Michigan State University

The Department of English houses a vibrant, diverse, and engaged faculty. Our publications, classrooms, and service are centered on the study of literature, film, and culture, demonstrating how rigorous attention to textuality opens up readers to the large questions that face humankind. The close study of cultural texts, we assert, offers the most humane and sensitive opportunity to articulate those compelling questions.

As a faculty, we guide our undergraduate students down paths of discovery, not only about themselves as agents and meaning makers, but also about others whom they may experience as different from themselves. Through the mediation of literature and film, which facilitates sympathy and the imaginative inhabiting of the unfamiliar, students find ways to connect across cultural differences. We listen to our undergraduates, pushing them to challenge and thereby refine their interpretative skills. In the process, students become clear and effective communicators who can take into account the vagaries and vicissitudes of language. We engage our undergraduates’ curiosity and pleasure in literary and cinematic texts, and we encourage them to question how these texts work to create intellectual and emotional meaning.

As teachers and advisors to graduate students, we train the next generation of professors and scholars. In our recruitment, retention, and academic strategies, we strive to create a more inclusive and representative class of higher education professionals. It is essential that different and often marginalized voices, such as people of color and first-generation college graduates, pursue the advanced study of literature, film, and culture at the Master’s and the Doctoral levels. To lose sight of this mission is to lose sight of the democratic principles that our culture valorizes.

We provide students with an excellent education in the liberal arts—one that strikes an ideal balance between creativity and critical inquiry. Undergraduate and graduate students, whether planning to enter professional or academic job markets after graduation, leave with skills allowing them to communicate, collaborate, and problem solve in an increasingly-globalized cultural landscape. Student–faculty interaction is the foundation of our pedagogical praxis. At present, more than 40 faculty members dedicate themselves to teaching excellence and outstanding scholarship. Our students develop exceptional writing skills. And, because they are exposed to a variety of learning experiences and faculty members who offer disparate perspectives, they acquire the know-how to confront large-scale issues and effect change around the world.

A large department, The English Department exhibits extensive diversification across both fields of interest and demographic background: our last several hires have comprised women, persons of color, or both. Our scholarship highlights diversity, transnational and transcultural flows, the technological, narrative, the literary, popular culture, and the breaking down of traditional boundaries: linguistic, philosophical, cultural, hegemonic, disciplinary, discursive, and spatio/temporal. We foster strong interdisciplinary ties with African and African American Studies, the Center for Gender in a Global Context, Chican@/Latin@ Studies, Jewish Studies, Muslim Studies, Neuroscience, and the School of Education. Department faculty have also collaborated with the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum on a range of projects.

At the graduate level, we prepare educators who have the flexibility to teach across a number of fields. At the undergraduate level, we offer students bountiful options to work in creative writing, criticism, theory, American studies, digital humanities, and film. In addition to wide-ranging course offerings, the Department is home to three academic journals and two literary magazines, as well as the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab (DHLC), part of a new minor in Digital Humanities within the College of Arts and Letters (CAL). The department shares long-established intercollegiate minors in Fiction Filmmaking, Documentary Production, and Language Arts Teaching Certification, and houses an active undergraduate community-based internship program.

Our graduate placement rate of approximately 90 percent is a direct result of our hiring philosophy. Rather than developing a departmental specialization in a particular field or sub-field, we hire excellent faculty with interests in multiple areas who in turn encourage interdisciplinary research strategies among their students. And because we offer those students a wide variety of courses in which to serve as TAs, as well as other professional opportunities (editorial assistantships, research assistantships, pedagogy and technology coordinator fellowships), our students graduate with the kind of varied academic skill set required by twenty-first century institutions of higher education.

A primary goal, then, is to maximize our impressive faculty diversity by recruiting more diverse and academically distinguished students. At the graduate level, we aim to attract, train, and place the best graduate students in the Big Ten, building on the department’s particular strengths in film and new media studies, theory and criticism, globalization and postcolonial studies, popular culture studies, and digital humanities. In the next three to five years we will strengthen these cutting-edge and socially-engaged fields of research by recruiting students from underrepresented backgrounds. We want our student body to reflect not just the state of Michigan, but also the global network of universities in which MSU participates. By supporting students’ work in digital humanities and in socially-engaged critical inquiry, and by recruiting students of color to our program, we hope to further advance its creative, intellectual, and inclusive strengths.

The Department of English is continually expanding and deepening its robust linkages inside and outside the College of Arts & Letters. Film Studies models the possibilities for these collaborations through its integral connections to the Media and Information Department in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. We will continue to deepen our partnership with the Broad Art Museum. The Teacher Education Department in the College of Education is another unit with which the department is in the process of building stronger linkages, accelerating after two new hires are completed this year. Popular culture studies has long been a particular strength within the department, and the new undergraduate concentration has secured university approval. Within CAL, there are some promising areas of convergence between English and Art, Art History and Design, especially in new media studies, and we look for every opportunity to cultivate collaborations there as well.

Creative Writing is a crucial program in the department, accounting for a fifth of our majors; like Film Studies, it is an important focus of collaboration both with WRAC with RCAH. Both the Film and Creative Writing programs have a significant outreach component through readings and screenings: the Film Collective, Black Film as Social Activism, the Broad Underground Screening Series. Our most ambitious long-term goal is the creation of an MSU Cinematheque that would provide a state-of-the-art space for screenings and other art events.

The Department’s goals over the next year include:

  • Continuing to strengthen film and new media studies in ways that differentiate our program from similar programs and establish a position of leadership.
  • Developing better support structures for the DHLC Lab that will make its workload sustainable for its director and position it to take a leadership role in CAL’s DH@MSU initiatives.
  • Working with the College to develop a graduate internship program in scholarly publishing to shore up support for the journals edited by department faculty and to more effectively prepare graduate students for successful placements in a tight job market.
  • Supporting the continued expansion of enrollment in the Creative Writing Program while considering ways to integrate its work with DH and new media initiatives.
  • With two new hires in English Education likely this spring, revamping and rethinking how the Department can lead in this area while working with colleagues in WRAC and in the College of Education’s distinguished Teacher Education Department.
  • Refining our plan and developing measurable goals for the recruitment of a diverse group of graduate students from underrepresented groups.
  • Expanding our online course offerings in ways that strengthen the major, reach out to non-traditional learners, and generate revenues that can be used to enhance programming and faculty research

To end with a provocative thought: Long after this website ceases to exist—should the Internet collapse under the weight of technological failure, commercial colonization, energy shortages, or ever-more-sophisticated hacking—books will continue to galvanize readers. Literature long predates the Internet, and will survive as long as human beings have the resources required to engage it.

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