Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Harvard English Department Changes Name to Be More Like GW

Harvard University possesses a department with the verbose designation "English and American Literature and Language." At a recent faculty meeting, Professor James Engell spoke on behalf of his faculty colleagues and moved that this name be changed to "Department of English." The rationale for this transformation has clearly been plagiarized from the GW Department of English's mission statement. Don't believe me? Here is the Harvard document:

There are several reasons why this proposed change is at once timely and important, but the key reason has to do with the evolution of our field. The current name, by using the two terms English and American, necessarily imples that “English” refers to the literature and language of England. That is somewhat awkward, of course, in relation to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, but the real problem lies in the explosion of English as a world literature and a world language. To cite a single example, the influential Norton Anthology of English Literature (8th edition, 2006) includes works by Claude McKay (b. Jamaica), Louise Bennett (b. Jamaica), Kamau Brathwaite (b. Barbados), Wole Soyinka (b. Nigeria), Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (b. Kenya), Salman Rushdie (b. India), Nadine Gordimer (b. South Africa), A.K. Ramanujan (b. India), Derek Walcott (b. Santa Lucia), Chinua Achebe (b. Nigeria), Alice Munro (b. Canada), V.S. Naipaul (b. Trinidad), Les Murray (b. Australia), J.M. Coetzee (b. South Africa), Anne Carson (b. Canada), and many other distinguished writers who do not by any means fit into the national boundaries suggested by “English and American” literature. But they all very much belong in a Department of English—indeed they are among the most exciting figures in such a department.…The proposed change simplifies our department’s name, brings it in line with comparable departments at other universities, and avoids misleading parallels. But above all it accurately reflects the state of our field and brings us into the 21st century.

You would think that with an endowment of a trillion billion dollars, Harvard could come up with something that wasn't lifted off the internet. We're not going to pursue the plagiarism case in court, though: Harvard's "English Department" is welcome to imitate us. We've been doing globalized English studies for a quite while and are happy to blaze the trail. And may I also point out that their justification is far more wordy than our own succinct formulation? Our mission statement reads:
The English Department of the George Washington University is a research-active community of scholars and creative writers. We prize excellence in teaching, publication, and service. We engage with a diversity of texts within a global and transnational context. Our creative writing and scholarship contributes to and critiques this capacious literary world. Our teaching fosters in students a rigorous and informed critical reflection on literature, connecting reading practices with writing and argumentation. As a humanities faculty, we are especially interested in the artistic exploration of identity, community, cultural conflict, and history.

You will notice that we are also more capacious in what we do, since creative writing is very much included in this mission.

Who needs the ivy league with GW around?

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Harvard English Department Changes Name to Be More Like GW
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