Guide for Concentrators

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.

Students pursuing double concentrations who are writing English Department senior theses should normally plan to designate English as their honors field. (Even if a student is writing theses in both their concentrations, only one can have that status.) If there is a compelling reason to designate the other concentration as the “honors field,” please see the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

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.                          

    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.

    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. English Department 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 second semester of the junior year. 
    • The Senior Project: Students may instead complete a senior project in the fall semester. Senior projects resemble senior theses, but on a smaller scale with respect to both the length of the submitted work and the duration of the project (one semester, rather than two). Students who choose this option will be eligible to receive a departmental degree recommendation of “high honors” or “honors.”

    Senior Thesis and Senior Project applications are due Spring 2023.

    For Out-of-Phase students, Senior Thesis and Senior Project applications are due Fall 2022.

    Applying to the Senior Thesis or Senior Project

    In March of the Junior year, students on the English Honors track must apply to complete either a Senior Thesis or Senior Project. Either may be critical or creative.

    Creative theses or projects consist of original literary work in poetry, fiction, nonfiction (essays, journalism), playwriting, or screenwriting, and are advised by faculty of the Creative Writing Program. In addition to fulfilling other concentration requirements for the Honors Program, including the junior tutorial, students applying for a creative writing thesis or project ordinarily will have completed one course in creative writing at Harvard before they apply. Applications consist of a brief cover letter, a description of the proposed project, and a writing sample. Students apply to a genre, rather to an individual faculty advisor. Creative Writing Program faculty review all senior thesis and senior project applications, and perform a careful advisor/advisee matching process for admitted students. 

    Critical thesis or project proposals consist of abstracts of 300-500 words, including a tentative bibliography. Acceptable critical senior thesis or project topics may include any aspect of British, American, or global literature in English. Students seeking to write a critical thesis or project are responsible for securing a faculty advisor. This is best done by contacting one or more members of the departmental faculty at the time you are formulating your topic. It is especially helpful to have a member of the departmental faculty read and sign your proposal before you submit it. Students whose proposals are accepted will then submit a summer reading list, made in consultation with their advisor.

    Most thesis or project proposals are only accepted after some revisions, requested by the committees reviewing applications. Students may be asked by the committees, or in consultation with potential advisors, to revise their arguments, the scope of their proposed work, or to switch from a project to a thesis, or vice versa. These requests mark the beginning of the essential advising process, in which the advisor’s expertise helps the student transform their initial ideas into a highly accomplished piece of writing. Students should know that capstone work often evolves between application and final deliverable, so one should expect, and take comfort in, the idea that their proposals will shift as they start writing.

    Students who are accepted to write a senior thesis will then enroll in two terms of the senior tutorial (English 99r, SAT/UNSAT grading basis), in which they receive individual advising from a faculty member, or a combination of both a faculty member a graduate student in the field (in cases of the critical thesis). Students who are accepted to write a senior project will enroll in one term of the senior tutorial (English 99r, Letter Grade grading basis), in which they receive individual advising from a faculty member during the Senior fall term. 

    Applications received by the Spring 2023 deadline are guaranteed timely review and attention. Any applications submitted later in the spring will only be reviewed if appropriate thesis/project advisors are still available. Students are strongly encouraged to submit proposals by the original deadline.

    Note to Out-of-Phase Juniors: We ask that any first-semester Junior interested in writing a Creative Senior Thesis apply on-cycle with the Junior class in Spring 2023. This helps ensure equal consideration of student applications during the review period and in making advising assignments.

    Choosing between a Project and a Thesis

    Both the Senior Project and the Senior Thesis are capstones to the English Honors Concentration, completed in the senior year. Both represent serious, sustained engagement with a topic in literary studies, critical or creative, of the student’s own devising. Both are written and extensively revised in consultation with a faculty advisor. Both are eligible for the Hoopes Prize and other Harvard College prizes for writing such as the Bowdoin Prize.

    The Senior Project differs from the Senior Thesis, however, in three main ways. First, projects are of smaller scale than theses. (See below for general guidelines about the length of a senior project and thesis.) Second, work on Senior Projects lasts longer than work for a single class, but occupies less time than a Senior Thesis. And, third, Senior Projects (particularly Critical Senior Projects) may be addressed to wider or more specific audiences than the typical critical thesis, which is an academic research paper. We ask students applying for critical projects to think specifically about publication venues that inspire them and to be imaginative about non-academic audiences for critical projects. Project applications for critical or public-facing work should indicate clearly which publication venues inspire their approach (e.g., an academic journal, The Harvard Advocate, The Drift, n+1, The New Yorker).

    Students are permitted to pursue either a thesis or a project, depending on their wishes. However, during the application review period, advisors will meet with any student whose proposal seems better suited to a project than a thesis, or vice versa. Students should be prepared to discuss their proposal and its scale with prospective advisors after submitting applications, and to adapt their plans accordingly.

    Writing the Critical Thesis

    The senior critical thesis explores a topic – ordinarily dealing with English and American texts (this may not be the case for joint concentrators) – which may be defined in a variety of ways: by author, work, genre, theme, theoretical issue, or historical period. The thesis must be of sufficient originality and interest to merit about ten months of research and writing and should demonstrate knowledge of the criticism written on the subject, from periodicals as well as books. Scrupulous citation of sources must be observed. The thesis should normally be divided into two or three essay-length chapters, plus an introduction or a conclusion, and must include a bibliography. We expect the senior thesis to consist of original work that has not previously been submitted for grading.  

    Research for the thesis often begins at the end of the second term of junior year or during the summer. Critical thesis writers are required, immediately upon returning to campus, to schedule regular meeting times with thesis advisors. In early December students must submit at least twenty pages of the thesis to their advisers; failure to do so will result in being dropped from the senior tutorial. Thesis writers are strongly advised, however, to complete a draft of the entire thesis by the end of the first term, leaving more time for revision, in consultation with the advisor, in the weeks of the spring term leading up to the thesis deadline. Because of the complex procedures necessary for grading theses and determining levels of honors, no exceptions to the spring submission deadline will be made. 

    The Annotated Bibliography and Prospectus: In the first thesis semester, you will complete a substantial annotated bibliography to help guide your research, to be reviewed by your advisor. They will make suggestions or direct you to other faculty who can help you fill in gaps. Depending on where you are in the conception of your thesis project, your advisor may also require that you write a prospectus. This three-page prospectus should define the topic of the thesis, specify the works to be studied, discuss the method of analysis to be used, and state why the project is worthwhile. Submit these document(s) directly to your advisor(s). 

    Writing the Creative Thesis

    The senior creative thesis offers students the opportunity to write a substantial work of creative writing in a single genre: a collection of short stories or portion of a novel for fiction writers; a memoir or set of essays for nonfiction writers; a collection of poetry; a full-length play, screenplay or television script. Students should consider their thesis to be a nearly year-long endeavor--from the time they are notified about their proposals in March of junior year to submission of the finished work in March of senior year. Thesis writers are required to schedule an initial meeting with their advisor upon acceptance to the thesis track and to meet regularly with their advisor starting no later than the start of fall term of senior year. While creative theses are not due until early March, thesis writers are strongly advised to complete a first draft of the entire thesis by the end of the first term. Creative theses are expected to be polished and refined works of creative writing, and students will want the five weeks of the spring term leading up to the thesis deadline to consult with their advisors and revise their initial drafts. We expect creative theses to consist of original work that has not previously been submitted for grading, although some exceptions can be made for theses that build substantially on earlier work. 

    Evaluating the Senior Thesis

    Theses will be graded cum laude (“with praise”), magna cum laude (“with great praise”), and summa cum laude (“with highest praise”), with pluses and minuses (there is no summa plus). Two faculty members who are not the thesis advisor will read and comment on each thesis and give a grade. In the event that the two readers’ marks differ by more than a whole step (e.g., a cum and a magna plus , or a magna minus and a summa), a third reader will be asked to read and grade the thesis (but is not required to write comments). In either case, the final thesis grade will then consist of the average of all grades, with equal weight given to each. 

    Latin grades for final thesis readings correspond to the following values: 

    Summa cum laude: 3.93-4.00 
    Summa cum laude minus: 3.80-3.92
    Magna cum laude plus: 3.67-3.79 
    Magna cum laude: 3.60-3.66 
    Magna cum laude minus: 3.53-3.59 
    Cum laude plus: 3.46-3.52 
    Cum laude: 3.40-3.45 
    Cum laude minus: 3.33-3.39

    Thesis comments and grades will be available in mid-April; thesis writers will be notified by e-mail when all readings are in. Copies of magna through summa level theses will be deposited in the university archives. 

    Writing the Critical Senior Project

    The senior critical project is very similar to the critical thesis. It must be of sufficient originality and interest to merit about four months of research and writing and should demonstrate knowledge of the criticism written on the subject, from periodicals as well as books. Scrupulous citation of sources must be observed. The project should normally be of 8,000–10,000 words, including notes and bibliography. We expect the senior project to consist of original work that has not previously been submitted for grading. 

    Project research often begins at the end of the second term of junior year or over the summer. Critical project writers are required, immediately upon returning to campus, to schedule regular meeting times with project advisors. The project must be submitted to the advisor for assessment by the end of reading period. 

    The Annotated Bibliography and Prospectus: As for the thesis, project writers will complete a substantial annotated bibliography to help guide your research, which will be reviewed by your advisor. They will make suggestions or direct you to other faculty who can help you fill in gaps. Depending on where you are in the conception of your project, your advisor may also require that you write a prospectus. This three-page prospectus should define the topic of the project, specify the works to be studied, discuss the method of analysis to be used, state why the project is worthwhile, and indicate which works model (or which venues publish) the kind of work you aim to produce. Submit these document(s) directly to your advisor(s). 

     

    In allowing students to pursue honors with a senior project as well as a senior thesis, the Department recognizes that a compact piece of writing can be as much of an achievement as a longer piece. The same logic means however that a senior thesis that is abandoned in a half-complete state is unlikely to qualify for honors as a “senior project.” We expect you to decide between a thesis and a project in a mindful, intentional way.

     

    Writing the Creative Senior Project 

    The senior creative project offers students the opportunity to write a substantial work of creative writing in a single genre: around 10,000 words of fiction, comprised of one or several short stories, each complete in its own right; a chapbook of poetry; a portfolio of two short film scripts, totaling ca. 30 pages; a television pilot or play of 30–50 pages. Students should consider their project to be a half-year endeavor — from the time they are notified about their proposals in March of junior year to submission of the finished work in December of senior year. Project writers will be required to schedule an initial meeting with their advisor upon acceptance to meet regularly with their advisor starting no later than the start of fall term of senior year. While creative projects are not due until the end of reading period, thesis writers are strongly advised to complete a first draft of the entire project before the Thanksgiving break. Creative projects are expected to be polished and refined works of creative writing, and students will want final weeks of the term leading up to the submission deadline to consult with their advisors and revise their initial drafts. We expect creative projects to consist of original work that has not previously been submitted for grading, although some exceptions can be made for projects that build substantially on earlier work. 

    In allowing students to pursue honors with a senior project as well as a senior thesis, the Department recognizes that a compact piece of writing can be as much of an achievement as a longer piece. The same logic means however that a senior thesis that is abandoned in a half-complete state is unlikely to qualify for honors as a “senior project.” We expect you to decide between a thesis and a project in a mindful, intentional way.

    Evaluating the Senior Project 

    Projects will be graded on the normal Harvard letter-grade scale, by the project advisor. Students completing a Senior Project will be eligible for High Honors, based on the department’s comparative evaluation of the student’s GPA and Senior Project grade with the grades of other students. 

    Note: Students completing a Senior Project must take an additional, sixth elective course as part of their English Honors Concentration. 

    Honors Oral Examinations

    In order to qualify for a departmental degree recommendation of highest honors (see section on degree recommendations below), all eligible senior honors concentrators must take a forty-five minute oral examination by two faculty members at the end of the final term. To be eligible a senior must have 1) a concentration GPA of 3.80 or higher and 2) have written a senior thesis and received an average of thesis readings in the magna plus range (in where both readings are either magna pluses or at least one of the readings is in the summa range). Seniors will be notified of eligibility in April of senior year. The examination is optional. Eligible seniors who choose not to take the examination will be recommended by the department for high honors.

    The examination is graded with the same Latin designations as the thesis and will be used by the faculty, in conjunction with the concentration GPA and thesis grades, to arrive at a final departmental degree recommendation.

    To take the examination the students must submit, two weeks beforehand, a list of readings gleaned from the student’s time as an English concentrator and the titles of all major course essays written in that time. (Sample lists are shared with students when notifed of their eligibility.)

    Examinees will be expected to demonstrate knowledge of periods, authors, and genres, and to draw connections among them. The examiners will almost certainly not let it get bogged down in discussing all the works in any one area. Mock sessions with tutors, advisors, and classmates may be helpful.

    Departmental Honors Recommendations and College Latin Honors

    In May of each year the full department faculty meets to determine departmental honors, also referred to as “honors in field.” There are four categories: no honors, honors, high honors, and highest honors. A further purpose of this meeting is to provide recommendations to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which decides the level of Latin honors (cum laudemagna cum laude, and summa cum laudeon the basis of the student’s departmental recommendation and overall academic record.

    The determination of Latin honors at the College level is limited to a percentage of the graduating class, roughly as follows: 4-5% summa cum laude, 15% magna cum laude, and 30% cum laude, such that the total of all three types of degrees represents slightly less than 50% of the graduating class.

    New cumulative GPA cutoffs will be determined for each graduating class. For students receiving a November or a March degree, the college applies the cutoffs established for the previous May degrees. For details on this process, see the FAQ page on the web site of the College Dean. You may also want to review the FAS Handbook for Students. Questions should be directed to the registrar’s office or to a student’s Resident Dean.

    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