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.
Department of English, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5350 - Undergraduate: 631 632-7400 | Graduate: 631 632-7373