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Haverford College
Department of English

Learning Goals

The English Department aims to cultivate cultural and media literacy in our students by introducing them to the range of literary traditions, broadly conceived, in the English language, and to familiarize them with major or defining instances of filmic, performative and visual texts. Our courses provide students with opportunities to cultivate particular and deep understanding of specific periods, genres, authors, movements, and aesthetic or analytically significant issues. We constantly create opportunities for our students to grow into discerning and careful readers responsive to formal, stylistic, and thematic elements of texts, and capable of understanding them as responses to the cultural contexts in which they emerge and are read. While we aim to familiarize students with theoretical discussions on the general abstract principles that produce texts, we also help them see texts and traditions (as well as their own interpretations) as emerging out of social and cultural historical contexts. We develop in our students an interdisciplinary approach to reading literature that crosses borders and makes interesting connections with material and methods in other disciplines and cultures. We expect our students to convey their thoughtful and critical responses to literature in precise, elegant, tightly wrought analysis and argument expressed in clear and engaging language, in writing and in speech. Students learn that writing is integral to and mediates their honing of analytical capacities at the local textual and wider conceptual levels. We also teach and require them to convey their ideas and arguments in cogent and fluent oral presentations.

We offer students with talent and interest in creative writing opportunities to practice their craft by understanding literary creativity as inseparable from skills of critical textual analysis, and by scrutinizing the simple understanding of writing as "personal expression."

The Senior Conference

Senior Conference is integral to the entire effect of the curriculum and workings of the department. As the capstone course to the major, it plays a crucial role as the central unifying activity of the students’ own self-understanding and shared sense of purpose, completing as it does the work put in place in Junior Seminar. The course, which carries 1.5 credits, involves two parts: A critical essay based on independent research and reading and a comprehensive oral examination that covers the thesis and the course work the student has done towards the major. Creative Writing concentrators produce, instead of the critical essay, a portfolio of poems or short stories, a novella, or a screen play accompanied by a foreword or afterword that reflects on their artistic choices and offers an analytic framework within which the work may be understood.

In their critical senior thesis, students mark out an area of interest focused on an author, text, genre, theme, or formal feature, familiarize themselves with the major critical voices and debates pertaining to this field, and identify a set of issues that they investigate and analyze in their essays. We look for well-written, persuasive essays that advance interesting and original arguments about texts and interpretations that are based on insightful close readings and smart engagement with relevant critical and background material. The creative theses are assayed for the imagination with which particular projects are conceived, control over the medium, inventive play with generic conventions, insight, clarity and beauty of expression, and the capacity for self-reflection as demonstrated in the critical foreword/afterword.