The Colloquium Comps option for the Senior Integrative Exercise offers students the chance to integrate the skills and knowledge they have acquired as English majors by reading, discussing in small groups, and writing about a list of works organized around a theme, topic, or literary question. The list, provided by the department, draws upon works from the range of the major. The intellectual pleasure and rigor of this comps option balances breadth, close reading, and critical analysis through group and individual work.

The colloquium process begins in the fall with a group proposal arguing for minor modifications to the list (the proposal process is described in more detail below). Students may begin reading and planning over winter break, and then, following a syllabus that each colloquium group devises, will conduct regular, self-directed seminar meetings throughout winter term.

To inform their discussions, students will do supplemental research on the list’s primary texts and critical questions. In the last few weeks of winter term, students individually will compose either one or two comparative essays on topics of their own choosing, with a total count of approximately 5,000 words.  Students who choose to write a single essay should discuss at least three texts from the list.  All students should demonstrate attention to the breadth of the list; e.g., in terms of eras, genres, traditions, and/or critical claims, and make appropriate use of their research. After writing first drafts, students will revise their work through a structured process of peer review.

Finally, in the spring, the colloquium work will culminate in a group presentation given at the departmental symposium.

2023-24 Colloquium Comps

  • Coordinators: Adriana Estill & George Shuffelton

The Anthropocene 

Scholarship has loosely applied the term “anthropocene” to describe the period of the earth’s history defined by human alteration of the environment.  Whether we mark the beginning of the anthropocene at the onset of the Columbian Exchange in 1492, the recent low-point of atmospheric CO2 in 1610, the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, or with the Trinity atomic bomb test in 1945, the human impact on the environment has raised significant and paralyzing questions about how we should reimagine and rewrite our relationship to nature. The anthropocene also invites a long view of human activity, one that considers the connections between distant past, our current conditions, and our possible futures. In that sense, many writers and thinkers have been concerned with the issues of the anthropocene, even when they’re not focused on climate change specifically. Scholarship on the anthropocene and literature points to key themes of climate, empire, settler colonialism, capitalism, displacement, human manipulation of the natural world, and the notion of “deep time,” i.e. the acknowledgement of geologic time as relevant to human culture.  What does it mean to see human history as longer than we might normally consider yet more fragile than we might like?  What new kinds of relationships to the world can literature help us imagine?  


Anonymous, Exeter Book Riddle 12 (trans. Treharne)

Anonymous, St. Erkenwald

Clare, “The Lament of Swordy Well”

Dickinson, selected poems (

Frost, “The Wood-Pile”

Jeffers, “The Purse Seine”

Kane, “Fieldwork” and “The Straits”

Shelley, “Ozymandias”

Swift, “Description of a City Shower”

Toomer, “Banking Coal”

Wordsworth, “A slumber did my spirit seal”


Butler, Parable of the Sower

Díaz, “Monstro”

Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves

Forster, “The Machine Stops”

Ghosh, Gun Island

Irving, “Rip Van Winkle”

Kincaid, A Small Place

McGuire, Here 

Powers, The Overstory

Thoreau, “The Ponds,” from Walden


Beckett, Endgame 

Shakespeare, As You Like It


Beasts of the Southern Wild (Zeitlin)

Koyaanisqatsi:  Life Out of Balance (Reggio)

Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller)


Certeau, “Walking in the City,” from The Practice of Everyday Life

Ghosh, The Great Derangement (selection)

Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitolocene, Plationocene, Chthuluscene: Making Kin”

Nadzam and Jamieson, “Love,” from Love in the Anthropocene

Introduction from Anthropocene Reading, ed. Menely and Taylor

A. In the Fall of senior year students submit a written group proposal consisting of:

  1. A list of two or three texts the group wishes to add to the departmental Colloquium list. The group may also propose a subtraction.
  2. A rationale for the proposed additions or deletions. The explanation should address:
    • How these texts contribute to a conversation about the topic;
    • How the list changes as a result of your choices;
    • How the questions that the topic poses can be worked through with your additional texts;
  3. The proposal should be at least two pages long. 

Examples of successful proposals are in Dropbox.

B. The final Colloquium Comps will consist of:

  1. Approximately 5,000 words of essay writing due at the end of winter term of senior year
  2. A public presentation by the group at the English Comps symposium in the spring term on what was learned in the process of constructing a syllabus, discussing the works on the list, and writing the essay(s).

C. What does an ideal Colloquium Comps Essay look like?

  • Successfully addresses a literary, critical and/or theoretical question or problem
  • Articulates a cogent and insightful thesis in answer to this question or problem
  • Develops this thesis into a coherent and illuminating argument
  • Argument is based upon well-chosen evidence
  • Shows the pertinence of such evidence by sophisticated analysis, close reading, and/or careful exposition
  • Shows mastery of a broad range of relevant literary, critical, methodological and/or theoretical concepts and texts
  • Paper clearly exhibits an extremely effective organizing structure
  • Is precisely and/or eloquently written
  • Is almost entirely free from mechanical error

Examples of successful Colloquium Essays are in Dropbox.

Key Dates & Deadlines, 2023-24

Junior Year

Spring Term:

  • Thursday, May 4, Common Time: Mandatory Comps meeting
  • Advising week: Conversation with advisers about Comps options
  • Colloquium list sent to majors and posted on department website

Senior Year

Fall Term:

  • Weeks 1-5: Colloquium students will meet together and discuss ideas for potential additions or deletions to the list.  The group will draft a proposal.
  • Noon on Thursday, October 19: Group proposal due – The proposal should be emailed to Adriana Estill and George Shuffelton. Revisions of the proposal may be required.
  • Tuesday, October 24, Common Time: Research visit with reference librarian Adam Lewis

Winter Term:

  • Weeks 1-6: Weekly readings and discussions of the works on the list
  • 2nd week: Meeting with czars to discuss organization of syllabus
  • 6th week: Meeting with czars to discuss how to develop literary arguments drawing upon the list
  • 7th week: Begin to draft essay(s); group may continue to meet
  • 8th week: Finish drafting essay(s); peer review
  • 9th week: More peer review
  • Last day of classes (March 8): Final essays due by 5 p.m. Check the comps submission guidelines for further instructions.

Spring Term: 

  • Students receive evaluations of their essays. Revisions to essays, if required, due at noon, Monday, April 22 (beginning of 5th week).
  • Saturday, May 4: Group presentation at the English Comps Symposium.