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Department of English

A Word About Specialization

As an undergraduate, you are expected to develop a broad knowledge of your major field. A master's program will allow you to deepen your knowledge, while still placing some emphasis on coverage. Master's students are not pressured to "professinalize" their work, or to specialize narrowly; the programs often allow students considerable latitude in what they study and the extent to which they keep a consistent focus.

The first year of a doctoral program may also involve taking courses in a range of periods, but soon you will be required to choose an area of specialization. In fact, many doctoral programs expect students to enter the program with a sense of which area they will want to specialize in, or to decide within their first year.

The common areas of specialization:

      • Medieval
      • Renaissance
      • 17th Century British
      • 18th Century British
      • Romantic
      • Victorian
      • Modern British (1900-1945)
      • Twentieth Century British
      • American
Some less common areas:
      • Novel
      • Poetry
      • Modernism
      • Postmodernism
      • Postcolonial Literature
      • Literary Theory
Within the broad area you choose, you'll eventually be expected to focus in on a specific time period, movement, genre, style, or writer. You may also be encouraged to choose one or two "secondary areas" (or you may acquire these by happenstance). Having expertise in more than one area can improve your employment prospects by broadening the range of courses you are qualified to teach.


In addition to choosing an area, you will also find yourself being drawn toward a particular approach or methodology. This may have happened for you already, even if you haven't given a name to your favorite approach or really thought about it. Your approach to literature will become something that defines your identity as a scholar, in addition to your area of specialization. You are likely to choose a thesis/dissertation advisor who shares, or has shaped, your approach: a professor who asks the kinds of questions about literature that you yourself find the most interesting.

While you may not feel ready to lock yourself in, figuring out your areas of interest-and the approach that you find most congenial--can help you frame your goals, choose a school, write a persuasive application essay, and use your time efficiently once you are in the program.