Caltech Home > HSS Home > Academics > Undergraduate Studies > Humanities Options > English > Additional Information on the English Option
open search form

Additional Information on the English Option

The freshman humanities curriculum in English includes courses in British literature, American literature, and modern European literature. While these freshman courses range widely and tend to be organized historically, they are not meant as surveys of their respective fields. Instead, selected authors, genres, and aesthetic movements are presented as a way of introducing students to essential methods of literary analysis and enriching their appreciation of literary language and form. In conjunction with the freshman humanities program, these courses emphasize clarity in written expression and the ability to develop interpretive arguments in a coherent and persuasive manner.

Advanced courses in English draw on faculty strengths in British and American literary studies but range well beyond these fields to encompass the ancient world, modern European and world literature in translation, and film studies. Traditional period-based study covers the broad history of Western culture, including courses in medieval literature, Renaissance drama, Romantic poetry, American literature before the Civil War, twentieth-century British fiction, and classical Hollywood film. Major developments in genre and literary form are addressed in courses on medieval romance, the early history of the novel, gothic fiction, and Victorian crime fiction. Leading authors are represented in courses on Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. Important issues of gender, ethnicity, and cultural identity are considered in courses on nineteenth-century American women writers, African American literature, ethnic American literature, modern Irish literature, and the global literature of displacement.

Faculty research interests have shaped and reshaped this curriculum, and further courses allow students to explore a range of intriguing conceptual and contextual problems in the history of literature and film. These include courses on literature and reading, on law and literature in the Middle Ages, on the afterlife of Edgar Allen Poe, on American literature and the First Amendment, and on the new Hollywood film of the 1960s and 1970s.

Students pursuing a degree in English have the opportunity to do independent work beyond regular course offerings in literature. En 98, Reading in English, allows students, in consultation with a faculty member, to develop a course of individual directed reading in English or American literature. Humanities Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) funding is available to support summer research projects, and some students have had the opportunity to conduct SURF research at The Huntington.

In their senior year, English option students enroll in two terms of En 99 ab and complete a senior thesis, a major research paper of around 25 to 30 pages. Toward the end of their junior year, in consultation with their option advisor, students should begin the process of identifying a topic of study for their senior thesis. Approval of this topic requires the agreement of an English faculty member prepared to direct the thesis. While this project will draw on writing and critical reading skills developed in previous English coursework, it also allows the student to conduct original research, to develop a more sustained and complex interpretive argument, and to engage with an available body of criticism and interpretive commentary. Senior thesis students are expected to revise and refine their thesis in response to comments and suggestions from the thesis advisor.

NOTE: The official source on requirements for graduation is the Caltech catalog from the year in which a student began studies at Caltech. Please see the catalog online, from this and previous years, for more information regarding the applicable option and minor requirements.