Hello people-who-are-considering-studying-English-Literature-at-York! It may seem far off now but before you know it A-levels will have been and gone, and you’ll suddenly have to start working out how many pairs of socks one requires to survive at university (14 works for me). That’s why you need to begin mulling over exactly which university you shall grace with your presence, and that’s why as a second year student I am writing a blog to help nudge you in the direction of York.
Now I could bamboozle you with statistics about how great the course is and how well it does in league tables, but I’m not convinced that would be useful. What I can say with complete confidence is that York’s English department is committed to helping you gain skills and knowledge, as well as making sure you have a good time while you do so. This week for example my Late Medieval Literature seminar class split into two groups of five to study the ‘York Mystery Plays’, a collection of short religious plays that were performed around York once a year back in the 1400s. Each group was tasked with performing one of the plays, and my group’s modern English rendering of ‘Joseph’s Trouble About Mary’ (where he moans about her being pregnant with someone else’s child) proved a lot of fun.
The modules at York are both fascinating and varied; in first year I started with Medieval to Modern, which went from Arthurian romance to Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf and Translations, where we looked at (mostly) classical texts alongside modern reimaginings of them. We also had lectures running all year on the “Key Concepts” of literary theory, which helped provide a broad introduction the history of literary scholarship. York is one of the leading research universities for English, and so lecturers tend to be leaders in their field. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), York has its fair share of eccentric professors, just as one would hope from an English department. I shall name no names here (half the fun is working out who the idiosyncratic ones are) but I have had lectures involving fiddling (playing the fiddle that is), a Marxist critique of the London Olympics opening ceremony, and extended performances of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the original Italian. This means that rather than being a chore, lectures become an integral part of your week, and not something that you will want to skip.
One of the most satisfying things about the course is the interconnectedness of the topics – the texts you study in the first term introduce you to lots of different authors and topics which can be followed up in modules you take later in the degree. As someone who hadn’t read the complete works of Dickens or the Brontës before uni, this breadth helped to ensure I had a good grasp of a range of literature before choosing my modules for second year and beyond. What I would suggest is reading as much from the reading list as possible over the summer, because with two books or plays a week you’ll be hard pushed to keep up if you want to actually leave your room at any point.
And you’ll want to leave your room, because the societies and clubs on offer at York are amazing. I am involved with Comedy Society, Drama Society and University Radio York (URY) because as a pretentious English student I crave attention and love, but I have also dabbled in tennis, student TV, Literature Society (LitSoc) and many more. Whatever you want to do, chances are there will be a group of people already doing it. This year there is even a Taylor Swift Appreciation Society, and although the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, I hear it has been immensely popular. First year is a fantastic time to get involved with as much as you possibly can simply because you’re on campus so are at most 15 minutes away from anything.
Hopefully that’s given you a brief introduction to studying English at York, but if you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, and I will try and get back to you, either straight away or in my next blog post.