English Language & Literature
There are usually nine undergraduates in each year studying English Language and Literature at Mansfield.
English studies at Mansfield provides students with opportunities to explore the richness, range and colour of literature and language in its every period, genre and style. The students we take each year in English at Mansfield contribute to the environment by engaging in the intellectual, creative and cultural life of the College and University. They work towards success in their termly studies and in examinations, of course. But they also do much more. They make plays and performances, and lead students societies in literature and the arts. They write and edit student newspapers and magazines: indeed, in 2019 our English students took a central role in establishing Onyx magazine, which publishes young Black creative talent. They run arts festivals. They take on roles as ambassadors for the College in our busy outreach programme.
From their high academic achievement to their creative talents in social media and communications, the skills they learn and develop here enrich their lives and lead them to success in a huge variety of fields. We have doctors, accountants, social workers, lobbyists, and politicians among our distinguished alumni, as well as many who work in professions more traditionally associated with our subject(s), such as the media and the arts.
We foster imaginative, disciplined thinkers from all walks of life. We achieve this by giving our students the tools to analyse the world critically and bring about positive change within it.
We aim to open up institutions of privilege to those with enquiring minds and fewer social and economics advantages. What we teach and the ways that we do so is central to this process. Our tutors have been at the forefront in developing widening access and the English cirriculum in the College and University. Lucinda Rumsey, tutor in medieval literature, has been Director of Admissions for the English Faculty, is director of Admissions at Mansfield, and was awarded a 2019 MBE for services to social mobility in Higher Education. Professor Ros Ballaster has also served as Director of Admissions for Mansfield and as 2016-2021 Chair of the English Faculty. Professor Michèle Mendelssohn was 2015-2017 Deputy Director of the Rothermere American Institute (on Mansfield's doorstep) and curated an exhibition and website showcasting Oxford's trailblazers from the 19th century to the 2020: Black, Queer and Irish men and women who left their mark on the university and the world https://makinghistory.magd.ox.ac.uk/.
What do we look for?
We welcome students of Baccalaureate or A-level in any combination of subjects so long as they include English literature. All candidates for English Language and Literature take the English Literature Aptitude Test (ELAT). Candidates will also be asked to submit one example of written work, preferably a piece of analysis or criticism based on their own research or thinking which has formed part of their studies in English. Candidates called for interview will be given two interviews by tutors in English at Mansfield College candidates called for interview will be given two interviews by tutors in English at Mansfield College. We aim for the interview to provide a supportive environment so that you can show us your true potential and ability.
At entrance we want people who are enthusiastic, who enjoy reading and thinking about what they read, and who are prepared to work hard. We pride ourselves on our teaching and our attention to the individual talents and interests of our students. The syllabus, designed to provide opportunities for the exploration of literary texts in English from every period, is both exciting and challenging. In our College teaching, we introduce students to a broad range of literary texts ranging from Hamlet to the Harlem Renaissance, via Beowulf, Clarrisa and Frederick Douglass's slave narrative. We ask our students to question and challenge the terms on which works are designated as part of a literary 'canon' and to look at writing in English from across the globe. They think deeply about the determinant historical and cultural contexts that shape the texts they study. They learn to grapple with key issues in contemporary literary criticism and theory: from new directions in digital humanities to critical race studies and gender theory.
We are here to help you grow and reach your full potential. At Mansfield we recognise that it is our responsibility in College to help our students navigate their courses. We enable them to make good decisions about the options they select from among the classes and lectures delivered centrally by the English Faculty.
What does learning here look like?
The tutors at Mansfield will prepare you for your assessed work at the end of your first and in your third year. Their teaching is supplemented by many lectures provided by the English Faculty from leading experts. In College, our students work with us and their year group in small classes (usually fewer than 10 students) and in tutorials (usually 2 students). In these sessions, we occasionally introduce material and ideas to you by lecturing ourselves, but mostly students present their written work, discuss notes and ideas with us and their classmates. This creates a truly collaborative learning environment between students and their subject tutors. Initially some students who are used to the relative anonymity of their school's large classes tell us they are a bit surprised by the individual attention their work get here. Here they finally have the choice to focus on their work and engage in profound ways with the best that been thought and written - sometimes by Shakespeare or Zora Neale Hurston, but sometimes an excellent essay by their tutorial partner.
In the first and second year of your degree, you can expect to be studying two courses each term and to write between six and ten essays of c. 2000 words each term. That sounds like a lot, and it is. However, we carefully space out our own teaching timetables to make sure that you can meet this exacting but exciting regime of study and writing as well as attend lectures. You will be amazed at how quickly you adapt to investigating and synthesising the texts you are set and how much your power of communication improve through it.
In third year you will select an option from a dazzling range of twenty centrally-taught Faculty options on which you will write an extended essay. Our tutorials also teach some of these courses (Ros Ballaster and Ruth Scobie have taught a course on 'Feminist Writing/Writing Feminism, for instance). You will have the opportunity to write a dissertation you have designed on an area of your own choosing, with the guidance of an expert supervisor your tutors will identify and appoint for you. Our students have written dissertations on a vast range of topics that fascinate them - from decadence to fan fiction to Kenyan novels to postmodernism and translation. We aim to secure the best teachers and leading scholars within the faculty to cover areas of the syllabus which do not fall within the subject tutors' expertise.
Our College library is well-stocked with essential texts and important critical work. Mansfield is one of the closest colleges to the English Faculty building. This means you're a short walk or cycle to where the majority of lectures are held, as well as the site of the large Faculty library, which is essential for both borrowing and reference. Need to look at a manuscript or copyright holding? The Bodleian's main Weston Library is only a 5 minute walk in the other direction. Mansfield may feel like a village, but it's right in the centre of town.
English Tutors' research interests:
Dr Mark Atherton - language, early English literatures
Professor Ros Ballaster - eighteenth century literature, history of theatre, writing about the Orient and women's writing
Professor Michèle Mendelssohn - nineteenth - and twentieth-century British and American literature
Ms Lucinda Rumsey - medieval literature
Dr Chris Salamone - early modern depictions of the supernatural and the circulation Shakespearean texts during the eighteenth century
Dr Ruth Scobie - Romantic-period literature and celebrity culture.