Life as a First Year English Literature Student

A selection of the books you may read in first year

A selection of the books you may read in first year

What is the best thing about your subject?

The best thing about English Literature is that you learn about many different time periods reflected in different ways (i.e. through plays, novels, poems, as well as music, speech and actions). The degree is really flexible so you can also explore many more aspects about a work than in previous qualifications.

What is the worst thing about your subject?

There aren’t many contact hours so you have to make more effort to make friends in your course inside and outside of contact hours.

How many contact hours do you have per week?

6 hours of lectures. You also get 6 hours of tutorials (one for each module) spread across a two/three-week period.

How do people respond when you say you’re studying the subject?

‘What will you do with an English Degree?’, ‘You must read a lot.’, ‘Do you want to be a teacher?’

Examples of modules you have studied?

I am currently studying the use of language, for example. In this module, we learn about things such as how the English language has developed from medieval times, how it is used by different genders, and how language has developed over time. Another module I am studying is titles ‘Romance and the Literature of Chivalry.’ In this, we look at medieval legends, including how these stories were perceived, the gender roles (less predictable than you’d expect), and what the medieval literature scene was like.

Do you know what career you’re aiming for and if so what do you want to do?

I’m not specifically sure what I want to do as a career. I know I don’t want to go into teaching though! I’m currently considering journalism, editing or publishing but I’m not sure!

What do you do in your tutorials/seminars?

The specifics vary across tutors, but the general gist is that we are asked to read a text and set prompt questions based on this prior to the tutorial. In the tutorial, we discuss these questions. The questions could be on topics such as the language, the presentation of characters, the themes, etc. The tutorial groups are different for each module which is great for meeting different people!

If you weren’t studying this subject, what do you think you’d study instead?

I think I’d study History because I found it really interesting at A Level. I chose not to take it in the end though because I enjoyed the wider reading for English more – it didn’t feel like work!

What subject-related societies/events are there at Durham?

There are many student writing platforms, such as The Bubble (online magazine), The Palatinate (newspaper) and The Tab (online magazine). There is also Poetry Society, English Literature Society (they recently hosted a ball!) and Creative Writing Society, to name a few!

Additionally, we get regular emails regarding subject-specific speeches in and around Durham, given by both internal and external lecturers. For example, I have recently attended an extra-curricular lecture on the presentation of disease and medicine in 18th Century Novels. I am also going to attend a book reading about the different types of ‘voices’, as presented in texts and in history.

As well as this, there is a massive theatre scene in Durham (just look up Durham Student Theatre). There are 3+ student drama productions put on every week! These offer great opportunities for writing, directing, producing and designing, for all year groups!

What is it like studying your subject in Durham?

There are plenty of opportunities to explore subject-related topics outside of your contact hours, which is really great. The tutorials also offer a deeper insight into the set texts, and allow you to explore your ideas in a non-judgmental way.

We are given one-to-one feedback on the essays that we submit (normally one per term per module). These really help with improving our own writing styles!

An example of something especially interesting that you’ve learned?

In ancient legends, women are sometimes the ones who save the men – they are not always damsels in distress! This is interesting in understanding how gender roles have developed in a way not normally presented in school!

Do you have the same or different lecturers each week?

We have different lecturers each week for the same module. This can be good for providing variation but some students would prefer more consistency.

Something you’d wished you’d have known about your subject before you arrived at Durham?

Although there are so few contact hours, there are many ways to productively fill your time. Also, get involved with as many subject-related socials as you can because it’s always nice to have a few friends in your lectures and tutorials.