University English Panel: The Discipline of English and the Work of the Humanities


Stefan Collini (University of Cambridge) – The discipline of English and the work of the humanities

Helen Small (University of Oxford) – The Work of the English Faculty

Amanda Anderson (Brown University) – The Collaborative Imperative and the Conflict of the Faculties

Chris Newfield (University of California Santa Barbara) – Towards New English Departmental Life

This round table brings together four leading academics in conversation about the ‘work’ of the Humanities in general, and English in particular, as it is understood within US and UK institutions and the public contexts outside them. It will range over matters such as: the disciplinary and the interdisciplinary; collaboration and self-governance; the history of our discipline and its present situation. It will seek to tease out the contested definitions of what the work we do in English departments actually is, and to interrogate the nature of its value. We want this to be a dynamic exchange rather than a conventional panel, and hope to ensure full audience involvement in the discussions of the afternoon.

Amanda Anderson – The Collaborative Imperative and the Conflict of the Faculties

This paper will explore the emergence of collaboration as a guiding value in the present-day university, tracing how it is to be distinguished from interdisciplinarity, and analyzing its divergent impact and meaning across the disciplines, with special attention to the roles assumed by and assigned to literary studies, on the one hand, and the social sciences, on the other.

Stefan Collini – The discipline of English and the work of the humanities

Claims made about the character of ‘the humanities’ often turn out, on closer inspection, to depend upon assumptions about individual disciplines at particular historical moments in their development. My contribution will discuss some of the ways in which understandings of English as a discipline have been evoked in these contexts, often generating exaggerated or needlessly vulnerable descriptions of the nature of literary studies.

Christopher Newfield – Towards New English Departmental Life

This paper identifies a number of acknowledged social trends that secretly favor humanities expertise, and then asks whether the humanities in general and literary studies in particular are ready to shape them in positive directions. It answers “not yet”, and argues that literary studies will be ready when we can develop a theory of practical education in the context of a theory of professional self-governance.

Helen Small – The Work of the English Faculty

This paper will examine the tendency of English departments, and Humanities Faculties more generally, to avoid advocating for their practices as forms of work – preferring other (usually “higher”) claims to value. In a context of continuing external pressures to demonstrate student employability, growing emphasis on data analysis and quantitative reasoning, and an ostensibly declining regard for rhetoric, the paper will make a case for giving sharper definition and greater prominence in our disciplinary self-descriptions to the forms and purposes of work pursued in literary and language studies.


Wednesday 5th July, 3.30 – 6.15 Council Chamber