Program History-Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University

Program History

Founded in 1986, Carnegie Mellon's graduate program in Literary and Cultural Studies is among the first of its kind in the U.S. From its inception, the program has fostered a distinctive research approach that combines scholarly interpretation of individual cultural artifacts (films, novels, plays, popular music) with systematic reflection on the wider social conditions in which such artifacts—and the interpretations they support—get produced and transmitted.


Students in the Ph.D. program in Literary and Cultural Studies benefit from the close supervision of faculty members who work at the intersection of textual studies and cultural theory. This process of apprenticeship culminates in individual dissertation projects mutually crafted by the student and dissertation supervisor. Dissertations vary in subject matter; for example, recent topics include: images of the Pacific during the "Crisis of Imperialism" in American fiction; representations of female authorship and generativity in seventeenth century English culture; documentary photography, realist fiction and social reform literature during the Progressive Era; figurations of moral agency during the long eighteenth century. While topics reflect the individual interests of students, dissertations tend to focus on the ideological and linguistic frames in which specific cultural practices—for example, reading novels during the eighteenth century—become intelligible as acts with larger social, political and intellectual implications.


As the name suggests, the program in Literary and Cultural Studies is founded on interpretive approaches that regularly link individual texts to the conditions of their production and reception. Students thus have the opportunity to acquire substantial expertise in a number of interpretive approaches that assume or develop this perspective: feminist theory, gay and lesbian studies, historicist and Marxist theories of literary and cultural production, rhetorical theories of culture, media studies, theories of race, post-colonial studies, post-structuralism and discourse studies. In addition to extensive training in these theoretical approaches, the program offers motivated students an unrivalled flexibility of inquiry across subject areas of the faculty expertise, which include Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American Literature and Culture, British Romanticism, African American Literature, Post-Colonial Literatures, Early Modern Studies, Hollywood Cinema, Modern/Postmodern Fiction and Mass Culture.