English Honors Program

The English Honors Program is open to applicants who have shown exceptional ability in English. English Honors is designed to expand and intensify the academic experiences of advanced English majors through completion of a three-quarter, cohort-based program. The program builds a community of  undergraduate scholars within the English Department, providing them with opportunities to work closely with UW professors in independent study and research, and with special events such as lectures and receptions.


2024 - 2025 Honors Program


Laura Chrisman

Douglas Ishii

Colette Moore

Alys Weinbaum                    


Fall seminars 

Marxist American Culture: Writing, Art, and Political Activism, Prof. Laura Chrisman

The 1930s saw an explosion of cultural production by artists associated with revolutionary social movements. This course looks at a  cross-section of that work, considering a range of innovative fiction, poetry, journalism, theory, and multimodal (textual/visual) materials. It involves close reading, archival research, and a willingness to interrogate the anti-communist assumptions that became entrenched in American political and academic life during the Cold War and continue into the 21st century. The course materials foreground the contributions of Black, Jewish, and women artists, and considers the at times conflicted and at times symbiotic relationship of modernist experimentation and social realism, the interplay of class, race, and gender, and the shifting meanings of 'the people' and 'the folk'. Primary texts may include works by Hugo Gellert, Margaret Walker, Muriel Rukeyser, Langston Hughes, Mike Gold, Richard Wright, Meridel Le Sueur,  and Clifford Odets.

Fulfills Historical Depth or Power and Difference distribution area.

 Race, Gender, and U.S. Pop Music after 1965, Prof. Douglas Ishii

This Honors seminar will interpret and theorize a form of everyday culture: popular music.  Its centrality to collective memory suggests its power to shape cultural imaginaries, yet its ubiquity belies its power to reflect and refract dominant ideologies.  It is by now a truism that the history of U.S. pop music is a history of race.  This seminar engages difference after the 1965 Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and Immigration and Nationality Act, when sanctioned racism supposedly ended, through an intersectional analysis of pop genres to query histories of the present.  Genre, as theorists of race, gender, and sexuality have illustrated, is not a value-neutral description, but is a system of classification that ties taxonomies of art to the taxonomies of people.  We will ask: How do genres, despite music’s celebration as universal or transcendent, reveal contexts and tensions that linger in the act of listening?  How do genre categories set expectations of what (and whom) we’re hearing as a result of institutions, industries, and social systems?  How have artists, critics, and scholars addressed these prescriptive and limiting understanding of genres?

Taking specific genres as flashpoints, we will survey a range of scholarship, journalism, essays, interviews, albums, and music videos using cultural studies as a method toward unraveling how cultural power has been naturalized through constructions of difference.  We will apply theoretical frameworks from across the study of language, literature, and culture to which you have likely been exposed, such as cultural materialism, Black feminism, new historicism, queer theory, and postcolonial thought.  We will think about how writing about music engages multiple publics through multiple genres, as well as the relevance of cultural and literary studies toward that end.  Assessments will apply the methodological concerns of this seminar, with the intention of practicing skills toward preparing for the Honors thesis.

Fulfills Power and Difference or Genre, Method, and Language distribution areas. 

Winter Seminars 

Literary Texts and Vernacular English, Prof. Colette Moore

Literary texts are a unique resource for representing spoken varieties of English. In a practice that goes back as far as Chaucer's Reeve's Tale, authors have written poetry and fiction that uses spelling and grammar to recreate features of spoken language that diverge from "standard" written English: called dialect literature, dialect poetry, or nation language (a term offered by the Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite). Literary writing, therefore, can be a form of resistance; one that celebrates and promotes local and community-based kinds of English.

This course explores Anglophone literary works that depict global and local varieties of English in their use of language. The choice of language in literary works reflects the cultural legacy of power relationships: whose English gets centered in standardizing practices and whose English gets marginalized; by extension, the question of whose English is being represented and how it is depicted is critical to literary interpretation. We will encounter the cultural environments that frame language choice as a stylistic strategy, charting broad concerns such as nationhood, coloniality/decoloniality, diaspora, race, community, language contact, memory, and identity.

Dialect literature is not always approachable, as Debbie Taylor writes in The Guardian, "Reading work in dialect demands a commitment on the part of the reader, which is as much political as it is artistic. It requires us to stray off the beaten track of received pronunciation and mainstream literature, with its complete words and nicely structured sentences, and into [a] rough and ready linguistic world." But such choices can be engaging and entertaining as well; these works are powerful and fun to read. Authors and poets might include Edmund Spenser, Robert Burns, Mark Twain, Louise Bennett-Coverley, George Washington Harris, Tom Leonard, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mutabaruka, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Junot Díaz, Amitav Ghosh. We will also look at some discussions of the place of vernacular literature in Kamau Brathwaite, William Wordsworth, Gloria Anzaldúa, Thomas Macaulay and others.

This class will satisfy the English major requirement for historical depth, pre-1945 or the genre, method, and language requirement. 

Dystopia and the Question of History, Prof. Alys Weinbaum

This honors seminar hones in on dystopian fiction, one of today’s most popular genres (think The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hunger Games).  It examines how dystopic representations (both mainstream and less well known) can be read as critiques of current social and political formations, national and global cultures, capitalist processes, and dominant ideas about gender, race, sexuality and class—that is, the collection of ideas that comprise the hegemonic, or “natural” order of things.  “The question of history” in the course title is not really a single question, but rather a series of interrelated questions about how the past is invoked in dystopian fiction, how this fiction engages (and perhaps theorizes?) the complex unfolding of history, and how real dystopian pasts (those that have actually been experienced by some) are recirculated, morphed, and critically examined in and through fictional representations.  Of special concern will be the treatment of Atlantic slavery, settler colonialism, climate disaster, the holocaust of World War II and the modern ascent of fascism.  How are these histories brought into dystopian texts and to what end?  How are they disaggregated and/or constellated and to what end?  Throughout the quarter we will treat a range of theoretical and critical writings that will help us to explore the conventions of the genre, debates about the narration of history, and those about the depiction of collective trauma. While dystopian representations can be bleak, some Marxist critics have argued that they are also illuminating and inspiring insofar as they catalyze unique forms of critical thinking about our present moment of reading.  Indeed, some have argued that dystopian fictions contribute to changes in consciousness, and, ideally, to social transformation—an argument we will weigh carefully as we read. Overall, we will attempt to stay afloat in our bleak present by locating the utopian impulses that lie within dystopian fictions and/or in our collective analysis of them.

Fulfills Genre, Method, and Language or Power and Difference distribution area. 



2023-24 Honors Faculty

Janelle Rodriques

Jesse Oak Taylor

Jeffrey Knight

Frances McCue

2023-24 Honors Topic: Literature & Extraction

This year’s theme explores literature’s entanglements with the concept of ‘extraction,’ understood in multiple senses: the extraction of materials from the earth; the extraction of meaning in poetry, prose, and drama; and extraction in the sense of lineage or kinship. We will explore the idea that literary art is at once extractive and resistant to extractivism: after all, while literature draws upon material resources, it does not exhaust them. We will also think about how meaning is “extracted” from a text, what is gained or lost when we select certain features over others, and how ideas, words, and cultural artifacts are repurposed in different contexts. These courses will showcase how literary reading both participates in and resists the extractive logic of capitalism and empire, and how it opens into questions of kinship and relation, heritage and tradition, offering a chance to think about literature as at once extracted from the world and a means of imagining new worlds into being.

Brief seminar descriptions below:

Sun, Sand, Sea and Sex? Critiquing Literary Tourism in the Peri-Disaster Caribbean

Janelle Rodriques

In this seminar, we will read fiction and criticism that both construct and deconstruct the modern Caribbean as a site of pleasure and paradise. We will explore the contingency of leisure on labour, and the relations between the tourist encounter and that of ‘explorer,’ ‘coloniser’ and ‘native.’

Novel Ecologies: Fiction in an Age of Extraction

Jesse Oak Taylor

Victorian Britain was the first fossil fueled society, a pivotal threshold in Earth’s history that we now recognize to be the dawn of a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. In this course, we will explore the way this epochal shift in both ideas and the Earth system registers in fiction. While storytelling is among the oldest of human art forms, the novel rose to prominence in the midst of the social and ecological transformation of the planet wrought by empire and industrialization. Our discussions will plumb the geohistorical imaginary of Victorian fiction, while also asking what it means to read these novels now, as we attempt to sever the connection to fossil fuels and imagine new worlds into being in the midst of climate emergency and ecosystem collapse. Readings will include Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone (1868), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), Joseph Conrad's Nostromo (1902), and R. F. Kuang's Babel: An Arcane History (2022), alongside supplemental material in ecocriticism and the energy humanities. This course fulfills the Department’s Historical Depth requirement (pre-1945).

Loving and Hating (in) Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

Jeffrey Knight

The Merchant of Venice is at once Shakespeare’s most modern play and his most problematic
one. Ostensibly it’s a comedy about risk and reward (i.e., love) in the nascent economic system
of global capitalism. But from its very first words, the play gives us something else
entirely—something dark and unsettling, a drama of mental illness, proscribed sexuality,
racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, sham justice, and forced assimilation. By the end, the play
seems ambivalent about itself, at best. We are ambivalent about it too, as we should be.
This is an honors course in slow, intensive reading. Our objective will be to take a single text as
an entry point not only to Shakespeare’s world—and to a pivotal moment in Shakespeare’s
career, presaging the turn to tragedy—but also to broader questions about literary and cultural
history: most centrally, what should we do with artworks from the past that convey painful or
offensive ideas? After we read and watch the play once or twice, we will proceed through
project-based units on Shakespeare’s sources and archetypes, the historical context, and the
play’s stage and reception history. Readings will include excerpted primary works by
Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and secondary works by modern critics and theorists.
Evaluation will be based on seminar participation, short presentations, and an essay. Credit for
this course can apply toward the “Historical Depth” (pre-1700) distribution area in the English
major. The course is designed to be welcoming and intellectually productive not just for lovers
of Shakespeare but for haters of him too.

Documentary Poetics and Other Craft Assemblages in Verse

Frances McCue

This course will bring us to poems assembled from bits of journalism, witness statements and other artifacts so that we can explore how these extractions create poetic worlds. We will also look at “telestitching” and other methods that poets use to create poems that honor legacies and question responses to  environmental and historical events. We will create our own poetic assemblages and write short papers about the work of other writers.

2023-24 Honors Faculty

Jeffrey Knight

Francis McCue

Janelle Rodriques

Jesse Oak Taylor

2022-23 Honors Topic

Honors 2022-2023: Imagined Worlds/Possible Worlds

In this course sequence, the ‘speculative’ frames our consideration of imagined and possible worlds. As a framework, the speculative supports numerous concerns, including the production and evolution of narrative genres, such as Arthurian romance, utopian and dystopian fiction, Afrofuturism, and science fiction. Yet, it also supports inquiries about speculative aspects of narratives and objects that represent the real world as we know it. Further still, it frames a variety of critical approaches to reading and interpreting texts, thinking about historical pasts and potential futures. To speculate about what is possible, or to imagine modes of social existence and realities that are not (yet) our own, requires an account of what constitutes the “real,” knowable world. Thus, as part of our collective task, we will examine the underlying presumptions that determine how “worlds” (both imaginary ones and geopolitical realities) and “time” (the past, present, and future) are entangled with each other, and with particular ways of knowing. By engaging with a wide range of textual forms and genres, we will explore what the cultural imagination reveals about visions of social justice, along with the collective desires and aspirations that arise at any given historical moment. With a speculative framework for analyzing culture, we will be attuned to both dominant and nascent expressions of world-building projects, along with what—in another time and place—reality could be.

Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges’s course, “Speculative Worlds,” focuses on the possibilities and limitations of imagined worlds. As we read, view, and immerse ourselves in a range of textual forms—including novels, film, games, and XR narratives—we will explore how texts build imagined worlds, how we position or resist positioning ourselves within imagined worlds, and how we create our own imagined worlds. We will also investigate the contexts shaping speculative worlds, asking how imagined worlds intersect with historical and current realities, showing us institutions, modes of existence, and social structures we have yet to experience. In doing so, we will also consider the limitations of imagined worlds, asking whose speculative worlds receive broad distribution and what different audiences seek—and perhaps do not find—in speculative worlds.

Habiba Ibrahim’s course, “Imagining Being and Time,” explores how African-American and Black diasporic literary and cultural forms navigate modern conditions for being human by revisiting the historical past and speculating about potential futures. By engaging with a variety of genres and forms, the course tracks the problem of “being” through enslavement, colonialism, and nationalism, while it focuses on where alternative modes of life emerge in the Black literary and cultural imagination.      

Gillian Harkins’s course “Uncommon Senses” will explore changing concepts of common sense, asking how specific approaches to sense-making and sensation, as well as embodiment and imagination, shape what is perceived as possible or real.  Using a range of literary and visual texts, we will ask whose sense, where, and when is considered “common” (more than an isolated experience) and what different experiential commons might be.  This exploration will review Cultural Studies approaches to capitalism, colonialism and imperialism as well as race, gender, sexuality, and embodiment. 

Kate Norako’s Course, “Premodern Worldbuilding” investigates the ways in which medieval English writers conjured aspirational worlds across a variety of genres and textual forms: from mappae mundi and travel narratives, to Arthurian romance, to allegorical prose and verse (e.g. Christine de Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies and Langland’s Piers Plowman). Central to our work will be discerning the implications of these acts of imagination: who and what is included/excluded? To what extent does medieval English worldbuilding require not only creation but erasure? And what aspects of this premodern worldbuilding persist in our present?

2022-23 Honors Faculty

Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges

Habiba Ibrahim

Kate Norako

2021-22 Honors Topic

Literary Genres and Social Transformation

English Honors Sequence 2021-2022

Artistic genres both reflect and create social transformation.  For instance, literary scholars and historians agree that the modern novel developed in response to a number of social, political and economic factors resulting in the wider spread of literacy and ideas about individualism, and that, by turn, it altered subsequent reading practices and conceptions of selfhood. This dynamic between reflecting a changing society and creating social change will be equally obvious of other genres and subgenres: of television sitcoms, of slam poetry, of newspaper editorials, of presidential inaugural addresses (which may of course be further subdivided by political party), and so forth.  Genres themselves may include cultural transformations, as we see in examples of the narrative essay or the lyric poem as they are re-made by Claudia Rankine and Zaina Alsous.  But genres can also be challenged by cultural transformation, revealing the limits of modes of representation that embed specific cultural values in the form itself.

This honors sequence will introduce students to a wide variety of texts and theories to explore how social transformation gets registered and created by literary genres.  In order to help create intellectual continuity for students, the AQ courses taught by Professors Kaup and Liu will feature Herman Melville's novella *Benito Cereno* (1855), and the WQ courses taught by Professors Chrisman and LaPorte will include Eve Ewing's new book of poems, *1919* (2019).

Professor Kaup’s “The Novel and the Sea” (AQ 21) examines fiction set on waterways and maritime spaces from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) to Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide (2004). It shows how the literary representation of aquatic worlds shaped--and is shaped by--social phenomena such as transnational exploration and adventure, colonialism and slavery, and globalization and climate change.  Professor Liu’s “Genre and Social Transformation” (AQ 21) will look at various genres of fiction (like graphic novels, novels, short stories), nonfiction (like podcasts, creative nonfiction, personal narrative, inaugural addresses), and performance (like standup comedy) to think through how genre makes possible, as well as disciplines, cultural transformations in perception of race, gender, and sexuality. To honor the creative spark at the heart of all genre production, students will have the opportunity to practice thinking, writing, and creating in different genres.  Professor Chrisman's "Imagining the Past: Black Historical Fictions" engages with the genre of the historical novel, which has long held an important place in global Black literary production. The course will consider fiction by African and Black diasporic writers that adapts and experiments with the genre, in order to probe the experience of empire, enslavement, resistance, migration, and nation-building. Professor LaPorte's "Genre and Social Transformation in Historical Literature" will look at fiction, poetry, and non-fiction from the nineteenth and early twentieth century to think about the ways that literature influenced and created our ideas about human rights.  

2021-22 Honors Faculty

Laura Chrisman

Monika Kaup

Charles LaPorte

Michelle Liu

2020-21 Honors Topic

Stories In and Out of Place

English Honors Theme 2020-2021

Stories move. They take on lives of their own, and acquire meanings their authors couldn’t have imagined in distant times and places. Stories also stay put, they help root communities in place across centuries. They orient travellers in unfamiliar lands; they connect us to distant places and people we may never meet face to face. They are carried on the breath, on the stage, through undersea cables and across pages and screens. As readers, listeners, and storytellers, the stories we encounter, remember, interpret and pass on inform our perception of the world around us, the futures we imagine into being and the pasts we consider worthy of commemoration.

The courses linked under this theme think about storytelling as both in place and out of place, not only in terms of how stories themselves and the media through which they are conveyed alter, but also the routes through which stories travel and the roots that hold them in place. They ask why certain stories belong to/in certain places and what happens when they are dis- or re-placed. They explore how stories create places and places create stories, whether in storied landscapes or virtual worlds.

2020-21 Honors Faculty

Alys Weinbaum

Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges

Juliet Shields

Jesse Oak Taylor

2019-20 Honors Topic

The Honors courses in 2019-2020 will take as their shared thematic focus what might be loosely described as the crisis of progressive time.  In many ways, the modern epoch has been defined by the idea of humanity collectively building a future that improves on the past, in a forward trajectory that tends toward reason, equity, productivity, and technological innovation.  From its inception, this narrative of human progress has collided with competing conceptions of time, many of them forged in the political, economic, and environmental violence that the will-to-progress itself unleashes.  After all, the very insistence on progress generates the idea of backwardness, of peoples and places that must be forcibly subjected to the (supposedly) civilization-building programs of others.   But the idea of progress is perhaps never more in crisis than in our own historical moment, where human misery seems ascendant rather than declining, as qualify of life and of prospects decays across most regions of the globe, and where climate change beckons an existential crisis already underway.

The courses in this sequence are variously concerned with alternative temporalities – alternate ways of thinking our histories, inhabiting our present, and conceiving our futures.  They will consider how old and new emergencies impel and inform new modes of attention to history;  they will highlight narrative forms that refuse the compression of the present into a seemingly singular (or coherent) time;  they will encompass narratives of extinction but also of post-apocalyptic worlds in which radically different forms of human survival and sociality might emerge.

2019-20 Honors Faculty

Laura Chrisman

Jeff Knight

Tom Foster

Mark Patterson

2018-19 Honors Topics

Honors 2018-19: Poesis as Place

The term poesis describes the process of making.  Derived from Ancient Greek, poesis names cultural or aesthetic activity that brings something into existence.  This Honors sequence explores how poesis relates to place, in particular how various forms, media, and practices of cultural work create place as experience, environment, and territory.  Each course will ask how poetry, novels, performances, or visual texts create a sense of place ranging across the personal and the political.   Our focus will remain on the ways complex political, aesthetic, and epistemological issues are transacted through a poesis of place, or even poesis as place, to see how the contemporary world emerges from longer genealogies of cultural making. In keeping with this historical overview, several of our courses will disclose how a sense of place which seems objective, settled and inert can mutate dramatically over time in response to alternative styles of map-making, shifting political and social agendas, changes in aesthetics, and how these may compete with—and even seek to repress—various kinds of counter-memory. In totality, this quartet of courses reach back into the settler colonial origins of the U.S. and modernist U.K. nostalgia for a rural past through the diverse poetic and narrative experiments associated with late modernism and colonialism from the 1960s onward. 

In “Haunted Landscapes: Sense of Place in Nineteenth-Century America,” Bob Abrams will examine sense of place in nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture, including a look backward at the precariousness of sense of place at the troubled origins of British colonial America, initial collisions between white colonial and native tribal spatial imaginaries, and other ways in which sense of place remains unsettled throughout nineteenth-century American writing, cartography and painting. In her course “The ‘Shrinking Island’: Changing Responses to Place in 20th Century British Fiction,” Sydney Kaplan will turn to the sense of place created in early twentieth century British fiction, taking up such issues as nostalgia for ‘olde England’ amidst the realities of industrialization and its effect on the landscape, regionalism, and the dominance of the city. In “Triggering Town: The Poetics of Place in a Globalized World,” Frances McCue will engage the concept of the ‘trigging town,’ poet Richard Hugo’s name for places as method to help poets begin new poems, in order to consider shifting conditions of locality and globalization in post-1960s poems of North Cascadia. And in “Neverland: U.S. Empire and the Poesis of Displacement,” Gillian Harkins will explore post-1968 narrative forms generated in or about the United States, asking how experimental narratives about neo-colonial and imperial imaginaries of place-making transform the fictions of nationalized space. 

2018-19 Honors Faculty

Robert Abrams

Gillian Harkins

Sydney Kaplan

Frances McCue


2017-18 Honors Faculty and Topics

Humanism and its Discontents

This honors sequence focuses on “Humanism and its Discontents.” Each seminar will explore the cultural production and political struggles that surround the category of “the human" and its many exclusions. All seminars will include engagement with theoretical and literary critical texts that offer ways of situating literature and other forms of cultural production in relation to changing historical and social conditions.  Depending upon each seminar’s historical foci, course materials will reach back into the nineteenth century and forward into the twenty-first. Topics will include settler colonialism, racial slavery, genocide, imperialism, capitalism, sex/gender hierarchies, ecology, and regimes of sexual and bodily normalization. 

Each seminar will be reading and writing intensive and will result in the production of a final research paper or related research based project.  The honors course sequence seeks to provide students with the following skills, important to successful work in advanced literary and cultural studies:

*Ability to close read primary texts––literary, visual, and theoretical

*Ability to enter into constructive and confident discussion about course materials with one’s peers

*Ability to close read critical and philosophical texts and place them into conversation with each other

*Ability to close read cultural, political, literary, visual, and theoretical texts as primary sources that are in conversation across genres and idioms of expression

*Ability to summarize a text’s main claims and evaluate them critically

*Ability to formulate a distinct critical perspective of one’s own

*Ability to situate one’s own ideas and readings within larger critical and political conversations

*Ability to formulate in writing one’s intuitions and emergent ideas

*Ability to produce a coherent and complex argument in writing based on evidence and research

2017-18 Honors Faculty

Stephanie Clare

Michelle Liu

Habiba Ibrahim

Alys Weinbaum

2016-17 Honors Faculty and Topics

Topic: "Identities and Modernities"

For hundreds of years, anglophone literature has regularly and self-consciously reflected on its own "modernity."   From the start, however, the relationship between identity and the modern has been vexed.  What exactly does our "modernity" distinguish itself from: the traditional, the pre-industrial, the bucolic, the ancient, the religious, the medieval, the Utopian, the "primitive"?  Such questions might show us the difficulty, even the speciousness, of such distinctions.  Further, our conceptions of identity are framed via notions of "the modern," even when those notions are plural and global.  We might say that the modern is a heuristic that enables certain literary discourses to take shape, the sine qua non of our literary and cultural endeavors.

The four honors courses in this sequence aspire to introduce students to different ways of conceiving of the intersection of identity and the modern.  Our hope is that the courses will prove individually fruitful and dovetail with one another in productive ways.

2016-17 Honors Faculty

Kate Cummings

Louis Chude Sokei

Charles LaPorte

Monika Kaup

2015-16 Honors Faculty and Topics

Topic: "Adaptations"

Adaptation derives from the Latin adaptare, “to fit.” Adaptations enable a thing, person, organism, or idea to fit new or changing circumstances. In biological terms, adaptation refers to the process by which individual mutations enable organisms to fit better into their ecosystem, giving them a comparative advantage and thus ultimately leading to the ongoing evolution of species. Adaptation also occurs at the level of the individual, as we alter our behaviors, tastes, and expectations to fit the world around us. Adaptation also refers to the way that different cultures modify ideas, objects, and practices to fit their own, ever-changing, needs. New technologies arise by repurposing existing tools, or combining them in new ways that in turn create new possibilities that demand new innovations.

In literary terms, authors adapt their own experiences of the world into their work. They also adapt the work of others, playing with genre expectations, established storylines, familiar devices, and even familiar characters. No work of literature--for that matter, no cultural practice or species--is entirely new and original. Instead, all literature arises at least in part out of a process of adapting what has come before into new forms, new contexts, new meanings, and new purposes. Even individual works may be said to adapt, as they take on new meanings when read in context different from those in which they were written, while we speak explicitly of “adapting” books for the stage or the screen.

This year’s English Honors courses will explore the theme of “adaptation” as broadly construed in literary studies. Different courses will trace adaptations of form, of genre, or of specific works across diverse times periods and contexts. In the process, we will discuss the implications of considering adaptation as a process at once aesthetic, ecological, political, and cultural that enables us to think about the persistence and efficacy of literary and cultural practice, and the ways in which different periods, authors, nations, and traditions relate to one another.

2015-16 Honors Faculty

Laura Chrisman

Sydney Kaplan

Jeffrey Knight

Jesse Oak Taylor


2014-15 Honors Faculty and Topics

"Form and Politics of Narrative"

How can narrative form and voice tell a story hidden behind the more apparent story? To what extent does the style of a genre have a particular politics? Do forms of narrative themselves have a history? What about narratives that break the boundaries of readers' expectations? How might form and politics affect the making of personal narratives? This year the four courses in our honors sequence will take up such questions with a focus on the form and politics of narrative in literature, film, and popular culture. We will cover a wide range of texts, both written and visual, in historical periods from the eighteenth century to the present.

The honors sequence will work to provide students with the following skills, important to successful work in literary and cultural study:

  1. close or careful reading of primary textual evidence;
  2. close or careful reading of critical academic prose;
  3. ability to summarize the main claims of an academic essay;
  4. ability to assess and respond to the main claims of an academic essay;
  5. ability to situate oneself in a critical conversation;
  6. ability to formulate a distinct critical perspective;
  7. ability to create a logically coherent and complex thesis;
  8. ability to develop a coherent and sustained argument to support that thesis.

2014-15 Honors Faculty

Carolyn Allen

Eva Cherniavsky

Gary Handwerk

Thomas Lockwood


2013-14 Honors Faculty and Topics

"Literature and Politics "

This Honors sequence focuses on “literature and politics.” Each seminar will explore the relationship between cultural production and political struggle, with a specific focus on the role of literature. All honors seminars will include theoretical and literary critical texts that offer ways of situating literature in relation to changing historical and social conditions. Course materials will reach back into the nineteenth century and forward into the twenty-first. Topics include settler colonialism, slavery, genocide, imperialism, capitalism, sex/gender hierarchies, and regimes of sexual and bodily normalization. Each seminar will be writing intensive and will result in the production of a final research paper. The honors sequence will work to provide students with the following skills, important to successful work in literary and cultural study:

  • close or careful reading of primary textual evidence;
  • close or careful reading of critical academic prose;
  • ability to summarize the main claims of an academic essay;
  • ability to assess and respond to the main claims of an academic essay;
  • ability to situate oneself in a critical conversation;
  • ability to formulate a distinct critical perspective;
  • ability to create a logically coherent and complex thesis;
  • ability to develop a coherent and sustained argument to support that thesis.

2013-2014 Honors Faculty

Gillian Harkins

Katherine Cummings

Alys Weinbaum

Chandan Reddy

Previous years' faculty and topics:

2012-2013: "Cultural Forms and Social Change" (Faculty: Gillian Harkins, Kate Cummings, Charles LaPorte, Juliet Shields, Caroline Simpson)

2011-2012: "Narratives of Time and Space: Memory, Dislocation and Emotion" (Faculty: Carolyn Allen, Sydney Kaplan, Monika Kaup, Mark Patterson)

2010-2011: "Technologies of Textual Representation" (Faculty: Tom Foster, Laurie George, Tom Lockwood, Miceál Vaughan)

2009-2010: "Aesthetics and Politics" (Faculty: Gillian Harkins, Laura Chrisman, Eva Cherniavsky, Alys Weinbaum)

2008-2009: "History and Imagination" (Faculty: Herbert Blau, Sydney Kaplan, Tom Lockwood, Michelle Liu)

2007-2008: "Reading Genres of (Post)Modernity" (Faculty: Carolyn Allen, Tom Foster, Charles LaPorte, Nikolai Popov)

2006-2007: "The Object(s) of Literature" (Faculty: Sydney Kaplan, Mark Patterson, Shawn Wong, Laura Chrisman)

2005-2006: "Aesthetics and Politics" (Faculty: Alys Weinbaum, Mark Patterson, Chandan Reddy, Zahid Chaudhary)

For further details on prior year honors seminars, see the Department's quarterly course descriptions.


Application to the English Honors Cohort is competitive. Applications are accepted annually after winter quarter grades have been posted.  Submit your honors application as a single PDF by 4pm Monday, April 22, 2024.

This application will be for academic year 2024-25. Space is limited. Meeting minimum eligibility requirements, or being a member of the College Honors Program, does not guarantee admission. Selection takes place through the competitive admission process, which includes the application form and a personal statement.

Students usually enter English Honors when they have Junior standing, with an average of 115-135 credits earned.  A cohort of approximately 30 students will be admitted during spring quarter, and must complete the program in residence over autumn, winter, and spring quarters of the following academic year.

To be eligible for English Honors, all students must be declared English majors who apply in spring quarter for the following Autumn's English Honors cohort, and must have:

  • completed at least two quarters at the UW
  • completed at least 15 credits of UW English courses at the 200-level or above
  • completed ENGL 302, or be planning to complete it in Spring or Summer quarter, before beginning the Honors program in the Autumn
  • a minimum UW cumulative GPA of 3.3
  • a minimum UW English GPA of 3.7 (in courses at the 200-level and above) Students who fail to meet this GPA requirement but who feel that there are mitigating circumstances, such as having taken a group of exceptionally difficult courses or having undergone a period of personal difficulty resulting in a lowered GPA, may petition the department Director of Undergraduate Programs for special consideration.
  • at least three remaining quarters in residence at the UW: students in the Honors Program must take English honors courses on campus in Autumn, Winter, and Spring.
  • submitted an application form and a personal statement (no more than one page) that addresses these things:
    1. what do you hope to gain by participating in the English Honors Program?
    2. please describe a good learning experience you have had while pursuing the English major and discuss how it informed your decision to apply to Honors

View/print the honors application

Advising and Administration

All new English Honors students are encouraged to meet and consult with the English Department faculty and staff members who administer the Honors Program:

Professor Stephanie Clare, Director of Undergraduate Programs and English Honors
Padelford A-419; sclare@uw.edu

Stephanie Clare receives applications, maintain academic progress files for Honors students, issue add codes and provide supplemental registration assistance and academic planning.  They are available to discuss intellectual topics, scholarly activities, and academic interests and plans with students. They also make decisions regarding student requests for exceptions to Honors policies and procedures, and reviews applications for readmission after dismissal.

Read an article about the English Honors Program featured on the University Honors website.


Students who successfully complete both the College Honors and the English Honors programs will be graduated With College Honors in English.  Students successfully completing the English Department Honors program only will be graduated With Honors in English.  These Honors are posted to the UW transcript.  To graduate With Honors in English, students must complete all required English Honors courses and maintain a minimum UW cumulative GPA of 3.3 and UW English GPA of 3.7.

WARNING: Students who have not completed all Honors requirements by their scheduled graduation date must request that the graduation date be postponed if he or she still desires to graduate with Honors. Once the degree is posted, no changes can be made to the transcript, and Honors will be forfeited.

Requirements and Satisfactory Progress

English Honors course work consists of two honors seminars (ENGL 494), one taken in Autumn and one in Winter, followed by the writing of an honors thesis in the Spring (ENGL 496).

A total of four honors seminars are offered each year, two in Autumn and two in Winter, taught by a total of four faculty members. The four seminars are linked by a theme of question, to be decided on by the participating faculty. Examples of the broadest themes or questions include" "Literature of Empire"; "Textual Studies"; "Literature and Other Arts"; "What is Modernity?"; "What is Literary History?"

Two of the four honors faculty will elect to be available in the Spring to oversee the approximately 40 honors essays. (Students may also choose to work with other professors as well, either because of an existing mentoring relationship, or because of scholarly expertise. Students completing the creative writing pathway may also choose to do a creative project under the direction of an appropriate faculty member.) There will be a meeting time and room scheduled for the thesis course(s), though the supervising faculty are free to organize the course as they would like.

Honors course work may not be “doubled up,” nor may the courses be taken out of sequence, though Honors coursework may overlap with English major requirements where appropriate.

An add code for the following course in the Honors sequence will not be issued if there is an incomplete grade or failing grade on the student’s record for the previous Honors course.  For example, if an “I” appears for ENGL 494 in Autumn Quarter, an add code for ENGL 494 for the upcoming Winter Quarter will not be issued until the incomplete grade is resolved.  This may result in being shut out of a desired seminar or being dismissed from the program if the incomplete converts to a 0.0.  If at any time after admission a student’s grades fall below these minimum standards, he or she will be dismissed from the program.  Students who have been dropped for unsatisfactory scholarship may reapply for admission at a later date if minimum GPA requirements are attained.  All second applications must be accompanied by a letter of petition and two letters of recommendation from English faculty.


Registration for English Honors courses is by add code only.  Add codes may be obtained Suman Chhabra (schhabra@uw.edu). Add codes for honors courses are generally issued on a first-come, first-served basis on the first day of regular senior registration. Every quarter, honors students will receive email instructions on how to attain add codes.

Applying Honors Courses to English Major Requirements

Honors courses may be applied to major requirements in a number of ways. Any Honors course may be used to satisfy English major elective requirements, although this works most efficiently for students following the major with an emphasis in literature.  Any Honors Seminar, if defined appropriately, may be used to satisfy any requirement in the English major.  For example, if the topic of one of your Senior Seminars is “Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group,” it is very likely that it satisfies a History of Language and Literature core requirement.  ENGL 496 will not fulfill the 400 level creative writing electives, but 496 could (depending on the topic) apply to historical breadth or power and difference for an honors creative writing major.  For approval of Honors courses for specific requirements, consult with a HAS adviser in PDL A-2-B.

Honors students will use ENGL 496 Major Conference for Honors as their 400-level senior capstone course.

ENGL 496:  Major Conference for Honors

The Major Conference for Honors requires a thesis project, a substantive essay, usually 20-30 pages, but sometimes longer.  Broadly speaking, the thesis is a complex piece of research-based  literary analysis, criticism, theory, or other critical work related to English.  Although most people choose literary topics, students are also welcome to do thesis work in English language study (linguistics), rhetoric and composition, cultural studies, film studies, and other emerging areas of the discipline.  The Honors thesis should aspire to the level of a good graduate term paper.  To approach this level of competence, it should have the following characteristics:

  • A clear, significant thesis that is fully developed, coherent, and free from major flaws in reasoning.
  • Arguments based on textual evidence and grounded in attentive close reading.
  • An engagement in the “critical conversation” that takes the essay beyond a competent close reading.  Authoritative use of secondary sources that does not use the arguments of others in place of original thought or amount to nothing but a review of the criticism.
  • A clear and consistent critical perspective that reflects an awareness of theoretical concerns.
  • Effective organization that demonstrates purposefulness, a logical progression of thought, and rhetorical skill.
  • Lucid, masterful, and engaging prose style.
  • Freedom from stylistic missteps and mechanical errors.
  • Correct documentation utilizing either MLA Handbook or Chicago Manual of Style.

Faculty Supervision and Registration for ENGL 496

Two of the four faculty who teach Honors Seminars during the year will be available to supervise the honors theses. A regular meeting time and room will be scheduled for the thesis course to meet. There are some occasions when working with another English faculty member makes sense. For example, if a student wishes to complete a thesis project in medieval studies, and already has a strong mentoring relationship with Professor Remley, and he has agreed to work with that student independently, that student must provide a written intellectual justification to The Director of Undergraduate Programs. If the DUS approves the proposal, the student will be asked to submit an approval form with Professor Remely's signature. The student will work with Professor Remley on the content of the thesis, but WILL STILL BE REQUIRED TO REGISTER FOR AND ATTEND ONE OF THE SECTIONS OF ENGL 496, Major Conference for Honors. ENGL 496 is designed to cover critical aspects of the research process. The proposal, abstract, outline, annotated bibliography, etc. It is also designed to provide Honors students with an audience of their peers for developing their research, providing students with an opportunity to workshop their research with their peers.

The Value of English Honors

Before deciding to embark on English Honors, many students want to know what benefits the program confers.  Naturally, successful completion of departmental honors means receiving an impressive additional credential.  Particularly for students applying to graduate or professional school, graduating With Honors in English puts another attractive line on the curriculum vitae.  However, this should not be the sole motivation for entering the Honors program, nor is it the most significant benefit.

Building community: The Honors Program is a means for students to build community within one of the largest and most diverse departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.  Honors students inevitably share the common characteristics of active intellectual engagement, curiosity and a willingness to explore new topics and perspectives, and a strong belief in the intrinsic value of scholarship in our discipline. One of the goals of Honors is learning how to work effectively within a community of scholars, how to engage in a critical conversation with one's peers, how to negotiate a multiplicity of perspectives and intelligently stake out intellectual commitments. Honors should provide a more intimate "home" within the larger, vaguer framework of our rather ungainly major. By bringing 40 students together into a cohort and giving them multiple opportunities to meet and work together and with the 4-person faculty team, we hope that a strong sense of community will emerge.

Program coherence: The Honors program provides a coherent and cumulative program of study for students by focusing them on a defined area of inquiry or debate. Because the content and concerns of the honors courses are coordinated, students should build a strong sense of a topic or issue. By the end of the year, students should have a firm understanding of what it means to carry on a sustained conversation, to push the lines of inquiry to a new kind of depth and sophistication, and to appreciate questions from a multiplicity of critical perspectives. The topic of the Honors program in any given year will be defined in broad enough terms that every student will find an appealing point of entry rather than feeling as if they're being forced to study a narrow subject.

Graduate School preparation: Although Honors can be of great value to any English major, the program is particularly beneficial to prospective graduate students.  The advanced skills described above are precisely those needed by applicants to graduate and professional school.  Honors also puts students in an ideal position to fulfill the requirements of a successful graduate school application.  Strong letters of recommendation are sometimes difficult for UW students to get, even if they are intellectually gifted, because their professors simply don’t know them well enough.  Two quarters of seminar work and a term of intensive independent study means that faculty members get a very clear, detailed picture of their students’ abilities and accomplishments.  This can translate into the effective letters of recommendation.  Most graduate programs in English also require a critical writing sample, an essay of 12-20 pages, that is an extremely important part of the application.  The Honors Program provides ample opportunities for producing essays suitable for use as a critical writing sample. 

Students hoping to complete graduate degrees in English sometimes ask if it is “necessary” to do English Honors to be competitive.   The answer to this question is:  No.  Many eligible students have compelling reasons for choosing not to participate in the program.  Talent reveals itself in numerous ways to graduate admissions committees.   The absence of Honors course work on the transcript will not damage the prospects of a student with a clear record of academic excellence.

Read an article about the English Honors Program featured on the University Honors website.

Other Honors

English Honors students are frequently eligible for other categories of  honors at the UW.  However, one type of honor does not necessarily imply the others.  It is important to distinguish English Honors from

University Honors

University Honors is an umbrella term to designate all UW Honors programs. For a thorough explanation of the three different tracks in Honors-- Interdisciplinary Honors (core curriculum), Departmental Honors, and College Honors (combination of Interdisciplinary and Departmental Honors), please go to the University of Washington Honors Program web page,

The Honors Curriculum: Options and Requirements.

High Scholarship Recognition

The following forms of recognition are awarded to first baccalaureate degree, matriculated students in residence.  Undergraduate students in all colleges of the University are eligible regardless of membership in the Honors Program.

Quarterly Dean’s List:  A high scholarship notation is made on the transcript of each undergraduate student who attains a quarterly GPA of at least 3.50 for 12 UW graded credits.  “Dean’s List” is entered on the line below the quarter’s courses on the transcript and a congratulatory letter is sent from the dean of the student’s home school or college.

Annual Dean’s List: The following undergraduates receive yearly high scholarship recognition in the form of a certificate:

  • Undergraduates who have attended three quarters of the academic year (Summer through Spring) and who have achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher in at least 12 graded credits in each of the three quarters.
  • Undergraduates who have attended the University for four quarters of the school year (Summer through Spring) with a 3.50 or higher GPA in 12 or more graded credits in each of three quarters, and a cumulative GPA of 3.50 for the four quarters combined.

Such students are recognized by the notation “Annual Dean’s List” following the last quarter’s grades for the year, and by a certificate of recognition from the dean of the student’s home school or college.

View UW English majors on the Annual Dean's List.

Baccalaureate Honors

Baccalaureate honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude)  are awarded at graduation based on GPA and other factors (see the Registrar's Office website for criteria).  The University’s Faculty Council on Academic Standards Honors Subcommittee determines annually the proportions of the graduating class to receive baccalaureate honors.  GPAs are then determined by the Committee and the Registrar's Office to yield the specified proportions within each undergraduate college.  University minimum GPAs are specified for each baccalaureate honors level, and college GPA minima must at least equal annually stipulated University minima. (The Registrar's Office maintains the most recent GPA requirements.)


Freshman Medal.  Annually, the sophomore having the most distinguished academic record for the first year of his or her program receives the freshman medal.  The notation "Freshman Medalist" is made on the transcript.  Selection is based primarily on GPA, but the rigor and quality of the student's program are also considered. Only students who have earned 36 or more graded credits in residence at the UW will be considered for this honor.

Sophomore and Junior Medals. Annually, the junior having the most distinguished academic record for the first two years of his or her program receives the sophomore medal.  The senior having the most distinguished academic record for the first three years of his or her program receives the junior medal.  The notation "Sophomore Medalist" or "Junior Medalist" is made on the transcript.  Selection is based primarily on GPA, but the rigor and quality of the student's program are also considered.  Only students who have earned 40 or more graded credits in residence at the UW will be considered for these honors.

President's Medal. The President's Medal, which is conferred at commencement, recognizes the graduating senior who has the most distinguished academic record.  Only students who have earned at least 90 credits at the UW may be considered.  The notation "President's Medalist" is made on the transcript, under the name of the degree awarded.

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa is a national honorary organization whose purpose is to recognize and honor students with excellent undergraduate academic records.  Requirements for election are established by each local chapter.  The requirements are meant to ensure that members have had a quality liberal education; at the UW students in all colleges are welcomed if they meet these standards.

Election:  Students do not apply to Phi Beta Kappa.  Instead, the Registrar’s Office provides the UW chapter with the transcripts of all students who meet the credit and GPA requirements.  The chapter then determines whether the general education and upper-division breadth requirements are met.  If so, the student is mailed an offer of election.

Here is a list of recent UW English majors invited to join Phi Beta Kappa.

Golden Key National Honor Society

Golden Key is a national interdisciplinary academic honors organization whose purpose is to recognize and encourage scholastic achievement in all undergraduate fields of study.  Golden Key seeks to bring together undergraduates, college faculty, and administrators in developing and maintaining high standards of education and in promoting voluntary service to school and community.

Election:  Students are normally invited into Golden Key each Fall quarter on the basis of meeting credit and class rank criteria.  At other times, students who have subsequently become eligible may contact the UW Golden Key chapter office for information.

Sigma Tau Delta

Members of the UW chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honor society, note that the society's purpose is to "confer distinction upon students of the English language and literature, while also providing an opportunity to create a sense of community in the department."