Chair of Department's Welcome

Liam Semler

The Department of English at the University of Sydney is the largest in Australasia and offers students the widest range of units, from Old Norse through to Contemporary Literature. At undergraduate level you can study the literature of all the main periods - Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, Romantic, Victorian, Modern and Postmodern - along with all the major genres of critical analysis: theory, literary history, history of the book, cultural and gender studies, postcolonial and American studies, linguistics and language studies. Sydney also hosts the country’s oldest chair of Australian Literature, and the department has extensive teaching and research expertise in this area, currently offering the nation’s only major in Australian Literature. Creative writing, offered at the postgraduate level, is another particular strength. Contemporary authors such as Les Murray, Germaine Greer, Clive James, Delia Falconer, David Malouf, Kate Grenville, John Tranter and Howard Jacobson have taught or studied here and several of our current staff are published, award-winning writers. We also have strong links with programmes in Film and Media studies, and many units include comparative work on literature and cinema. Students benefit from the rich cultural resources of the university - the Fisher Library is one of the finest research libraries in the southern hemisphere - and the city itself: in particular, the Mitchell Library houses a unique collection of archival material relating to early Australian culture.

The dozens of units available to students allow them to construct structured but varied sets of pathways through the subject that suit their established concern and that lead into new areas. For those not intending to major in English, the first year units and ‘Core’ upper-level units provide a thorough grounding in major writers, historical periods, genres and modes of writing as well as different ways of interpreting and thinking about literature. Those majoring in English can, once they have completed three ‘Core’ units, go on to more intensive and advanced study in an array of ‘Extension’ units that deal with areas as diverse as The Canterbury Tales, Australian Stage and Screen, Contemporary American Literature, Jane Austen, Literature and Cinema, Street Narratives, Old English, the Literature of Travel and Discovery, Shakespeare, and Cinematic Modernism (among many others). Undergraduate English majors learn a wide range of skills in close reading, textual interpretation and critical argument. They examine how writers from different cultures over many centuries have used poetry, drama and prose to represent real and imaginative worlds. The English major broadens and deepens a student’s literary, cultural and historical understanding, developing skills in expression, interpretation, discussion and argumentation that can be put to good use in a wide variety of professional situations.

Students wishing to go on beyond a major enter our Honours program, one that offers a combination of intensive units and a substantial thesis on a topic of your choice that develops the skills in research and written expression necessary for postgraduate study. Many of our best students then undertake a postgraduate degree, some in Australia, others at leading universities around the world. Our own postgraduate students come from all over Asia and the Pacific region, and indeed we are the largest Arts department for postgraduate research in the country. Our postgraduates bring their expertise and enthusiasm to the classroom, acting as tutors in our undergraduate units, and they also produce the online postgraduate journal Philament, a refereed journal of arts and culture.

The department’s combination of resources, research and teaching expertise, along with the quality and variety of units it provides, has seen it recognised nationally and internationally. In the most recent ERA evaluation of research in Australia, ‘Literary Studies’ at Sydney was ranked 5, the highest score possible. For the 2013 QS World University Rankings by subject, English at Sydney was rated the best department in Australia, the best in the entire Asia-Pacific region, and the 12th best in the world.

The Department of English at Sydney prides itself on its openness and accessibility, and prospective applicants are always welcome to contact us.

Associate Professor Liam Semler
Chair of Department