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New proposal to remove oldest module from the English syllabus

The popular third-year English module ‘Modern European Mind’ has been axed from the university’s curriculum following a proposal for academic change last year.

The course has been available to English and American Studies students for decades, and was initially a compulsory module, uniting humanities students working in those two disciplines.

It focuses on art, literature and society after the French Revolution, and on “radical late eighteenth century transformations in thought.”

Now, instead of European literature and thinking pre-1700, a proposal for academic change suggests that the university “refocus the syllabus for the School of English at both BA and MA level on English and American literary and complementary courses, on drama, and on English Language”, according to information on the University’s internal website, Sussex Direct.

In the 1990s, the course became an optional module among a wide variety of other courses.

It was eventually absorbed into the ‘special subject’ element of third year English studies, along with courses such as Irish Writing after Joyce, Literature and Psychoanalysis, The Literatures of Africa and The Uncanny, to name but a few. The variety of ‘special subjects’ is broad and varied, but Modern European Mind was a course that continued to attract willing and enthusiastic students.

In a document detailing the proposals for change, made available publicly on Sussex direct, it is stated that “in English, the main thrust of the proposals is withdrawal from parts of the curriculum to give a sharper focus to the premium nature of the Sussex English undergraduate programme… It is not intended to change the overall degree programme offering, other than through normal change and adaptation.”

Despite the withdrawal of the course, the school of English remains confident that it will continue to be able to offer BA English students exposure to classical and modern European comparative perspectives on English literature and culture both in its core and optional courses.

Third year English student Lauren Black-Fenner commented, “modification of the courses is natural and important in ensuring the degree program stays relevant and interesting.

“Equally, it is reasonable that the restructuring of the School of Humanities – combining American Studies and History as well as Literature – to a new School of English would have a knock-on effect on what courses are available.

“However, a course that covers such a breadth of historical, social and political knowledge as well as a focus on literature is very valuable in providing a context to English students. Add to that, that the course still remained in popular demand, and it seems strange that this course in particular would be cut.’ The cuts have caused controversy in the press, as well as among Sussex students.

The Times Higher Education supplement commented on similar cuts in the History department. Richard J Evans wrote, “History at Sussex has a long and proud tradition, not least in the area of pre-1900 European history… but just as much in pre-1700 British history. How can you understand modern European history without learning anything about the French Revolution?”

He goes on to state that “the university claims that it does not intend to axe any courses, but how can one respect a university that proposes to cover this or indeed any other area by ‘non-research-led’ teaching? “Prospective students thinking of studying history at Sussex would be well advised to think again.’

In a economic climate where young people, are questioning the value and financial viability of university degrees, it is important that the university engage in cutting edge, relevant and new research. However, it seems the credibility of Sussex’s humanities department could be compromised as a result.

Information regarding changes to the English department can be found at http://www.sussex.ac.uk/vc/1-3-12-3-1-4.html.

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