The question that English majors are typically asked–“What can you do with an English major?”–mirrors one faculty confront themselves: “What do we teach?” Recently posed that question by the Chair, members of the department responded in diverse but complementary ways: we teach students to be careful and passionate readers, we train students in critical thinking and coherent writing. By showing students how to ask questions and negotiate difference we encourage them to ask their own questions, to become conscious of their own assumptions and modes of understanding, and to take responsibility for their acts of interpretation and their public words. These are not separate items, but stages of a process: those who respond passionately and carefully to the works that give them joy revivify the texts that have inspired them, and share their joy with others in persuasive writing and speaking . . . and create new works themselves. Through this process we teach an appreciation of literature and media as art-forms. We conceive literature broadly, in varying genres from different periods and places, and in relation to other media, and we study the relations between works of art and the historical contexts in which they emerge and which their existence alters. In so doing we ask students to encounter texts that differ from our current realities, and to struggle with works that resist immediate intelligibility and yet still speak to us. “Voice” is something both written and spoken, and our collective work is undergirded by the hope that it will prepare students to live in a complex world and to become agents of change in their personal and communal lives within it. We study the past to shape a future.
This description of the department is necessarily general. We encourage viewers to turn to the department blog and the faculty pages to gain a more specific sense of who we are and what we do. Our courses range from ancient epic to contemporary global literature, not all of it Anglophone. Recurrent themes run through the traditional periods of literary study: gender studies; poetry and poetics; cultural contact and translation, exploration, colonialism, post-colonialism and immigration; the self-fashioning of autobiographical writing; rhetoric and composition; technology and the environment and humanities and the environment; affect and memory; the relations of literature and science as well as of literature and art, music and film. The moderate size of the department is augmented by frequent collaborations with other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences including History, Sociology, Philosophy, European Languages and Literatures, Africana Studies, Hispanic Languages and Literature, Art, Cultural Analysis and Theory, and a readiness to undertake others. Many of these involve initiatives with the Humanities Institute. Graduate students take courses beyond the department, and also beyond the university through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium. The faculty pages will also attest to the awards won by the faculty, from SUNY and nationally, including major fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as the works they have published.
Our undergraduates go on to success in many fields: medical school, law school, MBA programs, graduate study in literature, national service organizations, the arts and business. The outstanding English Teacher Education Program attracts some of the strongest of our majors and also offers an MAT. Many of our MA students go on to distinguished doctoral programs, and we are proud to say that our own doctoral students hold tenure-track and tenured positions from New York to Idaho, from Michigan and Wisconsin to Pennsylvania and Connecticut, from Massachusetts to South Carolina.
Department of English, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5350 - Undergraduate: 631 632-7400 | Graduate: 631 632-7373