Carnegie Mellon University

Our History 

Over 100 Years of English at Carnegie Mellon

In 1919, the English major was formed. The school was still "Carnegie Tech" and the English Department was housed in the Margaret Morrison Carnegie School for Women (MMCC). At that time, only women could major in English. In an article on the history of the MMCC, Eileen McConomy (MM’56) says, "Our education was rigorous. Our women professors were the forerunners of the feminist movement and inspired us to take charge of our lives, to not be afraid to speak out for what we believed was right, and to demand excellence in all that we did.".

In 1958, the BS in Technical Writing & Editing, the first degree of its kind in the country, was added as a possible major within MMCC under the initiative of Erwin Steinberg.  During the 1960s, in a period of increasing emphasis on education (and government funding for innovative curriculum ideas), the English & History departments organized the Carnegie Education Center to develop innovative high school and college curricula and developed nationally-funded and recognized curricula for AP high school English courses.  From 1968-1969, Carnegie Tech became Carnegie University and finally Carnegie Mellon University. The division of Humanities & Social Sciences became the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and degrees in English and Technical Writing were transferred from MMCC to H&SS. Soon after, the newly formed Department of English officially began hiring research faculty.

  • 1969: Under the leadership of Gladys Schmitt and Jerry Costanzo, the B.A. in Creative Writing is added to other two English Degrees (B.A. in English and B.S. in Technical Writing.) The B.A. was one of the first undergraduate degrees in Creative Writing in the country.
  • 1972: Jerry Costanzo founds Carnegie Mellon University Press in the English Department. The Press eventually publishes "Thomas and Beulah" by Rita Dove, which wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1986.
  • 1980: The Rhetoric program is established in 1980, along with the M.A. in Professional Writing program and the Ph.D. in Rhetoric.
  • 1986: The Ph.D. in Literary & Cultural Theory program is added, spearheading changes in the academic landscape of English departments across the U.S.. The M.A. concentration in Literary & Cultural Studies soon follows. The founding Cultural Studies Association conference was hosted on CMU's campus in 2003.
  • 1996: B.A. in Literary & Cultural Studies and B.A. in Rhetoric merge to form B.A. in English.
  • 2017: The Humanities Analytics minor is founded.
  • 2018: The B.A. in Film & Visual Media launches.
  • 2019: The M.A. in Global Communication and Applied Translation launches, along with a modernized English B.A., reimagined as: the B.A. in Literature and Culture.
  • Today, the English Department features ten rich areas of study: First-Year Writing, Creative Writing, Professional Writing, Technical Writing, Literary and Cultural Studies, Rhetoric, Gender Studies, Humanities Analytics, Film & Visual Media, and Global Communication and Applied Translation.