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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 options2017-18

UCAS code: T720
Duration: 3 years
Start month: October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Fee (Home/EU): £9,250
Fee (International): £13,350
Fees will increase for each academic year of study.
Home and EU fee information
International fee information

UCAS code: QT37
Duration: 4 years
Start month: October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Fee (Home/EU): £9,250
Fee (International): £13,350
Fees will increase for each academic year of study.
Home and EU fee information
International fee information

Course enquiries

Telephone 01206 873666

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About the course

What is US 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 US 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 US 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.

Placement year

When you arrive at Essex, you can decide whether you would like to combine your course with a placement year. You will be responsible for finding your placement, but with support and guidance provided by both your department and our Employability and Careers Centre.

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 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

This module aims to support you in developing your employability skills in order to help you secure your chosen career in an increasingly competitive 21st century graduate labour market. You’ll reflect on and refine your own thinking about employability, and will apply your degree subject knowledge. You’ll also gain an understanding of the structure of the graduate labour market, in order to identify relevant opportunities.

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.

This module is an introduction to some of the most influential European writers from the Enlightenment period up to the present day. You study significant works of literature that sparked particular movements or represent crucial literary innovation. The works selected are novels, novellas, short stories and plays, and we examine these texts within their historical and political contexts. This module will help you to build understanding of the development of genres, forms, styles, content and ideas.

Certain ideas shape the way we see ourselves and the world around us—ideas like democracy, free speech, individualism, free markets, and humans rights. These ideas took their definitive modern form during a politically and intellectually revolutionary stretch of history known as the Enlightenment (1650-1800). This interdisciplinary module examines this period and thus serves as an essential prerequisite for students who want to understand the intellectual currents that run through the world they live in. Graduating students often rank it among the most useful modules they’ve taken.

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.

Does Hollywood have the last word on America? What do we mean by independent motion pictures? Understand the diverse and changing modes of film production in the USA. Formulate your own ideas of the social, cultural and political dimensions of American films and filmmaking in the last 40 years.

Columbus’ gateway to the Americas, the Caribbean has experienced a phenomenal mix of indigenous, African and European traditions, giving rise to an exceptionally vibrant and diversified culture. By focusing on twentieth and twenty-first century texts, you gain a deep understanding of the literatures and cultures of the Americas and of recent transatlantic exchanges, whilst reviewing some of the key texts and themes of postcolonial studies and Caribbean literature.

Final year

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 do you see the US South? How have slavery debates shaped this view? What influence did major writers like Twain or Faulkner play? Study a rich body of literature that variously imagines the US South as of great contrast to other areas of the USA and the Americans generally.

How does Wai Chee Dimock discuss a notion of deep time that reconsiders national literary boundaries? What does Margaret McFadden say about women’s writing and transatlantic sympathy? Explore texts from a variety of genres in British and North American romantic writing.

How do US writers imagine and represent the Caribbean? And vice versa? Deepen knowledge of American literature by examining poetic, fictional, nonfictional and dramatic works in a broader context. Investigate contemporary issues like the American Dream, what it means to be from the Americas, migration, and the question of language.

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: BBB, including one essay-based subject

IB: 30 points, including a Higher Level essay-based subject grade 5. We are also happy to consider a combination of separate IB Diploma Programmes at both Higher and Standard Level. Exact offer levels will vary depending on the range of subjects being taken at higher and standard level, and the course applied for. Please contact the Undergraduate Admissions Office for more information.

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

Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex. In 2017 we have three undergraduate Open Days (in June, September and October). These events enable you to discover what our Colchester Campus has to offer. You have the chance to:

  • tour our campus and accommodation
  • find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
  • meet our students and staff

Check out our Visit Us pages to find out more information about booking onto one of our events. And if the dates aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

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 Colchester 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. Take a look at our list of exhibition dates to 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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The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its course finder is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to courses, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to courses may for example consist of 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. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep prospective students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.