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

Colloquium list will be posted in the late spring.

2022-23 Colloquium Comps

  • Coordinators: Nancy Cho & Constance Walker

Off the Page 

Literature is, among other things, a profoundly social art. There are myriad ways for a literary work not only to mirror society, but to challenge, provoke, and transform it: plays that break the “fourth wall” in order to put the audience itself under scrutiny; realist novels that attempt to close  the gap between representation and reality; poems that problematize and reshape our ideas about  ecological and political structures; a television show that offers radical re-readings of a canonical  woman poet from the nineteenth century.  

The 2022-2023 Colloquium will examine innovative works that challenge the reader to think  beyond the boundaries of the work itself in order to grapple with the real-world issues addressed.  At the heart of the list are two central questions: what can literature do to reimagine and/or  change the world that polemic alone cannot, and by what means? We invite you to explore the  relationship between literature and activism in texts that respond powerfully and imaginatively to  crises such as racial injustice, environmental destruction, patriarchal oppression, and the violence  of regimes of power. In short, the Colloquium invites discussion of literature as an act of doing in  the world, one that operates both “off the page” and on it. 


Jonathan Swift, “A Modest Proposal” 

Mary Prince, excerpt from The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, excerpt from “On the Slave Trade” 


Charles Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition 

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale 

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis 

Karen Tei Yamashita, Through the Arc of the Rainforest 

Ruth Ozeki, My Year of Meats 


“John Ball’s Sermon Theme” theme 

John Milton, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont” 

William Wordsworth, “Nutting” 

John Clare, “The Lament of Swordy Well” 

P. B. Shelley, “The Mask of Anarchy” 

Emily Dickinson, “Because I could not stop for death,” “I have never seen ‘Volcanoes,'” “Wild  nights,” “Alone, I cannot be,” “I am afraid to own a Body” 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The Cry of the Children” 

John Agard, “Half-Caste” 

Martín Espada, “Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100” 

Ada Limón, “A New National Anthem” and “What It Looks Like to Us and the Words We Use”


William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice 

Trevor Nunn, dir., The Merchant of Venice (2000) 

Amiri Baraka, Dutchman 

Dutchman (1966), film dir. by Anthony Harvey 

Jackie Sibblies Drury, Fairview 

Bruce Miller, The Handmaid’s Tale (television series, 1.1-1.3 [2017]) 

Suzan-Lori Parks, Sally and Tom, fall trip to the Guthrie Theater (premiere; Thursday Oct. 6) 

Alena Smith, Dickinson (Season 1, episodes 1-5) 


Italo Calvino, “Right and Wrong Political Uses of Literature” (1976) 

Edwidge Danticat, “Poetry in a Time of Protest” (2017) 

Rita Felski, “Introduction,” The Uses of Literature (2008) 

John Gardner, from On Moral Fiction (1978)

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 Tuesday, 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.