english honors program

The English Honors Program is open to applicants who have shown exceptional ability in English. English Honors is designed to expand and intensify the academic experiences of advanced English majors through completion of a three-quarter, cohort-based, senior-year progam. The program builds a community of  undergraduate scholars within the English Department, providing them with opportunities to work closely with UW professors in independent study and research, and with special events such as lectures and receptions.


2015-16 Honors Faculty and Topics

Topic: "Adaptations"

Adaptation derives from the Latin adaptare, “to fit.” Adaptations enable a thing, person, organism, or idea to fit new or changing circumstances. In biological terms, adaptation refers to the process by which individual mutations enable organisms to fit better into their ecosystem, giving them a comparative advantage and thus ultimately leading to the ongoing evolution of species. Adaptation also occurs at the level of the individual, as we alter our behaviors, tastes, and expectations to fit the world around us. Adaptation also refers to the way that different cultures modify ideas, objects, and practices to fit their own, ever-changing, needs. New technologies arise by repurposing existing tools, or combining them in new ways that in turn create new possibilities that demand new innovations.

In literary terms, authors adapt their own experiences of the world into their work. They also adapt the work of others, playing with genre expectations, established storylines, familiar devices, and even familiar characters. No work of literature--for that matter, no cultural practice or species--is entirely new and original. Instead, all literature arises at least in part out of a process of adapting what has come before into new forms, new contexts, new meanings, and new purposes. Even individual works may be said to adapt, as they take on new meanings when read in context different from those in which they were written, while we speak explicitly of “adapting” books for the stage or the screen.

This year’s English Honors courses will explore the theme of “adaptation” as broadly construed in literary studies. Different courses will trace adaptations of form, of genre, or of specific works across diverse times periods and contexts. In the process, we will discuss the implications of considering adaptation as a process at once aesthetic, ecological, political, and cultural that enables us to think about the persistence and efficacy of literary and cultural practice, and the ways in which different periods, authors, nations, and traditions relate to one another.

2015-16 Honors Faculty

Professor Laura Chrisman

Professor Sydney Kaplan

Professor Jeffrey Knight

Professor Jesse Oak Taylor

2014-15 Honors Faculty and Topics

"Form and Politics of Narrative"

How can narrative form and voice tell a story hidden behind the more apparent story? To what extent does the style of a genre have a particular politics? Do forms of narrative themselves have a history? What about narratives that break the boundaries of readers' expectations? How might form and politics affect the making of personal narratives? This year the four courses in our honors sequence will take up such questions with a focus on the form and politics of narrative in literature, film, and popular culture. We will cover a wide range of texts, both written and visual, in historical periods from the eighteenth century to the present.

The honors sequence will work to provide students with the following skills, important to successful work in literary and cultural study:

  1. close or careful reading of primary textual evidence;
  2. close or careful reading of critical academic prose;
  3. ability to summarize the main claims of an academic essay;
  4. ability to assess and respond to the main claims of an academic essay;
  5. ability to situate oneself in a critical conversation;
  6. ability to formulate a distinct critical perspective;
  7. ability to create a logically coherent and complex thesis;
  8. ability to develop a coherent and sustained argument to support that thesis.

2014-15 Honors Faculty

Professor Carolyn Allen

Professor Eva Cherniavsky

Professor Gary Handwerk

Professor Thomas Lockwood

2013-14 Honors Faculty and Topics

"Literature and Politics "

This Honors sequence focuses on “literature and politics.” Each seminar will explore the relationship between cultural production and political struggle, with a specific focus on the role of literature. All honors seminars will include theoretical and literary critical texts that offer ways of situating literature in relation to changing historical and social conditions. Course materials will reach back into the nineteenth century and forward into the twenty-first. Topics include settler colonialism, slavery, genocide, imperialism, capitalism, sex/gender hierarchies, and regimes of sexual and bodily normalization. Each seminar will be writing intensive and will result in the production of a final research paper. The honors sequence will work to provide students with the following skills, important to successful work in literary and cultural study:

2013-2014 Honors Faculty

Professor Gillian Harkins

Professor Katherine Cummings

Professor Alys Weinbaum

Professor Chandan Reddy

Previous years' faculty and topics:

2012-2013: "Cultural Forms and Social Change" (Faculty: Gillian Harkins, Kate Cummings, Charles LaPorte, Juliet Shields, Caroline Simpson)

2011-2012: "Narratives of Time and Space: Memory, Dislocation and Emotion" (Faculty: Carolyn Allen, Sydney Kaplan, Monika Kaup, Mark Patterson)

2010-2011: "Technologies of Textual Representation" (Faculty: Tom Foster, Laurie George, Tom Lockwood, Miceál Vaughan)

2009-2010: "Aesthetics and Politics" (Faculty: Gillian Harkins, Laura Chrisman, Eva Cherniavsky, Alys Weinbaum)

2008-2009: "History and Imagination" (Faculty: Herbert Blau, Sydney Kaplan, Tom Lockwood, Michelle Liu)

2007-2008: "Reading Genres of (Post)Modernity" (Faculty: Carolyn Allen, Tom Foster, Charles LaPorte, Nikolai Popov)

2006-2007: "The Object(s) of Literature" (Faculty: Sydney Kaplan, Mark Patterson, Shawn Wong, Laura Chrisman)

2005-2006: "Aesthetics and Politics" (Faculty: Alys Weinbaum, Mark Patterson, Chandan Reddy, Zahid Chaudhary)

For further details on prior year honors seminars, see the Department's quarterly course descriptions.


Application to the English Honors Cohort is competitive. Applications are accepted annually after winter quarter grades have been posted, and are due by the third Friday of spring quarter to begin the program the following autumn. Space is limited. Meeting minimum eligibility requirements, or being a member of the College Honors Program, does not guarantee admission. Selection takes place through the competitive admission process, which includes the application form and a personal statement.

Students usually enter English Honors when they have Junior standing, with an average of 115-135 credits earned.  A cohort of approximately 40 students will be admitted during spring quarter, and must complete the program in residence over autumn, winter, and spring quarters of the following academic year.

To be eligible for English Honors, all students must be declared English majors who apply in spring quarter for the following Autumn's English Honors cohort, and must have:

View/print the honors application

The link above requires a PDF reader.
Here's Adobe's, and
here's a 3rd-party reader.

Advising and Administration

All new English Honors students are encouraged to meet and consult with the English Department faculty and staff members who administer the Honors Program:

Professor Colette Moore, Director of Undergraduate Programs and English Honors
Padelford A-2H; cvmoore@u.washington.edu

Nancy Sisko, English Honors Adviser
Padelford A-2-B; 543-3528; nsisko@u.washington.edu

Nancy Sisko receives and approves applications, maintains academic progress files for Honors students, issues add codes and provides supplemental registration assistance and academic planning.  Professor Colette Moore is available to discuss intellectual topics, scholarly activities, and academic interests and plans with students, makes decisions regarding student requests for exceptions to Honors policies and procedures, and reviews applications for readmission after dismissal.

Read an article about the English Honors Program featured on the University Honors website:

University Honors Program article about English Department Honors


Students who successfully complete both the College Honors and the English Honors programs will be graduated With College Honors in English.  Students successfully completing the English Department Honors program only will be graduated With Honors in English.  These Honors are posted to the UW transcript.  To graduate With Honors in English, students must complete all required English Honors courses and maintain a minimum UW cumulative GPA of 3.3 and UW English GPA of 3.7.

WARNING: Students who have not completed all Honors requirements by their scheduled graduation date must request that the graduation date be postponed if he or she still desires to graduate with Honors. Once the degree is posted, no changes can be made to the transcript, and Honors will be forfeited.

Top of page

Requirements and Satisfactory Progress

English Honors course work consists of two honors seminars (ENGL 494), one taken in Autumn and one in Winter, followed by the writing of an honors thesis in the Spring (ENGL 496).

A total of four honors seminars are offered each year, two in Autumn and two in Winter, taught by a total of four faculty members. The four seminars are linked by a theme of question, to be decided on by the participating faculty. Examples of the broadest themes or questions include" "Literature of Empire"; "Textual Studies"; "Literature and Other Arts"; "What is Modernity?"; "What is Literary History?"

Two of the four honors faculty will elect to be available in the Spring to oversee the approximately 40 honors essays. (Students may also choose to work with other professors as well, either because of an existing mentoring relationship, or because of scholarly expertise. Students completing the creative writing pathway may also choose to do a creative project under the direction of an appropriate faculty member.) There will be a meeting time and room scheduled for the thesis course(s), though the supervising faculty are free to organize the course as they would like.

Honors course work may not be “doubled up,” nor may the courses be taken out of sequence, though Honors coursework may overlap with English major requirements where appropriate.

An add code for the following course in the Honors sequence will not be issued if there is an incomplete grade or failing grade on the student’s record for the previous Honors course.  For example, if an “I” appears for ENGL 494 in Autumn Quarter, an add code for ENGL 494 for the upcoming Winter Quarter will not be issued until the incomplete grade is resolved.  This may result in being shut out of a desired seminar or being dismissed from the program if the incomplete converts to a 0.0.  If at any time after admission a student’s grades fall below these minimum standards, he or she will be dismissed from the program.  Students who have been dropped for unsatisfactory scholarship may reapply for admission at a later date if minimum GPA requirements are attained.  All second applications must be accompanied by a letter of petition and two letters of recommendation from English faculty.


Registration for English Honors courses is by add code only.  Add codes may be obtained from Nancy Sisko in English Advising, A-2B Padelford. Add codes for honors couress are generally issued in person on a first-come, first-served basis on the first day of regular senior registration.

Top of page

Applying Honors Courses to English Major Requirements

Honors courses may be applied to major requirements in a number of ways. Any Honors course may be used to satisfy English major elective requirements, although this works most efficiently for students following the major with an emphasis in literature.  Any Honors Seminar, if defined appropriately, may be used to satisfy any requirement in the English major.  For example, if the topic of one of your Senior Seminars is “Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group,” it is very likely that it satisfies a History of Language and Literature core requirement.  Honors seminars may always be used as 400-level electives. For approval of Honors courses for specific requirements, consult the Honors Adviser, Nancy Sisko (PDL A-2-B).

Honors students will use ENGL 496 Major Conference for Honors as their 400-level senior capstone course.

Top of page

ENGL 496:  Major Conference for Honors

The Major Conference for Honors requires a thesis project, a substantive essay, usually 20-30 pages, but sometimes longer.  Broadly speaking, the thesis is a complex piece of research-based  literary analysis, criticism, theory, or other critical work related to English.  Although most people choose literary topics, students are also welcome to do thesis work in English language study (linguistics), rhetoric and composition, cultural studies, film studies, and other emerging areas of the discipline.  The Honors thesis should aspire to the level of a good graduate term paper.  To approach this level of competence, it should have the following characteristics:

Faculty Supervision and Registration for ENGL 496

Two of the four faculty who teach Honors Seminars during the year will be available to suvervise the honors theses. A regular meeting time and room will be scheduled for the thesis course to meet. There are some occasions when working with another English faculty member makes sense. For example, if a student wishes to complete a thesis project in medieval studies, and already has a strong mentoring relationship with Professor Remley, and he has agreed to work with that student independently, that student must provide a written intellectual justification to Professor Harkins. If Professor Harkins approves the proposal, the student will be asked to submit an approval form with Professor Remely's signature. The student will work with Professor Remley on the content of the thesis, but WILL STILL BE REQUIRED TO REGISTER FOR AND ATTEND ONE OF THE SECTIONS OF ENGL 496, Major Conference for Honors. ENGL 496 is designed to cover critical aspects of the research process. The proposal, abstract, outline, annotated bibliography, etc. It is also designed to provide Honors students with an audience of their peers for developing their research, providing students with an opportunity to workshop their research with their peers.

The Value of English Honors

Before deciding to embark on English Honors, many students want to know what benefits the program confers.  Naturally, successful completion of departmental honors means receiving an impressive additional credential.  Particularly for students applying to graduate or professional school, graduating With Honors in English puts another attractive line on the curriculum vitae.  However, this should not be the sole motivation for entering the Honors program, nor is it the most significant benefit.

Building community: The Honors Program is a means for students to build community within one of the largest and most diverse departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.  Honors students inevitably share the common characteristics of active intellectual engagement, curiosity and a willingness to explore new topics and perspectives, and a strong belief in the intrinsic value of scholarship in our discipline. One of the goals of Honors is learning how to work effectively within a community of scholars, how to engage in a critical conversation with one's peers, how to negotiate a multiplicity of perspectives and intelligently stake out intellectual commitments. Honors should provide a more intimate "home" within the larger, vaguer framework of our rather ungainly major. By bringing 40 students together into a cohort and giving them multiple opportunities to meet and work together and with the 4-person faculty team, we hope that a strong sense of community will emerge.

Program coherence: The Honors program provides a coherent and cumulative program of study for students by focusing them on a defined area of inquiry or debate. Because the content and concerns of the honors courses are coordinated, students should build a strong sense of a topic or issue. By the end of the year, students should have a firm understanding of what it means to carry on a sustained conversation, to push the lines of inquiry to a new kind of depth and sophistication, and to appreciate questions from a multiplicity of critical perspectives. The topic of the Honors program in any given year will be defined in broad enough terms that every student will find an appealing point of entry rather than feeling as if they're being forced to study a narrow subject.

Graduate School preparation: Although Honors can be of great value to any English major, the program is particularly beneficial to prospective graduate students.  The advanced skills described above are precisely those needed by applicants to graduate and professional school.  Honors also puts students in an ideal position to fulfill the requirements of a successful graduate school application.  Strong letters of recommendation are sometimes difficult for UW students to get, even if they are intellectually gifted, because their professors simply don’t know them well enough.  Two quarters of seminar work and a term of intensive independent study means that faculty members get a very clear, detailed picture of their students’ abilities and accomplishments.  This can translate into the effective letters of recommendation.  Most graduate programs in English also require a critical writing sample, an essay of 12-20 pages, that is an extremely important part of the application.  The Honors Program provides ample opportunities for producing essays suitable for use as a critical writing sample. 

Students hoping to complete graduate degrees in English sometimes ask if it is “necessary” to do English Honors to be competitive.   The answer to this question is:  No.  Many eligible students have compelling reasons for choosing not to participate in the program.  Talent reveals itself in numerous ways to graduate admissions committees.   The absence of Honors course work on the transcript will not damage the prospects of a student with a clear record of academic excellence.

Read an article about the English Honors Program featured on the University Honors website:

University Honors Program article about English Department Honors

Other Honors

English Honors students are frequently eligible for other categories of  honors at the UW.  However, one type of honor does not necessarily imply the others.  It is important to distinguish English Honors from

University Honors
High Scholarship Recognition
Baccalaureate Honors
Phi Beta Kappa
Golden Key

University Honors

University Honors is an umbrella term to designate all UW Honors programs. For a thorough explanation of the three different tracks in Honors-- Interdisciplinary Honors (core curriculum), Departmental Honors, and College Honors (combination of Interdisciplinary and Departmental Honors), please go to the University of Washington Honors Program web page,

The Honors Curriculum: Options and Requirements.

High Scholarship Recognition

The following forms of recognition are awarded to first baccalaureate degree, matriculated students in residence.  Undergraduate students in all colleges of the University are eligible regardless of membership in the Honors Program.

Quarterly Dean’s List:  A high scholarship notation is made on the transcript of each undergraduate student who attains a quarterly GPA of at least 3.50 for 12 UW graded credits.  “Dean’s List” is entered on the line below the quarter’s courses on the transcript and a congratulatory letter is sent from the dean of the student’s home school or college.

Annual Dean’s List: The following undergraduates receive yearly high scholarship recognition in the form of a certificate:

Such students are recognized by the notation “Annual Dean’s List” following the last quarter’s grades for the year, and by a certificate of recognition from the dean of the student’s home school or college.

View UW English majors on the Annual Dean's List.

Baccalaureate Honors

Baccalaureate honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude)  are awarded at graduation based on GPA and other factors (see the Registrar's Office website for criteria).  The University’s Faculty Council on Academic Standards Honors Subcommittee determines annually the proportions of the graduating class to receive baccalaureate honors.  GPAs are then determined by the Committee and the Registrar's Office to yield the specified proportions within each undergraduate college.  University minimum GPAs are specified for each baccalaureate honors level, and college GPA minima must at least equal annually stipulated University minima. (For the most recent GPA requirements for the Seattle campus, see http://www.washington.edu/students/reg/HonorsReqS.html.)

Top of page


Freshman Medal.  Annually, the sophomore having the most distinguished academic record for the first year of his or her program receives the freshman medal.  The notation "Freshman Medalist" is made on the transcript.  Selection is based primarily on GPA, but the rigor and quality of the student's program are also considered. Only students who have earned 36 or more graded credits in residence at the UW will be considered for this honor.

Sophomore and Junior Medals. Annually, the junior having the most distinguished academic record for the first two years of his or her program receives the sophomore medal.  The senior having the most distinguished academic record for the first three years of his or her program receives the junior medal.  The notation "Sophomore Medalist" or "Junior Medalist" is made on the transcript.  Selection is based primarily on GPA, but the rigor and quality of the student's program are also considered.  Only students who have earned 40 or more graded credits in residence at the UW will be considered for these honors.

President's Medal. The President's Medal, which is conferred at commencement, recognizes the graduating senior who has the most distinguished academic record.  Only students who have earned at least 90 credits at the UW may be considered.  The notation "President's Medalist" is made on the transcript, under the name of the degree awarded.

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa is a national honorary organization whose purpose is to recognize and honor students with excellent undergraduate academic records.  Requirements for election are established by each local chapter.  The requirements are meant to ensure that members have had a quality liberal education; at the UW students in all colleges are welcomed if they meet these standards.

Election:  Students do not apply to Phi Beta Kappa.  Instead, the Registrar’s Office provides the UW chapter with the transcripts of all students who meet the credit and GPA requirements.  The chapter then determines whether the general education and upper-division breadth requirements are met.  If so, the student is mailed an offer of election.

Click here to see a list of recent UW English majors invited to join Phi Beta Kappa.

Golden Key National Honor Society

Golden Key is a national interdisciplinary academic honors organization whose purpose is to recognize and encourage scholastic achievement in all undergraduate fields of study.  Golden Key seeks to bring together undergraduates, college faculty, and administrators in developing and maintaining high standards of education and in promoting voluntary service to school and community.

Election:  Students are normally invited into Golden Key each Fall quarter on the basis of meeting credit and class rank criteria.  At other times, students who have subsequently become eligible may contact the UW Golden Key chapter office for information.

Sigma Tau Delta

Members of the UW chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honor society, note that the society's purpose is to "confer distinction upon students of the English language and literature, while also providing an opportunity to create a sense of community in the department."

to home page
top of page