When Davidson College was founded in 1837, English was not a formal part of the curriculum. In 1855, the college created a professorship in Belles Lettres with a focus on composition rather than the teaching of literature. Victor Barringer was elected the first Troy Professor of Belle Lettres in 1860 but soon went on leave to serve in the Confederate Army until 1865. The Rev. John Anderson replaced Barringer, teaching English from 1866 to 1874. He was replaced by the Rev. Andrew Hepburn, who would serve as both college president and English professor from 1875 to 1885. English expanded within the curriculum with the appointment of William Currell in 1886. Still, it was not until 1920, that the college had 2 faculty teaching English classes. Edwin Shewmake and Edward Erwin were assisted by part-time instructors in public speaking.
English had the highest enrollment of any department in 1925. Prof. Erwin, a Davidson alumnus, was also instrumental in establishing a student theatre group. By 1930, the department had grown to 4.5 faculty, sharing one professor with Latin. The department grew to 6 professors in the 1950s and 9 by 1964. The McGee Visiting Professorship of Creative Writing was added in 1989 and by 1996, there 12 faculty in the department, expanding again to 16. As of 2014, the English Department is one of the largest departments on campus with 16 full-time faculty in addition to the McGee Professor of Writing.
Currently the English department not only supports its majors, but oversees the campus Writing Center and Film and Media Studies Concentration. In addition, the English department is instrumental in organizing a robust lecture series. the Davidson Literary Calender, every year.
The English Department sees itself as integral to the Liberal Arts mission of Davidson College. According to the English Department’s mission statement: “The English major encourages intellectual independence by stressing creative, critical thinking combined with informed reading and interpretation made evident in clear speech and writing. Members of the Department seek to teach language and literature from a range of perspectives. Approaches include close reading of texts, performing texts, identifying historical and theoretical contexts — all strategies of reading that find their parallels in creative and expository writing. Small classes and various opportunities for independent study, including a senior honors program, are designed to engage professor and students in a lively intellectual exchange. The program provides graduates with a depth and breadth of literary knowledge while teaching them to explore problems creatively, to be sensitive to life’s diversity, and to read the world critically and thoughtfully.”
Author: Jim Harris
Date: 5 July 2012
Cite as: Harris, Jim. “English Department.” Davidson Encyclopedia. 5 July 2012 <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/english-department/>.