The English major involves reading, understanding, and responding to the most significant works of literature from ancient Greece, Renaissance England, early and modern America, and English-speaking countries in Africa and elsewhere. The basic structure of the major is historical, as study moves from a 200-level survey of periods and types of literature to a more detailed examination of literary periods, with a required course in Shakespeare mixed in. The major culminates in a capstone seminar on one of a variety of topics ranging from a literary problem or period or to an author or genre.
Through their choice of courses and the opportunity for independent study, English majors can build upon these basic requirements and tailor their course of study so as to emphasize genre, literary periods, or creative and professional writing. Students who have excelled in the major may pursue an honors degree, which replaces the capstone seminar with two focused seminar courses in advanced topics, one involving an interdisciplinary approach to a topic in literature and the arts (The First World War in British Art and Fiction, for instance) and the second offering specialized study of a particular literary figure, period, or problem (The Age of Mark Twain is a recent example). Class sessions in the English major unfold primarily as directed discussions that build connections between the author's life and culture on the one hand and the individual experience of the midshipman reader on the other.