English 10a, 10b May See Demise

English 10a and 10b, the long-standing surveys of canonical works (and bane of many an aspiring Harvard litterateur), will cease to be taught within the next two years, according to two English professors familiar with the department’s discussions.

The demise of the lecture courses is the most pronounced feature of a proposed overhaul of the undergraduate English program, the first in more than two decades.

The plan would trim the number of basic requirements for concentrators from six to four, which members of the department said would allow students more leeway to design their own curriculum. Undergraduate advising would also be beefed up under the plan.

“It’s a total transformation and reconceptualization of the concentration,” said English professor Gordon Teskey.

The department still needs to iron out the details before a final vote can take place on the proposal. It appears almost certain, however, that the current form of the “Major British Writers” series will go.

But traditionalists who swear by their Norton Anthologies can rest easy: students will still be exposed to texts from the surveys as part of what Stephen J. Greenblatt may call their literary “journeys.”

Half of the new quartet of requirements may use some of the same material from 10a and 10b, according to one English professor who preferred not to be named. The courses could be smaller, a contrast to the impersonal lecture halls that have become familiar to concentrators.

The current Shakespeare requirement will remain, professors said, although it may be expanded to encompass the Bard’s contemporaries. Faculty members would not comment on the content of the fourth requirement.

Indeed, most English professors contacted for this story declined to comment at all on the proposal, citing pending discussions.

“I would be more than happy to talk to you when this has been finalized,” said James T. Engell ’73, chair of the department. “But right now, there is nothing to say.”

The four requirements may take the form of specific classes, categories of classes, or a combination of the two.

They replace the requirements for a class on American literature; two courses on literature from before the 19th century; and 10a and 10b.

Professors declined to specify the impetus behind the overhaul.

Though English 10a currently enrolls 121 students, some English concentrators volunteered an antipathy toward the class and its spring-term companion.

“I personally hated 10a and 10b, so that sounds great to me,” said Daniel R. Pecci ’09 when told of the proposal. “For the most part, it seems to repeat of a lot of what we learned in high school rather than allow you to pursue your passions in the department.”

Lara C. Markstein ’10 said that she considered the two required surveys to be too broad.

“You never actually get to go in-depth into the text you’re studying because they assign you so many works,” she said. “It’s hard to have a relationship with the text.”

For final approval, the proposal would have to be green-lit by the English department—possibly as soon as Dec. 2—and then the Educational Policy Committee, which could delay its decision until as late as April, according to Engell.

—Staff writer Bonnie J. Kavoussi can be reached at kavoussi@fas.harvard.edu.