Once We Were a Discipline: Stray Thoughts on English

Leigh Dale's request was straightforward. She wrote, 'I am particularly interested in contributions which analyse the state of teaching and research, in the context of the institution/the discipline/the conditions of universities (including yours). [What is] the intellectual identity of your program?' I sat in my personal library, surrounded by some 5,000 volumes including near complete sets of Critical Inquiry, Diacritics, and New Literary History, took out my Parker 51 and began writing.

During my days at Oxford every doctoral candidate had to do two formal courses: Palaeography, and Bibliography and Textual Criticism. Such was the aura surrounding these that an Oxford DPhil student of English Literature left the place with the impression that these courses established the parameters within which the discipline of English operated. If you did anything else, they were really pretty extraneous. It followed that the success of a scholar was linked to his or her invitation to edit a volume in a prestigious series such as the Arden Shakespeare or a Clarendon edition of a novel; failing these, a Penguin or Oxford Classics would do. Anything less was not really part of the discipline and to this day I suspect that editing a scholarly tome is the pinnacle of excellence in English as Oxford continues to define it. In reality, though, the Oxford postgraduate units mentioned now have an 'auratic' rather than a 'democratic' standing since the units no longer form part of the DPhil program, having been relegated to 'masters by course work' status. The point here is that even Oxford has moved on but prestigious as it is and with no dearth of applicants for its English majors, it need not veer too much from its traditional and largely canonical curriculum.

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Published 1 June 2013 in Volume 28 No. 1-2. Subjects: Literary studies, Impact and literary studies.

Cite as: Mishra, Vijay. ‘Once We Were a Discipline: Stray Thoughts on English.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 28, no. 1-2, 2013. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.f0d8460109.