Carnegie Mellon University

EBA Curriculum Overview

Core Courses

The 200-level core courses for the English major are designed to improve the range and quality of students' writing skills by introducing them to writing in different genres; to a knowledge of literary genres and other media forms; and to a basic theoretical knowledge of how texts are produced and interpreted. In the Survey of Forms course, for example, students learn how to use language to express experience through poetic and narrative forms. In the Interpretive Practices course, students are introduced to basic concepts, methods, and practices of literary and rhetorical approaches to texts.

Period Study

Students move from the core to take at least two period courses designed to introduce them to the functioning of texts within specific cultural and rhetorical contexts, or to comparative texts addressing common social concerns in different periods. Topics vary from the religious and political controversies of the English Civil Wars, Renaissance Drama as part of Elizabethan England, the growth of youth cultures since the Vietnam War, Cicero's Orations, the Lincoln/Douglas debates, the development of legal and political rhetoric, to differences in the way news has been disseminated and read across time and place. Period study introduces students to a range of historical and cultural texts, and to a range of methods for analyzing these texts in their local context or across contexts.

Research in English

To complement these skills, students take a course in Research in English, designed to give them training in gathering information systematically and building arguments based on that information. Students learn how to gather information from interviews, surveys, and archives. They learn how to make hypotheses about ways of interpreting a text or a corpus of texts, and they gain practice testing their interpretations against alternatives. They also learn how to present their research to audiences within the discipline of English.


Students complete three elective courses, one at the 200/300-level and two at the 300/400-level. Electives at the 200-level allow students to sample introductory courses in special topics within rhetorical, literary, and cultural studies, such as gender and media studies; or genre courses in the novel or comedy. Electives at the 300 and 400 level allow students to specialize in subfields of literary and cultural studies, cross-cultural studies, or rhetoric, subfields in which they can take capstone seminars. Students should consult closely with advisors when choosing their elective courses.

Capstone Seminars

At the advanced level, students take two capstone seminars, which enable them to build on their prior coursework to develop their own cultural and rhetorical interpretations of a given period or a network of texts crossing periods. In these seminars, students are expected to design and complete their own research projects, as well as to take part in seminar discussions. As with the period courses, topics vary.