Concentrator Guide, Class of '23 & Beyond

Humans make meaning: we can’t help ourselves. We tell stories; we arrange patterns in words, and those patterns affect everything we do. They represent us to ourselves and others, and they change the world. English concentrators study—and create—art made out of words: fiction and nonfiction, tragedy, comedy, lyric, and much more. By studying English literature, you will learn to interpret the verbal expression of others and to make the meanings you want for yourself—skills more crucial than ever in a digital age, when so many words travel so fast. You’ll also visit the dazzling imaginary worlds that have brought readers and writers together across vast expanses of space and time. As you encounter many cultures and many lives in poems, novels, screenplays, playscripts, comics, and hip hop rhymes, you will discover new ways of living in and bettering our interconnected communities.

Pathways

As an English concentrator you can pursue either the Honors Program or the Elective Program, which requires between 12 and 14 courses. A third option, for honors candidates only, is a joint concentration, which culminates in a thesis supervised by faculty in English and one other department. As an honors candidate you must maintain a concentration grade point average of 3.40 or higher and 3.60 or higher for the joint concentration.

StaticCards3

Honors Program
14 Courses

4 Common Courses
  • English 10: Literature Today
  • English 20: Literary Forms
  • English 97: Literary Methods
  • English 98r: Junior Tutorial
3 Guided Electives
One course from each time period below covering texts written:
  • Before 1700
  • Between 1700 and 1900
  • Between 1900 and 2000
5 or 6 Open Electives
Five (if two semesters of 99r) or six (if one semester of 99r) English Department courses, of which:

  • one may be a related course from outside the department.
  • two may be creative writing workshops.
Senior Thesis or Project
  • English 99r: Two semesters for a thesis; one semester for a project.
    This may be a critical or (by application) creative thesis or project.

Elective Program
12 Courses

4 Common Courses
  • English 10: Literature Today
  • English 20: Literary Forms
  • English 97: Literary Methods
  • English 98r: Junior Tutorial
3 Guided Electives
One course from each time period below covering texts written:

  • Before 1700
  • Between 1700 and 1900
  • Between 1900 and 2000
5 Open Electives
Five more courses, of which:

  • one may be a related course from outside the department.
  • two may be creative writing workshops.

Joint Program
7 or 9 Courses

4 Common Courses
  • English 10: Literature Today
  • English 20: Literary Forms
  • English 97: Literary Methods
  • English 98r: Junior Tutorial
3 Guided Electives
One course from each time period below covering texts written:

  • Before 1700
  • Between 1700 and 1900
  • Between 1900 and 2000
Senior Thesis
  • English 99r: Two semesters for a thesis, if English is the primary field.
  • If English is the allied field, the thesis courses are registered in the primary department.

Common Courses

  • English 10. Literature Today
  • English 20. Literary Forms
  • English 97. Sophomore Tutorial: Literary Methods
  • English 98r. Junior Tutorial

The path through English normally begins with the Gateway Course, Course, English 10. Literature Today. This wide-ranging lecture course, exploring writing since the year 2000, is geared particularly towards students in their first or second years as an introduction to English literary study at Harvard. Encountering work by contemporary writers from around the world, speaking to today's urgent problems—exclusionary and divisive politics, economic disruption, technological innovation, social alienation, racism, misogyny, colonialism—students will grapple with how and why reading and writing still matters. The course includes opportunities to learn more about the English department, including our creative writing workshops.

Our two Common Courses, normally completed by the end of sophomore year, give students the tools they need to succeed in the concentration. English 20. Literary Forms, introduces the concepts of style, form, and genre, exploring how writers use literary language to address personal and societal concerns and challenges. English 97. Sophomore Tutorial: Literary Methods, looks at the questions that arise when we make literature an object of study. What is literary interpretation? How do our personal histories inform encounters with literature? How do critical race theory, psychology, gender studies, linguistics, political science, philosophy, and more alter our approach to reading and writing? Together, the Gateway and Common Courses provide a shared foundation for literary study among each year's cohort of students.

English 98r. Junior Tutorial, required of all concentrators, is a unique experience within the English Department and provides an opportunity to pursue focused, but flexible, study in a topic of shared interest to tutees and tutors. Encouraging in-depth exploration of topics not normally covered in the English curriculum, the Junior Tutorial also enables students to consolidate and refine critical skills gained in our Common Courses while at the same time exploring possible thesis topics. Rising juniors have the opportunity to identify a thematic, historical, or chronological literary subject they might like to study in their Junior Tutorial. The tutorial is one term and is required of all concentrators.

Guided Electives

Among their electives, concentrators must include three courses focused on literary periods (pre-1700, 1700–1900, and 1900–2000), which provide students the historical knowledge essential to understanding literature's transformations. In studying historical literatures, students learn how each literary period struggles to find new expressions to fit its contemporary moment by building on earlier innovations and styles.

  • At least one course in literature before 1700: Encompassing the medieval, Renaissance, and early modern eras, this 1000-year period witnessed the emergence of English as a literary language in dialogue with multiple ethnic communities in the British Isles, Europe, and increasingly across the world. Amid cultural and political upheaval, writers created new poetic forms, engaged in protest and dissent, explored scientific discoveries, and gauged the impact of a new technology, printing.
  • At least one course in literature between 1700 and 1900: The long transition spanning the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Victorian eras from a feudal and political world of inherited privilege and absolute power to one of increasing democracy, often coupled with imperialism and suppression of indigenous peoples
  • At least one course in literature between 1900 and 2000: Twentieth century writers from Modernism to Postmodernism and Postcolonialism saw the advent of suffragism, black civil rights, total war, the atom bomb, and life-altering technologies from the airplane to the Internet.                          

Senior Thesis or Project

Students in the Honors Program write a two-semester senior honors thesis or a one-semester senior project. In either format, students may investigate a critical topic or produce creative work. Professors in the English faculty direct all theses or projects. ​​​​​​

  • The Senior Thesis: The two-term senior tutorial, English 99r, culminates in an honors thesis. Students may investigate any critical or research question in literary studies, or may write an imaginative work in any creative genre. Theses are by application during the junior year. Students applying to write a creative thesis should have taken at least one course in creative writing by the middle of their junior year. Thesis applicants may be asked to propose a senior project in its place.
  • The Senior Project: Students may instead complete a senior project in the fall semester. Senior projects may resemble senior theses, but on a smaller scale, or may explore more public-facing forms of writing. Students who choose this option will be eligible to receive a departmental degree recommendation of “honors” or “high honors.”

Open Electives

In the rest of their coursework, students will pursue a range of topics and approaches, always exploring how literature reflects and changes the world. Through your electives, you will acquire knowledge of the global breadth and historical depth of writing in English; some of the myriad bodies of imaginative writing produced in the English language, in its many and proliferating forms, across space and time; the roles of genres, intellectual traditions, and media, and of the cultural forces of privilege and marginalization that shape literary production; and the history of English studies as a field, and what is at stake in that history.

Students may count up to two creative writing workshops toward their open electives. Admission to these courses is by application only.

Students may petition to count one related course (ordinarily from other humanities departments) as an English elective.

The Concentration GPA & Grading Basis Notes

All letter-graded courses taught by English department faculty will count for the concentration grade point average. Courses counting for concentration credit must be taken for a letter grade. The only exception is one Freshman Seminar, if taught by a member of the English department faculty, which is graded SAT/UNS.

Back to top