Department of English Language & Literature
The English Department is home to a wide range of creative and critical engagements in literary and cultural studies. Concerned with the global, the local and the decolonial, our curriculum centralises South African and African literatures while remaining in constant dialogue with international intellectual traditions, asking what it means to read canonical and world literatures from the South.
The University of Cape Town is located in one of the most culturally diverse and socially complex cities in the world. Our department’s research, teaching and archival work both reflects on and responds to our city’s history and present in all its richness and difficulty.
In our lectures and intensive small-group seminars, we welcome students from various disciplines across the university. This intellectual and creative diversity shapes our curriculum and gives our students a lively introduction to different ways of thinking, researching and writing in a twenty-first-century world.
We work with the written word across a variety of literary genres, but also with other kinds of meaning-making, including images, photographs and maps, spoken word, and the creative and performing arts. In doing so, we consider the historical and social contexts that shape the meaning of texts. Our newly reimagined curriculum traces how words, images and performances are assembled, archived and placed in dialogue across space and time.
Why English literary studies?
A degree in English Literary Studies prepares you for any role in which skills like close reading, clear writing and critical thinking are crucial. Our students develop strong critical literacy in the rapidly evolving literary and cultural landscape of contemporary South Africa. Their interdisciplinary mobility and analytic skills prepare them for a variety of careers in fields such as creative writing, journalism, publishing, research, teaching and academia.
At the same time, literary and cultural studies is also a space for those who might not fit into narrowly vocational degrees or more focused areas of study. As an ‘undisciplined’ space, we offer an inter-disciplinary bridge between various intellectual approaches in the university. We foster a culture in which students feel they can share work in progress and experiment with new ideas and concepts, while being supported as upcoming writers, theorists, cultural archivists and thinkers.
As well as an undergraduate major and Honours in English Literary Studies, the Department offers a taught MA, a research Masters (by dissertation), and a PhD. Staff and students run regular workshops for postgraduates to develop research skills, share drafts in progress and build a sense of intellectual community. Prospective postgraduate students are encouraged to browse the profile pages of our staff for more information about research interests and supervision.
Research themes and cultural connections
The expertise of our staff is wide-ranging, and includes: South, West and East African literatures, history and critical thought; creative writing and texts in performance; 19th and 20th-century poetry; black feminisms; queer studies; early modern studies, Shakespeare in the global South; postcolonial studies; decolonial theory; small magazines and African print cultures; Francophone writing; life-writing and creative non-fiction; cultural memory and trauma studies; European literary and cultural theory; and the environmental humanities. As of 2017, members of the Department have conceptualised and run the highly successful Black Archives and Intellectual Histories seminar series, a project signalling a strong commitment to decolonial theory in African and diasporic contexts.
The English Department has strong links with performance studies; film studies; creative writing; drama; historical studies; sociology; gender studies; politics; African studies; philosophy; sociology; music; art history; the medical humanities and more. Members of staff are affiliated to spaces like the African Gender Institute (AGI); the Archive and Public Culture research initiative (APC); the Centre for African Studies (CAS); the Environmental Humanities South programme (EHS); the Institute for the Creative Arts (ICA) and Michaelis School of Fine Art.
We are also involved with cultural events and institutions in the wider city. These include Artscape, the Baxter Theatre, PEN South Africa, ICA Great Texts public lecture series, the Open Book and Franschhoek literary festivals. We encourage student research relationships with IZIKO national museums, the District Six Museum, the Jewish Museum, the National Archives, the National Library of South Africa – as well as the many archival collections located within UCT’s Special Collections. This major research institution is located directly opposite the AC Jordan building, and postgraduate students can expect to be introduced to archival work via the wide-ranging collections here.
Current staff have links to networks, publications and platforms like Agenda feminist literary journal; American Comparative Literature Association; Arden Shakespeare (Global Shakespeare Inverted book series); Anthem Studies in Global English Literatures; Chimurenga; Environmental Humanities (journal); The Johannesburg Review of Books; New Contrast; Réseau Européenne d’études littéraires comparées / European Network for Comparative Literary Studies; Safundi; scrutiny2; Shakespeare Association of America; Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa; Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER); WITS Southern Centre for Inequality Studies Collaborative Project (Theorising Intersectionality).