Areas of Specialization Descriptions

Culture & Social Change

Literature often serves both as a barometer of social change as well as a platform for imagining new ways of living and being. But how, when, and where does literature intersect with society and culture, and to what ends? Courses in this specialization offer a vision of literary and cultural study in which literature acts both as art and as politics. Here, students interpret literature for its commentary on power and authority, ethics and the social good, and questions of individual and collective agency. Students who elect this specialization explore issues of aesthetics and representation alongside topics of historical and political significance, among them: settler colonialism, colonialism and geographies of empire, the rise of the nation state, the global slave trade, race and racism, indigeneity, class and capitalism, political movements, gender and sexism, and sexuality. The ideological underpinnings and the ideological uses of literature by readers are key interests, especially how writers and readers engage major social and state institutions like religion, marriage, the family, work, law, and education.

Literature & Literary History

Students in this specialization take up literature and its history as their central areas of inquiry. Our courses examine poetry, prose, and drama written in English from the Middle Ages to the present, investigating both literary traditions and literature’s innovations. The specialization in literature & literary history aims for students to foster a deep engagement with literature as a significant cultural force over time, a force that has given shape to our societal ambitions, fears, pleasures, and critiques. We emphasize how literary works lead us to embrace the ambiguity, nuance, and complexity of meaning. And, at the same time, we consider literature’s power to reflect and shape its historical moment. Students in this specialization learn to cultivate sustained, critical reading, and to use literary theory and criticism to illuminate the challenges and rewards of interpretation.

Visual & Comparative Media

The visual culture and comparative media specialization is focused on critical analysis of visual texts and media through a wide range of cross-disciplinary methods. Courses in this specialization look at everything from Instagram to podcasts, music videos to films, renaissance paintings to modernist plays, drug ads to television shows. Our courses ask how visuality and media have shaped political, philosophical, and cultural debates, and how the forms and aesthetics of cultural expression have changed over time. Students in this specialization will explore the arts of media creation, and will become experts at interpreting texts in different media.

Science, Medicine & the Environment

The science, medicine and the environment specialization explores a wide range of interdisciplinary methods for examining the relationships among human and nonhuman bodies, technologies, and cultural productions. We seek to understand how culture and environment interact with one another, and produce new forms of human expression. We look, for example, at how speculative fictions fuel scientific imagination and discovery, how environmental justice literatures create citizen scientist publics, or how the unintended consequences of technological development spark dialogue and critique in creative works. We examine the imaginative sources of scientific ideas and practices, and how the aesthetic forms that we use to describe scientific principles shape the meanings we make of the world around us.

Concentration in Creative Writing

The creative writing concentration provides students the opportunity to develop their own literary pursuits. Guided by discussions of craft and literary conventions and innovations, students will hone their skills in writing stories, essays, poems, plays, screenplays and graphic novels. The emphasis of this concentration is on literature from the inside out, with the goal of students generating their own imaginative works. Students will have the chance to work closely with faculty in small workshop-style classes to improve their own writing and that of their peers. The creative writing concentration further fosters community among writers through author visits and public readings. In addition to study in the craft of writing, students will become well-versed in their professional world of writing, including competitive opportunities to work in an editorial capacity on Rice's award-winning R2 magazine.