Goals and History

Writer in Residence

George Whalley Visiting Professorship

English DSC


Goals and History

In its 2001 Strategic Plan, the Department of English stated that its general aim is twofold: (a) to become a leader in producing innovative research in English literary studies, and (b) to provide the highest quality education in English for its students.
Watson Hall

Watson Hall, home of the Department of English since 1967.

Goals of the Department

Teaching and Research. In both its undergraduate and graduate teaching, the department aims to provide comprehensive historical and methodological coverage of the field of English literary studies, always ensuring that it is responsive to new developments both within and outside the discipline. It takes as a given that university teaching at its most effective is vitally dependent on the work of faculty fully engaged in research at its most rigorous; active learning on the part of students can only be truly stimulated by active learning on the part of professors.

Discipline and Interdisciplinarity. The department believes that learning in its deepest sense can best be achieved through coherent structures of course work in combination with imaginatively supervised independent study. It recognizes that true intellectual and pedagogical fertility is intrinsically interdisciplinary; at the same time, it believes that students need to see English studies as a discipline, a very specific, ordered way of coming to knowledge through the study of language in both literary and non-literary texts. As a consequence, we have worked hard to maintain curricula at both the graduate and undergraduate levels that are both coherent and innovative.

Coherence and Innovation. The careful balance between historical structure and well-tried methodologies of analysis, on the one hand, and imaginative innovation within that structure and the development of new methodologies, on the other, has been the basis of our success over the last two decades. This balance between coherence and innovation is evident in all our programs. While the department offers courses in every area of English literature from Anglo-Saxon to contemporary Canadian, it also offers, for instance, interdisciplinary exercises in such combinations as poetry and math, literature and the visual arts or literature and economics. While it aims to develop students’ general powers of analysis and argumentation, especially in writing, it also aims to familiarize them with such diverse and interdisciplinary methodologies as gender studies, various forms of postmodernism, new historicism, cultural materialism, psychoanalytical criticism, and so on. Above all, it seeks to enable students through the medium of text-based study to come to an understanding of themselves and the culture in which they live.


The Department of English was founded in 1888, when James Cappon (MA Glasgow) was appointed to the first Chair of English at Queen's. Some English language and literature had been taught between 1841 and 1870 as part of Logic, Rhetoric, and Moral Philosophy; between 1870 and 1888 the subject was taught with History and Modern Languages. The early focus was on the history of the language, grammar, and literary history; during Cappon’s 31-year tenure the curriculum was redirected to focus on the direct examination of literary works themselves. Graduate studies have been a part of English at Queen's since at least 1929, when the first recorded MA was granted. The first recorded PhD in English was granted in 1942, but almost all graduate work was at the MA level until our PhD program was founded in the 1960s.

In 1950 the Department of English had six members, two of whom were appointed in that year to replace retirees. The department grew slowly until the mid-1960s, when student numbers at Queen's expanded dramatically. Seven new tenure-track members were added to the department in 1967 alone, and by 1970 the department had grown to comprise thirty-three permanent members. Since that time, it has contracted slightly.

The department has two regular named chairs and a visiting named chair. In 1959, the James Cappon Chair of English Language and Literature (endowed) was established in honour of its founding professor. The first incumbent, Malcolm Ross, was appointed in 1960. Subsequently, the Chair has been held by John Stedmond, George Whalley, A. C. Hamilton, and George M. Logan. In 1995, the J. R. Strathy Chair of English Language and Literature was established in honour of the founder of the department’s Strathy Language Unit. The first incumbent was Tracy Ware, and second was L. G. Monkman. Also in 1995, the George Whalley Visiting Professorship (endowed) was established in honour of one of its former heads and most distinguished members.