The Honors Major  

Open books with Notes

Students who have excelled in the major may choose to pursue an honors degree, which features two focused seminar courses in advanced topics. The first seminar, HE503, pursues an interdisciplinary approach to a topic in literature and the arts; the second, HE504, offers specialized study of a particular literary figure, period, or problem. Recent examples include:


  • Contemporary Asian-American Literature
  • World War I in British Art and Literature
  • Building Modernity: Architecture and World Literature
  • Slavery and American Culture


  • Moby Dick: Ahab, The Whale, Violence
  • Robert Frost: "The Great Misgiver"
  • Reading Too Much Into Renaissance Texts
  • Whitman's Many Leaves of Grass

Coming Fall 2016

HE503 The Heroic Age of Beowulf - Assistant Professor Jill Fitzgerald

Hwæt! – This is the first word of the Old English poem Beowulf. Literary scholars have puzzled over the meaning of this word for roughly three centuries and, even today, most will admit that they are still unsure of how to translate it. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing readers of medieval literature is the recovery of a lost world of meanings and associations from a time we might be tempted to think of as a “dark” age. This class challenges this dubious designation. We will explore how the literary products of the Anglo-Saxon period anticipate and herald much of the “light” we prize today: widespread literacy, positions of privilege for women, disciplined thinking, new technologies, love for one’s homeland, humor and riddles, communal bonds and, above all, heroic creativity and prowess. From texts like Beowulf to The Dream of the Rood, our primary focus in this course will be exploring the fascinating coexistence between Christianity and the heroic culture of the Anglo-Saxons (the world of warriors, battles, weapons, armor, and monsters). We will explore what it meant to be a “hero” in the Anglo-Saxon world (though the word did not yet exist), consider how constructions of the heroic vary radically, and ask ourselves if being a hero and being a Christian at the same time was possible. To this end, we will look at the unlikely figures Anglo-Saxons conceptualized as warrior-heroes and heroines – such as the Jewish widow, Judith, and the Emperor Constantine’s mother – as well as how pagan heroes and kings such as Beowulf are presented with a great deal of ambivalence. As we trace the on-going process of Christianization throughout the period, we will observe the role of writing as a new technology in England, changing both history and culture forever, and affording us significant access into the world of Anglo-Saxon England. Finally, this course will turn to how conceptions of kingship and power were born out of this culture and explore the meaning of national identity in its very earliest English contexts.

Coming Spring 2017

HE504 Frankenstein and the Monstrous Birth of Postmodernity - Assistant Professor Noah Comet

This proposed course would commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the composition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein during the storied “haunted summer” in Switzerland.  Holed up with her husband Percy, Lord Byron and a few others, M. Shelley dashed together the beginnings of this novel on a dare to write the scariest story she could.  Of course the novel came to be so much more than that: as this class would seek to acknowledge, it evolved into one of the great anticipatory texts of postmodernism, exploring, as it does, deformations of gender, sublime alienation, fragmented subjectivity, the hopes and discontents of science, and skewed temporalities.  A careful, slow reading of the novel will prove rewarding as we follow these themes into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in various media, including not only Anglophone literature, but film, music, and the visual arts.  The problematic textual history of Frankenstein—its manuscript variants between 1816 and its 1818 publication, and its subsequent 1831 revision—sews yet another limb onto the body of work we are examining, troubling the very notion of authorship.

Including the two 500-level seminars (and their required supplements, HE521 and HE522), Honors students take eleven courses in the major, including HE442, Literary Theory and Criticism.

The distribution requirements for the Honors Major in English differ slightly from those for the major in English. Students interested in the Honors major should consult the requirements listed below and plan their course of study accordingly.

Required Courses for the Honors Major in English (HEGH):

  • HE242 Methods of Literary Analysis
  • HE333 Shakespeare
  • pre-1800 period course
  • pre-1900 period course
  • HE442 Literature Theory and Criticism
  • HE503 Seminar in Arts and Literature and HE521 Honors Supplement I
  • HE504 Seminar in Advanced Topic and HE522 Honors Supplement II

Honors majors must also take four electives in English that meet the following distribution requirements:

  • 300-level genre or period or HE340, 353, 355
  • 300-400 level elective
  • 300-400 level elective
  • 300-400 level elective

The English Course Offerings page provides a full list of the courses available in the major.

ACDEANINST 5420.4D lists current Academy rules and requirements for honors majors.

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