English Language and Literature
Stanford’s BOSP Oxford Program has been working with the English department at Oxford since 1984. This is one of the largest English Departments in the world with wonderful resources available to Stanford students while they study abroad.
For students majoring in English, the program offers additional support and insights into the Oxford community to enable academic and social connections to the local academic community studying English language and literature.
In particular, the seminar and tutorial system at BOSP Oxford ensures that students get personalised feedback on their essays and allows individual students to trial and develop their ideas in an intellectually supportive space. No matter what quarter a student comes abroad, there will always be an English literature seminar among the five seminar choices available to students.
The scope of what can be studied is wider as part of the tutorial program at BOSP Oxford. Here, tutors typically teach areas sorted by historical period, so it is useful to think of your preferred course in terms of its historical period, though in the modern literature area there is scope for more genre-focused approaches.
The syllabi in the links below are examples of Oxford tutorial titles and content by period or topic. Each section represents the main areas of study that a student can pursue at Oxford, but keep in mind that overlap is possible and in some areas encouraged. One important thing to note is that these courses are all taught about English language texts, commonly referred to as ‘literatures in English.’ Links between the Faculty of English and the Oxford Comparative Criticism Translation research centre are strong, but students who wish to study comparative literature should also look on the BOSP website under Medieval and Modern Languages or the Oriental Institute.
- Introduction to English Language and Literature (AXESS Code 195T)
- Medieval Literature (650-1359) (AXESS Code 195T)
- Victorian Literature (1830-1910) (AXESS Code 195T)
- Modern and Contemporary Literature (1910-Present) (AXESS Code 195T)
- Anglo-Saxon Literature (AXESS Code 195T)
- Medieval English Literatures Depth Study (AXESS Code 195T)
- Renaissance Literature in English (1509-1642) (AXESS Code 195T)
- Shakespeare (AXESS Code 195T)
- Reformation Literature (AXESS Code 195T)
- Regency Literature (AXESS Code 195T)
- Creative Writing (AXESS Code 197T)
Taking this tutorial allows students to explore a range of concerns relating to literary studies of English-language texts. For example, students may study: the history of the English language; lexicography; socio- and applied linguistics; material text studies; the history of the book; textual editing; the history of literary criticism; critical theory; and/or approaches to reading literary texts. Centres such as the Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book might interest some students, while others may be attracted by the interdisciplinary work taking place at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). Students interested in looking more closely at theory such as Marxism, Historicism, Structuralism, Feminism, Postcolonialism, etc. would be interested in taking this tutorial.
It is possible to take this tutorial at any point in the year, but most Oxford students take it in the fall, so you have a greater chance of attending supporting lectures if you choose to take it while abroad in fall quarter. Students interested in writing a thesis or attending graduate school should think about taking this tutorial.
Students Say: “This tutorial was exactly what I had hoped for: a combination of reading wonderful and fascinating books, having equally wonderful conversations about them, and working on my own creative nonfiction portfolio.”
“I learned a lot that I wasn't expecting to and was very engaged in the material we covered. [My Tutor] was very flexible in adjusting to my interests and made the tutorial a combination of what we both wanted.”
This tutorial covers both Old and Early Middle English literature. If you have ever wanted to study Old English, here’s an opportunity to take on that challenge with access to lectures from leading experts in the field. The Oxford English Faculty gathers together more people working on medieval English literatures and culture than anywhere else in the world! Intersections between literature and medical humanities are strong in this area at Oxford, and key figures and texts under research are Chaucer, Tristan and Iseult, Beowolf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the legend of Thomas Becket. Students taking this course would be encouraged to explore the offerings of the Early English Text Society and Medium Ævum.
You can also work comparatively with Old and Middle English. Anglo-Saxon texts like Beowulf are usually contextualized with other Old English works, but you will be expected to try to learn the language with support and not just read in translation. This course, however, is more of a survey for those unfamiliar with the period, whereas the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval English Depth tutorials described below offer an opportunity to specialise for students who are already familiar with some of the key texts. The O’Donnell Lecture series may interest some students in this tutorial.
Students Say: “[My Tutor’s] extra help in terms of responding to additional queries and attention paid to the quality of my writing and understanding of the text”
Usually, Oxford students study this in the fall term and the corresponding supporting lectures are recommended for their scope and interest. This tutorial can cover novels by Dickens, George Eliot, or the Brontës; poetry by Rossetti, Browning, Hopkins and Tennyson; and drama such as Wilde and Shaw. If you do not wish to focus on one author, a theme could be a good guide: the sensation novel, social problem novel, dramatic monologue, women’s writing, animal studies in nineteenth century literature, morality and perfectionism, etc.
Although the Faculty staff and graduate students have a diverse range of theoretical interests, they have distinctive strengths in the areas of literature and the history of ideas (including questions of literary value, aesthetics, and of readership and response), in the study of poetry, and in the literature of the fin de siècle. The Victorianists at Oxford are also at the forefront of cross-disciplinary work on literature and science.
There are also a number of supporting research groups that would enrich your study of texts in this area alongside your focused tutorials. The Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Culture Forum welcomes all scholars and students who share an interest in the culture of the period. The American Literature Research Seminar frequently spotlights transatlantic cultural exchanges in the nineteenth century. The Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century Seminar meets regularly to discuss current research in this field.
Students Say: “I was extremely satisfied. The reading was both challenging and intellectually stimulating, and discussion added layers of understanding and context to my reading.”
“I was so excited to read so many works that I had longed to. I also really appreciated our conversations”
Tutorials in this period are the most wide-ranging and prove to offer the most popular topics among Stanford students. For example students often choose movements such as Modernism, exploring the works of Woolf, Joyce, or TS Eliot Conrad. Others may conduct author-focused explorations of texts by Plath, D.H. Lawrence, Beckett, and Carter. Any combination of these interests is acceptable as well. Contemporary literature is also taught in this tutorial, and students might study authors such as JM Coetzee, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Donna Tartt, Cormac McCarthy, Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, or Kazuo Ishiguro. Genre studies in this tutorial are also encouraged, with science fiction, fantasy, 9/11 studies, refugee literature, transnational literatures, South Asian studies and migration literatures all up-and-coming areas of study in the Faculty.
Contemporary writing is often at the centre of lectures given by the Professor of Poetry, a position previously held by poets such as Simon Armitage, WH Auden and Cecil Day Lewis. The Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature position also promises frequent lectures, presented in the past by such luminaries as Marina Warner, Ali Smith, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Umberto Eco.
This is also the appropriate tutorial for all students interested in post-colonial literature or world literature in English, and Oxford has a healthy contingent of ‘world literature’ researchers, as well as the fortnightly Postcolonial Writing and Theory Seminar which is open to all.
If you are thinking of doing post-colonial literature, please consider two important factors in your tutorial request: it is very unlikely that you will be able to be placed with a tutor specializing in comparative post-colonial literature so please choose which post-colonial region you are interested in. It is also important to note that texts in these courses are typically not in translation, but originally written in English and that non-anglophone post-colonial literature, for example of Latin America, is located in Medieval and Modern Languages or Interdisciplinary Area Studies.
Students Say: “I learned so much throughout the process of the tutorial -- having one-on-one discussions was incredible. The tutor selected the reading material very well, and each assignment guided me to pursue the ideas that interested me in a more structured, deeper way. Writing assignments every week greatly improved my ability to think critically and write literary analysis papers.”
“I liked having some structure and guiding prompts for each of the readings but also having the flexibility to choose the aspects of the work I wanted to focus on. I also liked learning about the modernism as a movement and its context within other literary and historical movements.”
This tutorial is for those hoping to take a more in-depth reading of texts such as: ‘The Wanderer’, ‘The Dream of the Rood’, ‘The Battle of Maldon’, ‘The Seafarer’, Aelfric and Beowulf. A student who does not have any familiarity with Old English might find this course challenging, though language courses are available at the university. However, a student who thinks he or she might like to pursue graduate work in this area could find it very useful to look at these texts in depth.
Oxford has a long and distinguished history of studying medieval English language and literature, and the Weston Library houses some of the oldest manuscripts in Old English in the English-speaking world. In 1795 Oxford established one of the first ever professorships in English, the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair of Anglo-Saxon. Both JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis taught in this area at Oxford. Some of the ideas you may wish to consider are the Anglo-Norman genealogical romance, Chaucer’s urban culture, theorizing gender in Norse sagas, comparing word and image in Old English verse, decoding the earliest English interlinear glosses, or analysing the transformations of Tudor printing. Material text studies are also popular in this tutorial. Students wishing to take this tutorial would find their studies enriched by research taking place in the Oxford Medieval Studies forum.
Students Say: “I was very satisfied with my tutorial. I loved the subject matter… I wish I had another quarter to take that knowledge and go further with it!”
“I loved the primary texts we read, and also really enjoyed doing translations of Old English. Probably the best thing was getting to study Tolkien in an academic setting (a dream come true for me).”
In addition to Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde, Ancrene Wisse, Piers Plowman, Morte D'Arthur, Pearl, and Henryson's fables are common topics. Textual materialities is also a popular choice for study if you’re interested in the history of texts and the physical production of medieval literatures.
Students Say: “I was very satisfied with my tutorial. I read and thought a lot about a subject I had never really considered before, had enlightening conversations about the texts and my analysis, and received constructive feedback on both the content and writing style of my essays.”
“I didn't feel afraid to challenge my tutor's points; he always considered what I had to say in a way that made my interpretation feel valued.”
At Oxford this period is covered by the Early Modern strand. Topics covered in this tutorial could include: Milton, Spenser, Sidney, Donne; dramatists such as Kyd, Marlowe, Webster, and Jonson; and prose like More, Nashe and Bacon. This tutorial is designed to look at everything except the elephant in the room of Renaissance English literature, Shakespeare, and therefore could be a nice complement to a concurrent seminar in Shakespeare. Tutorial interests might include Renaissance law and literature, metaphysical prose, poetry and patronage, John Donne’s sermons, and the supernatural, to name a few. The Centre for Early Modern Studies may also provide you with inspiration for this tutorial.
Students Say: “I learned so much, was able to shape my learning as we went and feel so inspired to write an honors thesis!”
“[My Tutor] gave me so much freedom to shape my study and always asked to make sure I was doing what I liked. I chose topics and she always delivered wonderful reading lists, feedback, and discussion.”
This is basically everything you could possibly want to do with reference to Shakespeare. Some tutors will expect you to have read most of Shakespeare’s plays at least well enough to refer to them in your essays, though you may wish to focus on particular aspects of the bard’s oeuvre, such as his comedies or tragedies, or indeed specific plays such as Macbeth, the Henrys, Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest. If you think you would like to work on the bard, try to be specific about your research goals, a few plays or a few themes to study in more detail. Oxford students typically do Shakespeare in the fall and winter quarter.
The Oxford Wells lecture series focuses specifically on Shakespeare’s life and work, and Shakespeare Day is celebrated annually in late April. In the spring and summer terms many of the colleges’ dramatic societies perform some of Shakespeare’s works.
Students Say: “This tutorial inspired my future work, my dedication to it, and my confidence at my ability to write. I now have the tools to integrate my various interests into academic work that I hope to pursue at and after Stanford. I am so glad that I have done this reading, and I have a firm grasp on where to go from here.”
“My tutor was incredibly well-read and responsive. We had fantastic conversations about the plays and related topics. He encouraged my lines of thinking while simultaneously making sure I knew the fundamentals of each topic. I was excited every time to have the time to talk about my ideas, and loved the implicit challenge to bring all that I had read to the discussion! I never felt judged when I could not recall specifics, though the setup of the dynamic made me want to impress him with my knowledge, which is now serving me incredibly well.”
Popular authors studied in this tutorial include More, Milton, Behn, Marvell, Dryden, Rochester, Pope, Swift and Defoe. For students interested in drama, this course is particularly interesting. This course is also gathered under the Renaissance strand at Oxford, and represented usually in the 1550-1700 period focus. The Bodleian Library, founded in 1602, offers immense holdings in early modern printed books and manuscripts, and also has the particular interest of representing in its architecture a key moment of early modern cultural history. The Taylorian Library offers extensive holdings in Continental printed books and in modern secondary literature.
This tutorial is in essence, Romanticism and Austen. This entails prose work by Jane Austen and the extensive critical field that deals with her work, or the Romantic poets including William Blake, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Byshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and William Wordsworth. Students may choose to select an author or a group of authors on which to focus their studies, or they may concentrate on a theme such as writing about the French revolution, the Regency romance novel, representations of the Industrial Revolution, narratives of progress, children and human rights, and/or sexuality and satire. Novelists like Fielding, Richardson, and Austen can be studied individually or as part of themed looks at British society. Other authors to consider in this tutorial are Sir Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth.
Students Say: “I loved that I got to really critically think about Austen in a way I hadn't before. I also enjoyed getting to really delve into all of her novels.”
“I learned about authors that I never knew before. And I was introduced to works that are important to my growth as both a student in school and a student of life.”
While creative writing is not typically taught at undergraduate level in Oxford, it is available to Stanford students who can choose from Poetry, Fiction, and Non-Fiction as concentrations. There are various supporting lecture series available throughout the year which may interest and enhance the work of students in the Creative Writing tutorial. These include the events on the Poets at Keble programme which features well-known poets reading and in conversation, the Clarendon Lectures, the Visiting Professor of Creative Media lecture series, and the open lectures run by the Faculty of English on the structure of the language, and the work of formidable contemporary writers. The Great Writers Inspire series also hosts many important writers, and events from the Writers Make Worlds project provides students with the opportunity to engage with contemporary British authors. For those who are drawn to non-fiction, the Oxford Centre for Life Writing is an ideal place to learn a little more about auto-biography, memoir and the art of writing lives. Students interested in scriptwriting may also be inspired by The Magnifying Class, which features film scholars from around the world discussing aesthetics.
Students Say: “I walked into the tutorial with three goals: (i) To become a more sophisticated storyteller, (ii) To sharpen my creative writing skills, and (iii) to refine my reading and writing artistic-intellectual practice. With [My Tutor’s] meticulous, thoughtful, and incredibly knowledge and supportive guidance. I was able to achieve all these and much, much more.”
“I was very satisfied with my tutorial-- it was everything and more than what I hoped for in a creative writing tutorial. I not only felt like I had an opportunity to express my thoughts openly and creatively, but also felt constantly challenged and inspired by my tutor to further pursue my love for storytelling.”