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It’s recently been reported that Harvard University is considering changing the core requirements of its English department, specifically a course on English poets, because some students have complained that the curriculum is “too white.” It would be nice if such people would actually look at these requirements in the context in which they are assigned: they might learn something – which is, after all, the point and purpose of a college or university education. English Poets is part of a 3-course “Common Ground” sequence at Harvard, “Each of which investigates important works of English literature from its own perspective, and a course in Shakespeare, the key figure of the English literary canon. ‘Arrivals’ introduces students to the first thousand years of the English literary tradition, up to 1700: this is a course in literary history. ‘Poets’ [the course at issue] teaches the methods required to read and interpret a variety of kinds of poetry: this is a course in literary form. ‘Migrations’ follows the spread of English literature to the Americas and beyond from 1700 to the present: this is a course in literary topography and geography.”

With respect to Migrations, a specifically multicultural approach is taken: “These courses attend to the spread, and the transformation, of literature in English as it became established in North America and other English-speaking sites around the globe. All Migrations courses include American literature from more than one century, and all include, without being restricted to, the literature of the United States, read within a variety of possible transnationals contexts. Within these parameters, courses vary widely. Central works of the American literary canon will be studied alongside other literatures or in relation to specific themes.”

The website further notes that “The Common Ground and Shakespeare courses do not pretend to offer a complete map of the field of English studies. They do, however, create a basic template on which students can extend their own maps, while promoting the attentive reading and sharpened writing in literary analysis required by the program.” That is to say, they are building-block courses: they lay the foundation on which one’s specific personal interests can be built. Several options are offered within the major, including Elective, Honors, and Joint concentrations.

Elective, obviously, offers the greatest scope for students to tailor the rest of their program to their own interests, with eight additional courses above the four required ones; one must involve Shakespeare – again, the seminal figure in English literature – two may be creative writing workshops, and two may be related courses from outside the English Department. Honors concentrators take eleven additional courses, of which one must be Foreign Literature – it’s a requirement. Joint concentrators have only to take five additional courses in the English department, but again, one of those must be Foreign Literature.

It is, I must confess, difficult for me to understand why anyone who has a problem with any of this would choose to major in English literature, in the first place! Especially when there are a variety of other concentrations available, including African and African American Studies, East Asian Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, South Asian Studies, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Furthermore, any of those would – I feel quite confident – be approved as a joint concentration, for students desiring to graduate with a degree in literature.

The combination of arrogance, ignorance, idiocy, and lack of imagination represented by the students complaining simply boggles my mind. That Harvard would even consider bowing to this level of absurdity boggles it even more.

Sources for Harvard information: and


iPatriot Contributers


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