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“Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like ‘the ordinary world,’ ‘ordinary life,’ ‘the ordinary course of events’ … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.” — Wislawa Szymborska, on accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996

For additional information on English at UC Merced, please visit the English website.


The major in English at the University of California, Merced, asks students to recognize the complex interactions of culture and literature. Literature and literary criticism are significant parts of an ages old, continuing conversation about the meaning and value of human society.

Unlike scientific or social scientific approaches to this conversation, literary discourse emphasizes the particular in the dialog between particular and universal. It always arises out of specific times, places and cultural traditions, and it often gives powerful voice to cultural differences and individual differences against the backdrop of larger, homogenizing forces. Moreover, literature has traditionally fore-grounded questions of value over questions of definition, or rather, sees questions of value as central to the definition of humanity itself.

The study of literature enables one to engage this conversation richly, both for personal development and for the ability it gives one to be a responsible agent in the many societies each person inhabits. Moreover, literary study gives one insight into how cultures operate in such a way as to facilitate ethical cross-cultural interactions. Literary study facilitates such agency by teaching readers how to understand — an understanding that engages intellectual, ethical and aesthetic faculties — and then critique literary artifacts.

Program Learning Outcomes

The proposed program learning outcomes of the major seek to articulate, in specific ways, how the successful student majoring in English will be able to participate in this larger intellectual, historical, and esthetic conversation. Students will demonstrate the ability to:

  1. Interpret texts with due sensitivity to both textual and contextual cues;
  2. Articulate an appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of texts by the standards of their times and places;
  3. Demonstrate historical, geographic and cultural empathy by reading texts written in other times, places and cultures;
  4. Apply interpretive strategies developed in literary study to other academic and professional contexts; and
  5. Write cogently and with sensitivity to audience.

Refer to the Curriculum Map to see the coherency between the Program Learning Outcomes and our course offerings.

Program Assessment Results

We are revising our approach to program assessment with the offering of this new major (the precursor to this program was Literatures & Cultures). Please check back for updated program results. Thank you for your patience.


Last Updated: May 2016