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Monday, May 23, 2022

English and American Literatures Department to be renamed English Department

The hallway of the soon-to-be-renamed English and American Literatures Department in the Axinn Center for the Humanities.
The hallway of the soon-to-be-renamed English and American Literatures Department in the Axinn Center for the Humanities.

After more than a dozen years under the name English and American Literatures (ENAM), the ENAM department will become the English Department, under the designation ENGL, beginning July 1, 2022. Department Chair Brett Millier announced the change to majors and minors on Friday, May 15, telling students that the change had been made and approved last fall because members of the department felt that the "English and American" name implied that courses in the department only teach national literature, which they do not. 

In an interview with The Campus, Millier said that the department has been considering a change for the last three years. Many alternative names were proposed — “Literatures in English” was the most popular option — but faculty were warned that the new name would need to start with the word “English” to be easily searchable. At the departmental retreat last fall, according to Millier, someone proposed just “English” because it accomplished their goal of removing the “national literatures” implication of the current name. This proposal had wide support. 

“We all feel that removing the implication that we teach only the national literatures of England and the United States is a good idea and more accurately reflects the Anglophone literatures from those countries — and also from the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Canada, Ireland and Australia/New Zealand — that we actually teach,” Millier said. 

ENAM majors in the class of 2022, graduating this May, will have the ENAM notation on their transcripts. Going forward, the classes of 2023 and 2024 will be allowed to choose between ENAM and ENGL for their transcripts, although the default will be ENGL.

Millier clarified that the change is purely in name, and that there are no curricular changes, associated with the name change or otherwise, planned for next year. 

The name English and American Literatures came into being in 2006 with the end of a now-extinct department. From 1928 to 2006, Middlebury had a department called American Literature and Civilization, which offered both American Literature and American Civilization majors. In 2003, faculty proposed merging the literature half of this department with the English Department that existed at the time. 

“The name English and American Literatures was chosen to mollify the opponents to the merger — and at the time Harvard and Brandeis and several other schools called their departments ‘English and American Literature,’” Millier said, adding that those schools have since changed the names of those departments. She said that Middlebury added the “-s” to the end of their name to “suggest the diversity of both traditions.”

Another intention of this merger was the creation of the American Studies Department (AMST), the interdisciplinary and non-literature-based program that still exists today. Some faculty, such as Millier, joined the new ENAM department in the merger, while others including Professor Will Nash and Professor Michael Newbury, became jointly appointed to ENAM and American Studies. 

Millier explained that the merger decision was very controversial, and caused strife among faculty in the American Literature and Civilization Department. She noted that two faculty members who strongly objected to the merger have since retired. With regard to the present name change, Millier explained that she has experienced no opposition from any faculty or students.  

Professor of English and American Literatures Cates Baldridge concurred that ENAM faculty have recently begun to feel that the “English and American” name misrepresents the scope of the department’s teaching, which actually encompasses literature from around the world that is written in English. 

“For instance, this fall I’ll be teaching a seminar on the great South African novelist J. M. Coetzee,” Baldridge explained. “For what it’s worth, this change brings us into conformity with the way departments like ours are described at other colleges and universities nationwide.” 

Assistant Professor of English & American Literatures Jennifer Wang said that the name change better reflects her work as a professor. “For me, I think the name change reflects how the department is striving and aspiring to be a more diverse and inclusive place,” she said. “I do think the name reflects the courses I teach.”

Mary Moore ’22.5, a major in the department, said that she likes the change. “I think that the change to ‘English’ is a nice simplification from a degree title that was rather cumbersome,” she said. “I agree that the switch from English and American Literatures does a better job indicating that [literature] from around the globe may be covered in courses.” 

Moore added that, while she supports the change, she wishes the English department was additionally discussing what she sees as larger concerns, such as decolonizing the curriculum, introducing anti-bias training and interweaving content or trigger warnings for class texts. 

Millier added that it is logistically difficult to change the name of a department because of all of the URLs and website pages that need to be edited; she thanked the Registrar’s office and the Dean of Curriculum’s office for dealing with the number of places that the name must now be changed. 

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Riley Board

Riley Board '22 is the Editor in Chief of The Campus. She  previously served as a Managing Editor, News Editor, Arts &  Academics Editor and writer.

She is majoring in Linguistics as an Independent Scholar and is an English minor on the Creative Writing Track.

Board has worked as a writer at Smithsonian Folklife Magazine and as a  reporter for The Burlington Free Press. Currently, she is a 2021-2022  Kellogg Fellow working on her linguistics thesis. In her free time, you  can find her roller skating in E-Lot or watching the same sitcoms over  and over again.


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