Though canons and faculty have greatly diversified in recent decades, English departments around the world fundamentally prioritize English and American literatures. To this extent, they resemble the Anglo-American imperial commonwealths that some toward the end of the nineteenth century advocated for in order to stave off the decline of the British Empire and to shore up a permanent Anglo-American supremacy against all threats. Still, as the English language becomes “global,” English departments today founder for a variety of reasons and convey a persistent sense of crisis. Has the time come radically to decolonize the English department, not only at the level of curriculum but also in terms of its basic organizational structures to facilitate the study of anglophone literatures now planetary in reach? If so, how might this best be achieved in the British and American core countries and also in the more peripheral regions of Anglophonia?
The English Department as Imperial Commonwealth, or The Global Past and Global Future of English Studies
Joe Cleary teaches British, Irish, and postcolonial literatures at Yale University. He is the author of Outrageous Fortune: Capital and Culture in Modern Ireland (2007) and Literature, Partition and the Nation-State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine (2002). His Modernism, Empire, World Literature and The Irish Expatriate Novel in Late Capitalist Globalization will be published in 2021.
Joe Cleary; The English Department as Imperial Commonwealth, or The Global Past and Global Future of English Studies. boundary 2 1 February 2021; 48 (1): 139–176. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8821461
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