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The English Department at Johns Hopkins aims to introduce students to the richness of literature in English and to train them in critical analysis of its formal, thematic, and cultural complexities.  It does so by providing a broad sampling of literature from different historical periods and national contexts.  Through associated instruction in a foreign language, it aims to instill in students a better understanding of linguistic and cultural diversity.  And it aims to improve students’ ability to communicate their ideas about literature in both oral and written forms. Undergraduates are offered courses that provide the core of a liberal education in the humanities and, for those who intend to pursue careers in teaching and scholarship, the basis for advanced study of literature.  These courses range from historical surveys of English and American literature and introductory courses in critical methods to advanced courses and seminars in particular periods, authors, genres, and literary issues.

English Major

Goals of the English Major

Knowledge of Literature in English

The core proficiency in our discipline lies in gaining a familiarity with a wide range of authors and literary works.  The specific goals listed below strive to achieve a balance between coverage (of different genres of writing, as well as of different historical periods) and intensive, focused study.  The latter provides the advanced critical skills necessary for literary study while the former provides the materials on which these skills are exercised.  Students majoring in English at Johns Hopkins are expected to:

* acquire familiarity with literature in English from a variety of historical periods and national settings
* develop an understanding of various literary modes and genres, including prose fiction, poetry,      drama, autobiography, and non-fiction
*explore selected topics and issues in depth and with sophistication
* learn to express themselves with fluency and precision, and to present complex arguments in a rigorous and coherent fashion

Knowledge of the Basic Practices and Principles of Formal Literary Criticism

Because literary language is distinguished from other linguistic modes by its conspicuous deployment of form to enhance meaning, an understanding of the formal resources of literature is the bedrock on which all other kinds of literary study are founded.  The vocabulary and methodology of formal analysis are taught in the Department’s mandatory introductory course.  In subsequent course work, students increase their knowledge of the constituents of poetry and prose fiction such as prosody, figurative language, lyric and narrative structure, and point of view, and learn to apply these concepts in the practical criticism of texts in different modes and genres.

Knowledge of a Foreign Language

The English Department requires students to know at least one foreign language well enough to read literature in that language.  Study of a foreign language enhances awareness of the grammatical, lexical, and expressive resources both of the language under study and of English.  Ability to read in a language other than English allows students to understand both the relations and the differences among national literatures, and thus to grasp with greater precision the specificity of English literary culture while enjoying an increased diversity of literary experience.  Students are expected to demonstrate skill in a foreign language by studying a language through a full year at the intermediate level or by passing a test indicating comparable proficiency.

Requirements of the English Major

The Director of Undergraduate Studies, along with the Department Chair, reviews the curriculum every semester to ensure that course offerings cover a variety of literary genres as well as a wide range of historical periods.  In addition, majors are required to meet with their departmental advisors every semester prior to registration in order to review course choices and design an appropriate schedule.  An advisor is normally assigned at the beginning of the sophomore year. 

The Department’s gateway course, Introduction to Literary Study, introduces students to the basic mechanisms of analyzing both poetry and prose fiction.  Among their ten required courses, all majors must take a minimum of two and a maximum of four lecture courses, most of which are surveys of a broad topic.  These include a two-semester sequence covering major works of British literature from the middle ages to the twentieth century, Shakespeare, the Victorian novel, American literature, the modern novel, and comparable topics.  Majors must also take a minimum of three pre-1800 courses to ensure historical diversity in course selection. 

Many of our advanced seminars (course numbers in the 300 range and on occasion in the 200 and 400 range) are designed to explore issues or authors in depth.  Some of these focus on single authors, others on small constellations of authors, others still on historically or thematically focused topics.  In addition, the English department’s Senior Essay Option allows majors with the requisite G.P.A. to produce a 30-page paper on a selected topic.  To supplement the regular offerings of the curriculum, undergraduate majors who have completed six hours of English beyond the introductory courses may arrange independent reading or research with the consent of a faculty member.  In certain cases, undergraduates may be admitted to graduate seminars.

English majors are required to study at least one foreign language beyond the elementary level and to supplement their English courses with at least two introductory (non-English Department) courses in the humanities and/or social sciences (fields such as history, philosophy, political science, and the history of science).  Appropriate course selections in these fields are also worked out with the guidance of a departmental advisor.

Download the English Major Requirements Checklist

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English Minor

Download the English Minor Requirements Checklist

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Honors in English

All English majors who earn a cumulative average of 3.6 in literature courses counting toward the major are eligible to graduate with honors. This average is computed from grades for the following kinds of courses:

  1. English 107, “Introduction to Literary Study.”
  2. Courses at the 200 level or above offered by the English Department at Johns Hopkins, including independent study and directed reading courses, summer courses, graduate courses, and any courses cross-listed with English. (Intersession courses do not count since they do not receive letter grades. “Covered” freshman grades also do not count.)
  3. Courses from other departments at Hopkins where permission has been granted to you individually to count them toward the literature component of the major.

For the purposes of honors, departmental GPA is calculated on the basis of all courses that fall within the three categories described above. You may not limit the categories or number of included courses so as to boost your average. Even if you have taken more than the number of English courses needed to fulfill requirements for the major, you must include all of those courses when calculating your departmental GPA.

Courses fulfilling the foreign language or the general humanities requirement for the major do not count in the calculation of GPA for honors in English. Courses taken at other institutions (study abroad programs, transfer credits, summer instruction, and so on) that have been approved as fulfilling the literature requirement for the major also do not count in determination of honors eligibility, save in one exceptional case.

Exception: If your GPA for courses in the three categories named above falls just below 3.6 as you near graduation and you believe you have done superior work in courses taken under the auspices of Study Abroad, you may petition the Director of Undergraduate Studies to consider you for honors. The DUS will examine your grades (and perhaps written work) for courses taken abroad and decide whether elevation to honors is appropriate. Such elevation is entirely at the discretion of the DUS. Under no circumstances will grades for courses at U.S. institutions apart from Hopkins, or for courses taken abroad prior to enrollment at Hopkins, be weighed in determining eligibility for honors.

If you think you may be eligible to graduate with honors, you should download an online honors checklist form from Academic Advising at, then fill out the checklist and have it approved by the DUS of English. Students who plan to graduate in May should submit the form no later than March 23rd. Students who plan to graduate in January should submit the form no later than December 1st. For purposes of listing in the commencement program, provisional honors will be calculated on the basis of work prior to the student’s final semester at Hopkins. For purposes of notation on transcript, honors will be calculated on the basis of work through the student’s final semester at Hopkins.


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Senior Essay option

The English Department offers qualified majors the option of writing a senior essay. This is to be a one-semester project undertaken in the fall of the senior year,  resulting in an essay of 30-35 pages. The senior essay counts as a three-credit course which can be applied toward the requirements for the major.

Each project will be assigned both an advisor and a second reader. In addition, students writing essays will meet as a group with the DUS once or twice in the course of the project.

The senior essay option is open to all students with a cumulative GPA of 3.8 or higher in English Department courses at the end of the fall term of their junior year. Project descriptions (generally of one to two pages) and a preliminary bibliography should be submitted to a prospective advisor selected by the student from the core faculty. All proposals must be received at least two weeks prior to the beginning of registration period during the spring term of the junior year. Students should meet with the prospective advisor to discuss the project in general terms before submitting a formal proposal. The advisor will determine whether the proposed project is feasible and worthwhile. Individual faculty need not direct more than one approved senior essay per academic year. Acceptance of a proposal will therefore depend on faculty availability as well as on the strength of the proposal itself.

When completed, the senior essay will be judged and graded by the advisor in consultation with the second reader.

The senior essay will not be part of the Department’s honors program, which will continue to be based solely on a cumulative GPA of 3.6 in English Department courses.

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Read the undergraduate FAQ for more information.

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