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BA English and United States Literature

Why we're great

  • You can respond both critically and artistically to your studies in our unique literary conservatoire.
  • Our students are extremely happy - we receive stellar ratings for student satisfaction.
  • Our literature and creative writing courses are taught by leading academics and writers.

Course options

UCAS code: T720
Duration: 3 years
Start month(s): October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Fee (Home/EU): £9,000
Fee (International): £12,950

UCAS code: QT37
Duration: 4 years
Start month(s): October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Fee (Home/EU): £9,000
Fee (International): £12,950

Course enquiries

Telephone 01206 873666

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About the course

What is U.S. literature? What makes writing in the US different from other writing in the English language? We begin to answer these questions through exploring the classic texts which established US literature as a distinct tradition, uncovering the issues which are associated with doing so; nowhere is the complex society and culture of the United States better reflected than in its novels, poetry and drama.

Essex has always been a major centre for American Studies, and our expertise across literature, film, art, history and politics allows you to unravel and understand the complexities of U.S. society and the American dream. You explore nationalism and regionalism, as well as conflicts of race, gender and religion at the heart of US history and culture. Through this you uncover the deep interconnections in the evolution of U.S. writing and American identities.

Discover the literature of the USA from the early realism of Mark Twain and the slave narrative of Frederick Douglass, through the experimental work of Hemingway and Faulkner, to contemporary authors such as Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison. You also cover the English literary canon from Shakespeare and his contemporaries through to twentieth-century literature.

Your reading can take you beyond the US and Britain to the rest of the Americas and Europe; at Essex you don’t just study English Literature, you study world literature in English. This means that you can study a truly diverse range of topics, including:

  • Caribbean writing in relation to European and US texts
  • Early modern European literature
  • Translating novels for the screen
  • Modernist cityscapes

Our course offers a varied, flexible and distinctive curriculum, focused on the study of US and English literature, but also enabling you to take options from the other courses within our Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies including creative writing, filmmaking, journalism and drama.

We are ranked top 20 in the UK (Guardian University Guide 2015), and our students are some of the happiest in the country; we are consistently ranked among the top in the UK for student satisfaction.

Study abroad

Your education extends beyond the university campus. We support you extending your education by providing the option of an additional year at no extra cost. The four-year version of our degree allows you to spend the third year studying abroad or employed on a placement, while otherwise remaining identical to the three-year course.

Our Department has an exchange scheme with universities in the U.S., as well as in Denmark, France, Finland, Greece, Germany, Spain and Italy through the ERASMUS programme. This provides our students with the opportunity to view the world, and literature, from another perspective.

Studying abroad also allows you to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised.

Our expert staff

At Essex, we have an impressive literary legacy. Our history comprises staff (and students) who have shaped writing as we know it and has included Nobel Prize winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Our Department is a vibrant conservatoire of scholars and practitioners who are committed to unlocking creative personal responses to literature, offering talented students the support and confidence to respond both critically and artistically to academic study. This distinctive environment is possible because we are a community of award-winning novelists, poets and playwrights, as well as leading literature specialists.

Our academic staff specialise in a range of areas English and world literature, including modernism, U.S. and Caribbean Literature, Shakespeare, the Renaissance, travel writing, nature writing, translated literature, cultural geography, Irish and Scottish writing, and the history of reading.

Specialist facilities

  • Access the University’s Media Centre, equipped with state-of-the-art studios, cameras, audio and lighting equipment, and an industry-standard editing suite
  • Write for our student magazine Albert or host a Red Radio show
  • View classic films at weekly film screenings in our dedicated 120-seat film theatre
  • Hear from leading writers and literature specialists at weekly research seminars
  • Our on-Campus, 200-seat Lakeside Theatre has been established as a major venue for good drama, staging both productions by professional touring companies and a wealth of new work written, produced and directed by our own staff and students
  • Our Student Company runs weekly practical workshops, enabling drama enthusiasts to get involved in both front-of-house and behind the scenes
  • Our Research Laboratory allows you to collaborate with professionals, improvising and experimenting with new work which is being tried and tested

Your future

A good literature degree opens many doors.

The number of careers that lead from courses in literature is almost as large as the number of graduates, but two particular areas in which our graduates have had recent success are publishing and the theatre. One of our former students is now in charge of editorial at a large publishing house, and another has just taken over running one of the country’s major theatres.

Our recent graduates have gone on to work in a wide range of desirable roles including:

  • The Civil Service
  • Journalism and broadcasting
  • Marketing
  • Museum and library work
  • Commerce and finance
  • Teaching

We also work with our Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

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Example structure

Studying at Essex is about discovering yourself, so your course combines compulsory and optional modules to make sure you gain key knowledge in the discipline, while having as much freedom as possible to explore your own interests. Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.

For many of our courses you’ll have a wide range of optional modules to choose from – those listed in this example structure are just a selection of those available. The opportunity to take optional modules will depend on the number of core modules within any year of the course. In many instances, the flexibility to take optional modules increases as you progress through the course.

Our Programme Specification gives more detail about the structure available to our current first-year students, including details of all optional modules.

Year 1

Which writers re-worked Homer’s Odyssey? Or borrowed ideas from Dante’s Inferno? Examine how key literary texts and genres have been used by successive generations of writers up until the present day. Shift from classical text to a more modern example, studying the long cultural traditions that exist.

What is US literature? What makes it different from other writing in the English language, particularly work from the UK? Study classic texts that have established US literature as a distinct tradition in itself and gain an understanding of the issues surrounding this.

How do you read a text closely? What is involved in close reading? With emphasis on you to active do the close reading, learn how this approach can contribute to your appreciation of meaning and significance in a diverse range of texts.

How did major European writers create a sense of European literature? And how can their texts be located within historical and political contexts? Study significant works of literature that sparked particular movements or represent crucial literary innovation. Build your understanding of the development of genres, forms, styles, content and ideas.

How have Hobbes and Locke shaped modern politics? What were the American Revolution’s formative moments? Does Wollstonecraft still matter to modern feminists? Study the explosion in European thought and knowledge from the seventeenth to eighteenth century. See how this provided a foundation for topics like politics, law, sociology, and feminism.

Year 2

What are the major US texts since 1850? And what problems are connected to them? Study a varied spectrum of US literature, looking at issues such as the relationship between American writing and history, American “difference” and differences within American society, nationalism and regionalism, and conflicts of race and gender.

How can texts be read and interpreted using the thinking of Marx? What about Freud or de Saussure? Or Derrida and Said? Study literature, theatre, and film using these key thinkers. Analyse their approaches both historically and institutionally, and understand the importance of theoretical and methodological material to your studies.

How useful is the term “early modern”? What about “medieval” or “Renaissance”? Study literature from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Glimpse cultural structures and behaviour that prefigures our own, as well as an exciting “otherness” of the many worlds represented in the variety of texts chosen.

What is modernity? How did it change our perception of the world? What impact did it have on literary culture? Study major pieces of poetry, drama and fiction from the 1790s to the 1970s that engage with challenges and inventions of modern life, negotiating transitions between old and new.

Final year

How did literature respond to scientific and technological developments during the Victorian period? What about urbanisation and the growth of industrial cities? What impact did the British Empire expansion have? Explore a range of poetry and prose to understand how writing evolved during sixty-four years of unprecedented vitality and change.

How has the American identity and purpose changed since World War Two? And how is this reflected in literature? Gain answers to these questions via a range of American texts. Analyse these works using a variety of critical approaches, considering social, political and cultural contexts since the Second World War.

How was the history play invented in early modern England? And why? Examine Shakespeare’s English and Roman history plays, as well as works by Marlowe, Jonson and Ford. Understand how the Elizabethan history play responds to the radically different kinds of history being written and translated in early modern England.

What are the cultural capitals of modernism? How are modernist arts shaped by the metropolitan life experience? Examine literature, film, art and music, studying aesthetic practices and cultural contexts of modernism. Read and discuss cities with vibrant artistic and political activities: New York, Paris, London, Dublin, Vienna, Berlin and Petersburg.

To what degree are Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello tragedies? How useful is this term in understanding them? Undertake a close reading of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies. Critically discuss recent issues about each, in groups and in your own work. Gain an understanding of their enduring and/or present significance.

How has the King Arthur legend been used to build or re-build a nation at fraught points in history? Why, in the twenty and twenty-first century, is Arthurian literature now a matter for childrens books? Examine how Arthurian texts have been rewritten and appropriated in various forms by every generation.

Year abroad

On your year abroad, you have the opportunity to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised. The rest of your course remains identical to the three-year degree.


  • Teaching will mainly take the form of lectures and classes of about 20 students
  • Innovative ways of engaging with texts include editing 16th century sonnets and archival research
  • A typical timetable involves a one-hour lecture and a one-hour class for each of your modules every week


  • Your final mark for each module is determined half by coursework and half by examination
  • A mark for class participation is included in your coursework mark

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UK entry requirements

A-levels: ABB-BBB, including one essay-based subject

IB: 32-30 points, including a Higher Level essay-based subject grade 5

Entry requirements for students studying BTEC qualifications are dependent on units studied. Advice can be provided on an individual basis. The standard required is generally at Distinction level.

International and EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Email for further details about the qualifications we accept. Include information in your email about the high school qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.

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Visit us

Open days

We hold several Open Days throughout the year so that you can visit our Colchester Campus and find out more about Essex. You’ll be able to tour our campus and accommodation, meet our academics, sample the course you’re interested in and get answers to all the questions you have about becoming a member of the University of Essex.

You can find out more and book your place online. If our dates don’t work for you then don’t worry, you can always book a campus and accommodation tour on a weekday to suit you. Just email to get booked in.

Virtual tours

If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Southend Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.


Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. We have a comprehensive list online so take a look and see if we’ll be near you in the future.


Applications for our full-time undergraduate courses should be made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Applications are online at: Full details on this process can be obtained from the UCAS website in the how to apply section.

Our UK students, and some of our EU and international students, who are still at school or college, can apply through their school. Your school will be able to check and then submit your completed application to UCAS. Our other international applicants (EU or worldwide) or independent applicants in the UK can also apply online through UCAS Apply.

The UCAS code for our University of Essex is ESSEX E70. The individual campus codes for our Loughton and Southend Campuses are ‘L’ and ‘S’ respectively.

Visit days and interviews

Resident in the UK? If your application is successful, we will invite you to attend one of our visit days. These run from January to April and give you the chance to explore the campus, meet our students and really get a feel for life as an Essex student.

Some of our courses also hold interviews and if you’re invited to one, this will take place during your visit day. Don’t panic, they’re nothing to worry about and it’s a great way for us to find out more about you and for you to find out more about the course. Some of our interviews are one-to-one with an academic, others are group activities, but we’ll send you all the information you need beforehand.

If you’re outside the UK and are planning a trip, feel free to email so we can help you plan a visit to the University.

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Although great care is taken in compiling our course details, they are intended for the general guidance of prospective students only. The University reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University.

The full procedures, rules and regulations of the University are set out in the Charter, Statues and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.