(Original post by Aeschylus)
OK I thought I'd start this because English Lit at York is a very very popular course and there are quite a few people on here who are either interested on it or are currently partway through the degree. What would be ideal would be for people to provide a small outline of what they have done and their experiences of the course, warts and all. Questions, as always, welcomed.
General Things I Wish I'd Known Before I'd Come
Read up extensively on theory
My experience of theory was frustration for the first two terms. At school I'd had no experience to critical theory and as a result understanding its use and application in essays and seminars was tough. You are recommended to buy the Norton Critical Theory and even though it's pretty expensive it's invaluable for understanding general theory and the major movements. My advice would to be to read up especially on psychoanalysis and deconstructionism as many of the academics at York have a very active interest in those philosophies
Invaluable Book: Derrida: A Very Short Introduction
DO THE SEMINAR READING
I CANNOT stress this enough. Your first few seminars will be intimidating; most of the academics are very nice and friendly but putting across your opinion to 10-12 other people, many of whom might be quite vocal in their disagreement, can be quite scary. With that in mind, it is important to be confident that your argument that reading the novel/play/poem in a particular fashion is based on concrete evidence that you can reference. Do NOT half-ass your reading the night before or (worse) on the day. Academics can spot bluffers a mile away and it is VERY awkward when you see someone called out on it and admit they know nothing
USE THE LIBRARY
In the first few terms, regardless of seminar/workshop groups, you will be working with a very select number of texts. Although the library has a large amount of books, 200 people will exhaust the criticism very quickly. With that in mind:
a) have your own copy of the texts required
b) think at the start of term what texts you are most interested in
It is my explicit recommendation that you take key critical books (ESPECIALLY the Blackwell/Cambridge critical guides) out early (not a week before an essay is due), write out the criticism that is most interesting (REMEMBER TO WRITE DOWN THE REFERENCING: author, editor, publishing date, page numbers, city, publisher) and then put it back. You'll save yourself a LOT of stress.
Also online are the online journal sites JSTOR and Project Muse. There are others but these are the best. You log into these with your uni password. These have a huge wealth of information in journals that can really help with a specific topic but remember to use books as well - some academics are very snotty about just using JSTOR
In addition to the main library, which is often very crowded and at certain points it's near impossible to find seats, there is the Minster Library and King's Manor library. They are both very very well stocked on books, a short bus ride/walk away and the librarians are helpful. Use them sooner rather than later.
See Your Supervisor Reguarly
At the start of the year you will be assigned a supervisor, who watches over your academic progress. Many people will go once a term to 'oh you're still alive' get any relevant forms signed and go away. Try not to do this. If you are struggling with criticism or an essay, a supervisor can provide a different voice. Also it shows that you are eager to make an effort and to some jaded lecturers that can make all the difference.
Each academic has 2 hours a week where you can go to their office and ask them any questions/what you are studying with. Usually no one goes (or just postgraduates). Take advantage of these hours; book appointments with academics who know your subject but are not your seminar tutor so they know you're popping in. If you let them know what you're interested in, they might have have recommendations for books to get out or could even loan you!
Say nothing/Talk over people in Seminars
Seminars are one of the most important parts of an English course. You don't want to turn up for 1.5/2 hours and say nothing and be one of 'those' people. But likewise you don't want to talk over people. I've had to sit in seminars where people (and, generalising, it is ALWAYS Oxbridge rejects) try to turn the seminar into a one-on-one with the seminar leader. Engage with other people's ideas, give them time to speak. If you have a really pressing idea, it will always get heard.
Repeated for emphasis. People boast that they can bull their way through seminars and exams; good for them. Usually they come to their comeuppance in second year when all that blagging will usually nail them a low 2:2. You are usually discussing texts that the seminar tutor/lecturer will often have studied and have had works published on in great detail. They in general will be wiser than you. And to be honest, blaggers are painfully obvious.
Just Sit There and Moan
This is a personal gripe; nothing more. I have a few people on Facebook who never stop going on about how they wish they had more contact hours, how their essay was poorly marked, how they don't like the texts. These are, invariably, the people who never go to lectures. If you have a problem with how the course is run, see your supervisor or course rep. If you don't complain to someone relevant nothing will happen
(these are the only ones I have done/am doing)
Approaches to Literature
Assessment: 4x1,500 word essays
Key Texts: Norton Critical Anthology of Poetry, Beowulf, Mrs. Dalloway, Titus Andronicus (for all new students A Midsummer Night's Dream), Collected book of American Short stories, handouts in class, tons of theory
As introductory modules go, I very much enjoyed it. Usually our reading would be a text with some general/critical theory. A lot of the discussion would be how the theory could influence the reading of the text. The lectures (especially on narrative) were enjoyable. No complaints. At this point you are still very much getting used to the university experience (i.e. going out) so it's very much an ease in, rather than being thrown in
American Literature Up Until 1910
Assessment: 3x2000 word essays
Notes: THIS IS NOW A SECOND YEAR MODULE.
The Tale of Arthur Gordon Pym, by Poe
Moby Dick, Melville
The Tale of Frederick Douglass An American Slave
Incidents in the life of a slave girl, Harriet Brown
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
Turn of the Screw, Henry James
Sister Carrie, Dreiser
lots of handouts and lots of theory
This is one of my favourite modules. There was a LOT of reading and the theory that we dealt with this term (Barthes, later Freud, Jung, Derrida) was much more difficult however I came away from each seminar and lecture feeling that I had learnt a lot. My criticism of it would be that dealing with Moby Dick in just a single week seemed a bit miserly but otherwise no complaints.
The Late Renaissance and Restoration
Assessment: procedural essay 2,500 words, first assessed essay (33%), 2,500 words, second assessed essay (3,000 words)
Norton Anthology of Poetry (poems by Jonson, Marvell, Herrick, Marlowe, others
The Alchemist, Volpone, Ben Jonson
Duchess of Malfi, The White Devil, Webster
Coriolanus, The Tempest, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, selected sonnets, Shakespeare
Samson Agonistes, Paradise Lost, Comus, Lycidas Milton
Selected Poems, Donne
The Relapse, Vanbrugh
Oronooko, aphra benn
The blazing world, margaret cavendish
This was again one of my favourite modules. The teaching I received was superb, the range of texts we did was amazing (Donne, Milton and Shakespeare in a single module!) and the seminars was thoroughly enlightening. My criticism was that many of the lectures were pretty vague and not directly applicable to the module (they were all very interesting though). Apart from that, all good
British and Irish Literature from 1910
Assessment: Same as Late Renaissance
The Tower, Yeats
The Wasteland, Eliot
To the lighthouse, Woolf
Midnight's Children, Rushdie
The Sea, Banville
selected plays, Beckett,
selected poems of Auden, MacNeice, Day-Lewis, Spender
The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter.
This was my most disappointing module. Don't get me wrong it was a good
module, one of my favourite parts being the six-lecture-sequence on Ulysses. However, writing an essay on one of the key texts, (Woolf, yeats, Eliot, Joyce) was pretty much an impossible task, something I should have realised. This was by far one of the most popular modules so library space is always an issue. In addition to that the seminar support I received was not exemplary and feedback was brusque. If you feel passionately about the modernist poets then I urge you to take this module but the opinion of most people was a resounding 'meh'.
High Medieval Literature
Assessment: same as late renaissance
The Riverside Chaucer
Gawain and the Green Knight
Tain Bo Cuailnge
Arthurian Romances, Chretien de Troyes
The Lais of Marie De France
Notes: FOR ALL INCOMING STUDENTS, THIS MODULE WILL CONTAIN NO CHAUCER. If you want to do Chaucer, do the Late Medieval module
York has a renowned Medieval department so I thought I'd give this module a go and I wasn't disappointed. The lectures are linked together, were properly structured and thoroughly enjoyable. I was pleasantly suprised that the module was not 'ye olde englishe texts' only - the module places great attention on the interplay of celtic, french, latin and english literature and you really get an understanding of how it all connects. My criticism would be that this introduction of other literatures is a relatively new one and the library does not have much stock of Irish or Welsh literature. Apart from that, fantastic module
Modules Not Yet Covered:
Late Medieval Literature
18th Century Literature
Literatures In English after 1910
American Literature After 1910
The High Renaissance
Special Modules (am doing one but would rather wait till it has finished)
Any questions whatever fire away.