Studying English

The study of English includes both the analysis of texts and awareness of contexts. The kinds of texts that are analyzed in English courses range from the classic to the contemporary, from handwritten letters, medieval romances, Shakespearian tragedies, morality plays and epic tales to videogames, protest songs, cartoons, detective novels and students’ own academic essays.  The wide range of human experience represented in these texts can provide the student with what Kenneth Burke has called “equipment for living.” In more practical terms, the discipline of English fosters the development of various human skills: it requires the student to think, and to use language with clarity, judgment, and imagination.

Literary works are also connected in various ways to their social, cultural, and political contexts. For this reason, thinking about particular texts often raises questions about how literature relates to history, philosophy, politics, religion, biography, and the fine arts as well. The literary work turns out to be a link between an individual sensibility and the rest of the world. The value of English studies therefore, though difficult to quantify, can be discovered both in the largest currents of our culture, and in the smallest nuances of our language.

English at Dalhousie

The Department of English at Dalhousie University is one of the oldest in Canada.  It has been in operation since 1865, when the first Professor of Rhetoric, James de Mille, was appointed.  The Department awarded its first Master's degrees in 1903, and its first PhD in 1973.

Our Graduate Programs are small and select:  we take in eight to ten MA students per year, and about two to three new doctoral students. There are thus up to thirty current graduate students with workspace in the Department in a given year.  Students are attracted to our graduate programs by the research and teaching strength of our faculty as well as the intimacy and collegiality of the department. They know that, at Dalhousie, they will be able to take the seminars they want, have personal, supportive relationships with their colleagues and advisors, and develop and pursue in depth their own scholarly interests. Recent M.A. and Ph.D. students have come to us from universities across Canada, including the universities of Victoria, Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba as well as Queen’s, McGill, and Concordia; others have come from programs in the United States, the United Kingdom, Serbia and India.

Our Undergraduate Program has been designed to allow students to develop a sense of the shape and scope of English, the allure of its many aspects, the kinds of questions it raises, the reality of its contact with the world. Our curriculum, through a series of period requirements and a necessary focus on close reading, theory, or literary criticism, is designed to convey the historical depth and richness of literature in English and to pass on the basic techniques of the discipline for considering literature critically. At the same time, we are fully committed to representing and advancing new areas of, and approaches to, scholarship and teaching.  We want our programs to embody the contemporary, as well as the historic richness of the language, new as well as established ways of considering the study of texts.