graphic with text: Aptitudes of an English Major

Communication Skills & Close Reading

Reading, writing, active listening, discussing, presenting, and debating are foundational activities in our classrooms. Delving deep into language, you’ll consider how words create meaning not just through their dictionary definitions, but through a host of associative processes.

The great literary theorist Jacques Derrida famously postulated that words have “trace” or “spectral” aspects – that is, meanings that seem antithetical to what the dictionary says, but that are still connoted by it.

Our students pursue such traces, tracking down the ghostly aspects of meaning and becoming aware of the deep nuances of every communicative act. In the process, they discover that language is far richer and more connotative than most people imagine. Such sensitivity makes English majors both spectacular readers and highly effective communicators in their own right.

"What is an Allegory?": A Literary Guide for English Students and Teachers

Assistant Professor Tekla Bude answers the question "What is an Allegory?" in the video from the Oregon State Guide to English Literary Terms series, which is designed to bring public attention to literary forms. 

Celebrating Amanda Gorman's "The Hill We Climb": Reactions from Oregon State's Faculty and Students

Empathy & High-Context Thinking

Stories about the intricacies of human experience – flawed, beautiful, inconsistent – anchor texts that you’ll read as an English Major, and demand that we see any situation in all of its dimensions.

Flannery O'Connor's short stories teach us to reframe our expectations, destroying preconceptions on a sentence-by-sentence level (as when she describes a place called "The Tower" as "a long dark room") and on cultural and spiritual levels (as when her favorite fictional subjects, society's outcasts, turn out to be agents of regeneration and hope).

The world is a complicated and irreducible place. English Majors encounter that fact in everything they read, practicing the habits of mind that allow them to engage the world empathetically and with an awareness of the multitude of factors – social, cultural, personal, circumstantial – that shape human behavior and our responses to it.

 Literary History & Writing Skills

Reading and writing are deeply intertwined; doing one well virtually guarantees that you’ll do the other well.

Benjamin Franklin knew this: he studied and even copied-out passages from texts he read in order to sharpen his writing, and founded the first public library in the U.S. on the belief that the best readers are also the best writers.

In our classes, you’ll study the texts of great writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and critical analysis. You’ll learn the history of literary expression from the medieval period through movements like Romanticism and Post-Modernism. You’ll write everything from occasional pieces to complex research papers. And like Franklin, you’ll read widely in order to write deeply, and you’ll get detailed feedback on your own creative, interpretive, and purposeful compositions in genres ranging from freewriting to complex research essays.

Professor Rebecca Olsom

About Words: Episode 3 - Colson Whitehead

Diverse Perspectives & Interdisciplinary Methodologies

Whether studying texts written in alien times or places, writing creative works that focus on idiosyncratic characters or experiences, or composing essays that demand a nuanced sense of audience, English Majors are always thinking about how people of varying backgrounds inhabit the world. The travelogue of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca puts us in the mind of a sixteenth-century explorer of the New World who himself shed the armor of a conquistador to live amongst indigenous peoples in what is now Mexico and the southeastern United States.

Slave narratives by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Olaudah Equiano move through the geographies of Africa, the middle passage, the U.S. south and north, and England. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando describes a man born in sixteenth-century England who transforms into a woman and lives another three centuries.

Studying such rich texts, English majors also learn how to tie those works to the forces of history, to the fine and the performing arts, and to patterns of social life and customs.