, operative category of thought or object of study. Students will come to understand that literary study is more than textual analysis, but also a way of viewing the world, a set of transferable skills and practices, a capacity for creativity, and a heightened awareness of how all kinds of formal and cultural practices make their meanings. Reading texts is the center of what we do. But collectively, we attend not only to poetics, but also the poetics of culture.  Classes are organized, in other words, by animating questions that turn to a wide array of literary and non-literary objects to answer. Student inquiry revolves around making meaning, nourishing better thinking, and cultivating effective communication, and assisting students in the making of meaningful lives.


Further information about the Department, faculty and courses is available online ( 

Advanced Placement

Students who earn a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement Examination in English Literature/Composition will receive credit for one full course. For course credit toward graduation granted for IB scores of 5, 6, and 7, see the Admissions section of the catalog on the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program. Courses awarded for Advanced Placement or IB scores do not count towards the English major.


Types of Courses: Overview

Interpretation, the making of meaning through textual study, involves a mix of modes:

  • Examination: careful attention to the details of a text and its general nature
  • Explication: connecting details & contexts to create plausible meanings for a text 
  • Extrapolation: connecting the meanings of a text to broader questions
  • Reflection: self-evaluation of one’s process of making meaning; further thought on the meanings being made


These modes do not necessarily occur sequentially; each interacts with the other, multiplying the possibilities for meaningful encounters with texts. The course offerings of the Department of English represent the numerous ways in which these modes of interpretation can be practiced, with each level of the curriculum emphasizing a particular mode but also its connection to interpretation as a whole.

The English Department welcomes students who are not majors into its advanced courses.  The expectations of skills in interpretation and written expression increase at each level, and students should balance their interest in a topic with their sense of readiness for a course’s demands.


100-Level Courses

  • Emphasize Examination; introduce students to different types of texts and interpretive practices.


First-Year Seminars

Although these small Writing Intensive seminars do not count as part of the English major, they are nonetheless highly recommended.

Courses Primarily for Non-Majors

The English Department offers several 100-level courses intended to serve a general audience interested in learning about literature from topical approaches.  Such courses do not normally qualify as Writing Intensive classes.  One 100-level course may be counted toward the major.

200-Level Courses

  • Emphasize Explication; identification of significant textual elements, explanation of what they mean in different contexts, connection of text and contexts to create meaning.
  • Most English courses above the 100 level are Writing Intensive or Writing Advanced courses.

300-Level Courses

  • Emphasize Extrapolation; drawing larger ideas, questions, and themes from a text; implications of a text’s meanings in other contexts; application of interpretation to other issues.
  • These courses are smaller in size to facilitate more intensive work than the 200-level courses.

400-Level Courses

  • Emphasize Reflection on the interpretive process, connecting different modes of interpretation, further application of interpretation.
  • English majors are required to successfully complete a 400-level course to fulfill the major. The three options for fulfilling the 400-level course requirement are: a Senior Tutorial, a Senior Seminar, or admission to the Honors Program (see below for Honors). Application for a 400-level course will be required of rising seniors in the second semester of the junior year.
  • Senior Tutorials allow students to pursue an individual project in a small group supervised by a faculty member whose areas of expertise may shape the projects directed. Tutorials are available only to senior English majors.
  • Senior Seminars offer students an opportunity to focus on a common set of critical issues and works, and to conduct significant research leading to a substantial final project. If spaces remain in Senior Seminars after all senior English majors have been accommodated, they will be available, by application, to other qualified students.


Major Declaration

The English major is designed to meet the needs of students with various goals, including those seeking a foundation for postgraduate work or study in fields related to English (e.g., education, communications, media, editing and publishing, law, theater, etc.); and those who want a humanistic base in reading, thinking, and writing for a liberal arts education without established career plans.  The English major has proven to be valuable training - in attentiveness, complex thinking, interaction, communication - for virtually all professions.  Many students realize that English is a complementary second major, given that it aims to educate a person broadly, rather than train for a specific path.

Students interested in graduate work in English should consult with their advisors about crafting a pathway to that goal.

Before declaring the major in English, students must complete the following, in consultation with an advisor (a faculty member in the Department): a one-page Plan for the Major, including a brief narrative explaining the student’s motivations and goals; and the Declaration of Major form (available from the AARC/Registrar’s Office).  These Plans are important and will be revisited and revised across the student’s career at Oberlin.  There is not a single English Major sequence.  Instead, students, in consultation with their advisors and other faculty, are asked to co-create a customized track through the major.  The Plan will be updated regularly, giving the student a chance to articulate choices, goals, and to refine both over time.

The Department offers a flexible major that can be customized to student interest, within certain limits of course type and level.

Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C- or P cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the major or minor.


English Major Requirements

The major in English consists of the following requirements:

  • 11 courses total
  • 1 course pre-1800 (minimum; required)
  • 1 100-level course may count (maximum; not required; FYSP courses do not apply)
  • 2 200-level courses (minimum; required)
  • 4 300-level courses (minimum; required)
  • 3 courses outside of English related to the major (maximum; recommended)
  • 1 400-level capstone experience (minimum; required) 

The English Major in Practice

Students will work closely with their advisors to craft a pathway, which is revisited each term, reflecting their evolving interests in interpretive practice. Individual majors will be similar, but there is no expectation that they will be identical. Here are some examples of how students with particular interests might create a coherent cluster of courses that develop expertise in specific areas, while also pointing toward meaningful work and experiences after Oberlin. 


Interested in being a librarian/archivist, editor/publisher, or “maker”? Consider classes in

    • Pens and Needles: Gender and Media in Early America
    • What was a Book? What is a Book?
    • Hopeful Monsters: Mixed Media Studies
    • Gaines, Morrison, Wideman: Textualizing Orality and Literacy
    • 18th c. British Novel and Print History
    • The Archive: Theories and Practices


Interested in understanding American culture, cities, and public sphere? Consider classes in:

    • Thirteen Ways of Looking at Sports
    • Contemporary American Fiction
    • Modernist Chicago: Urban Literature and Sociology
    • Itineraries of Postmodernism
    • 19th Century New York: Writing the Modern City
    • Cultures of Basketball
    • Contemporary Drama: 1980-Present


Interested in emotion/psychology, the helping professions, teaching? Consider classes in

    • Fictions of Empathy
    • American Gothic
    • Teaching Tutoring and Writing Across the Disciplines
    • History and Theory of the Novel
    • Shakespeare and Metamorphosis
    • Welfare Queens and Tiger Moms: Narratives of the Maternal
    • Nature and Transcendentalism


Interested in art, aesthetics, and literary form? An MFA? Museums? Consider classes in

    • Visuality, Materiality, and Renaissance Literature
    • Ars Poetica
    • Image and Enlightenment
    • European Modernism and the World
    • Call and Response: Blues and Jazz in American Literature
    • Women In/And “Bollywood”


Interested in the nature of knowledge, belief, thought, and value? Consider classes in:

    • Imagining Immanence
    • Nature and Transcendentalism
    • The Bible’s Poets and the Poets Bible
    • Literature and the Scientific Revolution
    • Sports Literature and Cultural Fantasy
    • Realism: 1800 to the Present
    • Early Medieval Literature: From Virgil to Dante
    • From Frankenstein to Dracula
    • Ovid in the Middle Ages


Interested in activism, identity, politics, and social renewal? Consider classes in:

    • Promise and Peril: Race and Multicultural America
    • Constructing the Subject: African American Women and Auto/Biography
    • New Orleans, New England: The Regional and the National
    • Globalization and Diaspora
    • Bollywood’s India
    • Romantic Revolutions
    • Race, Gender, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    • American Drama


Interested in a Ph.D. in English, or historical/cultural organizations? Consider classes in

    • Medieval British Literature
    • Romantics and Their World
    • Six Poets: 1855-1955
    • Meaning and Being: Nature in 19th C. American Narrative
    • Anglophone Postcolonial Literatures
    • Modern Drama: Ibsen to Pirandello    

For any of these choices you may want to round things out with some classes in:

  • CRITICAL METHODS, such as:
    • Contemporary Literary Theory: Postmodernity and Imagination
    • Introduction to Comparative Literature
    • Words and Things
    • Literary Cognitive Linguistics
    • Globalization and Diaspora



An English minor consists of at least five full course equivalents in English, including:

  • two courses at the 200 level
  • two courses at the 300 level
  • one additional course at any level


Honors in English is an intensive year-long program that will also fulfill the requirement for a 400-level course for the major. The two-semester program will include supervised research with a faculty member, submission of a 35-page essay (or equivalent project), and an oral examination on that project. During the Fall semester, Honors students will meet in a seminar to discuss their projects and common issues in literary criticism and theory.  Successful work in the Honors Program will render a student eligible for consideration for Honors at graduation, but it does not guarantee such Honors.

Students hoping to do Honors are advised to complete the majority of their major requirements and to have done significant work at the advanced level (in 300-level courses) by the end of their junior year.

Qualified students may apply for the Honors program during the second semester of their junior year on the basis of their previous record in English. Students should confer with potential faculty supervisors to design a project proposal. Acceptance into the Honors program will be based on a minimum major GPA of at least 3.33, the availability of faculty supervisors, the coherence and feasibility of the proposal, and a strong writing sample.

Transfer of Credit

No more than three full courses of transfer credit in English literature may be applied to the Oberlin English major. (Note: “English literature” generally excludes basic composition, creative writing, and more than one course in literature not written in English.) To have transfer credit approval toward the major and/or toward meeting prerequisites for upper-level courses, students should consult the faculty member in charge of Transfer of Credit (inquire at the Department office), with relevant materials in hand.

Winter Term

Winter Term projects sponsored by English faculty will be offered according to the interests and availability of staff.

Composition Courses

Students interested in taking introductory-level courses in expository writing should see the “Rhetoric and Composition” section of this catalog. Descriptions of writing-oriented courses and procedures to be followed in order to meet the college-wide writing requirements may be found there.

First-Year Seminars

Although first-year seminars do not count toward the English major (which begins with classes at the 200 level), they are an excellent preparation for introductory literary study. For descriptions, please see “First-Year Seminar Program.”

Courses Primarily for Non-Majors

The English Department offers several 100-level courses intended to serve a general audience interested in learning about literature from topical approaches.  Such courses do not normally qualify as Writing Intensive classes.

200-Level Courses

Courses at the 200 level are designed for students interested in the discipline of literary study in English.  These courses focus on fundamental issues and methods of interpretation in critical reading and writing, substantial coverage of texts, and instruction in the conventions of genre, period, and region as appropriate.

Prerequisites: These courses are open to students who have completed any Writing Intensive course, or have gained Writing Certification in any course in the Humanities. They are also open to those who have achieved a 5 on the AP exam in English Language/Composition or English Literature/Composition; or a score of 6 or 7 on the International Baccalaureate (IB). Other students may be admitted by consent of the instructor, with the understanding that students should be able to demonstrate skills typically taught in Writing Intensive classes (e.g. writing, discussion, and textual analysis).

Senior Tutorials and Seminars

Senior Tutorials and Senior Seminars are designed primarily for English majors, and fulfill the 400-level requirement for the English major. Rising senior English majors should apply for tutorials and seminars through a common application available at the Department office, not through individual instructors. Some places in seminars may be available for other qualified students after all English majors have been accommodated, by application to the Department.

Prerequisite: Admission based on a completed application form (available at the Department office, Rice 130).

Honors and Private Readings

Honors in English is only open to students who have been admitted through the application process.  Private Readings are available to students who have completed introductory coursework in the Department.

London Program

Frequently an English Department faculty member serves as co-director of the Danenberg Oberlin-in-London Program, thereby facilitating applications for English majors interested in that semester’s program. For further information, see the section of the catalog entitled ‘London Program.’

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