English Department Profile


We find ourselves in awe of the power of words – drawn in by Shakespeare’s versatile language, Ernest Hemingway’s simple yet vivid images, and Toni Morrison’s intriguing characters and plots. Since knowledge of literature and the ability to read and write effectively are so widely applicable, a major in English at Whitman will help prepare you for any field that requires a disciplined imagination and respect for language. Literary works are studied in the context of historical periods and within the history of ideas; as particular literary forms (the novel, poetry, drama); as a body of works by one author (for example, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, or Faulkner); and as a special area (myth, religious poetry, or satire.)

As a department, we are committed to offering a variety of courses that encourage you to read critically, write effectively, and think creatively. Emphasizing traditional literary study as well as interdisciplinary topics and approaches, we strive to provide you with the opportunity to appreciate major works in English and American literature as well as world literature in translation. We also feel that it is crucial to foster class discussion of current topics in literary study.

Whitman’s English program is consistently among the most popular departments at the College. Our expository writing courses, limited to 15 students, improve your writing by emphasizing frequent writing (daily and weekly) and immediate feedback from peers and your professor. In addition to studying literature, you may enjoy creating your own poetry or fiction in a creative writing course at either the introductory, intermediate, or advanced level. The workshop setting of the creative writing courses will enable you to develop as a writer and a reader, giving criticism to your peers and improving your own aesthetic style based upon feedback. Innovative approaches to writing have emphasized journals, one-paragraph or one-page papers, workshops, and face-to-face professor-student grading.

The major requirements in English reflect our department’s commitment to a study of literary traditions and the expectation that majors read widely in English and American literature. Majors take four period courses (including at least two in English literature – one of which must be before 1800 – and one in American literature); one course in Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Milton; and two upper-level electives. In the junior or senior year as an English major, you will take a seminar in English and American Literature, which will enable you to gain experience in oral presentations and to develop a significant research paper. In the final semester, you will complete your requirements with written exams in three areas and an oral exam on a work of literature.

One of our department’s most important resources is the Penrose Memorial Library. Penrose is one of only a few college libraries in the nation open 24 hours a day during the academic year. Penrose houses 2,100 periodical titles, over 200,000 government documents, and more than 400,000 catalogued volumes. The ORBIS system will give you prompt access to more than 26 million volumes in college and university libraries in the region. Whitman offers collaborative projects with faculty members as well as paid and volunteer positions with college publications. You might write for The Pioneer, Whitman’s student-run newspaper, or contribute poetry or short stories to the Blue Moon and the Women’s Center journal. Students also write articles for the alumni magazine and various marketing publications and write copy for disc jockeys on KWCW-FM, the college radio station.

Past English majors have entered a broad range of graduate and professional programs: graduate work in English, divinity, medical, and law schools, professional programs in library science, management, technical writing, and publishing (for example, the Radcliffe, NYU, and Denver programs), and graduate study in such other fields as anthropology, history, theatre, comparative literature, journalism, American studies, and education. Graduates also own companies, work as consultants, and are self-employed. They animate Disney films, publish novels, edit journals, report the news, and teach at all levels, from elementary to university.