Lectures, Seminars and Supervisions
Lectures and Seminars
The Faculty runs lectures and seminars which support your studies. For each of the main period papers in Part I there will be several lecture series running, from which you will attend some but not all. There are no compulsory lectures, and students are free to attend lectures on any areas that particularly interest them as well as those closest to their current supervision topics. You could take a course which surveyed the background to many works – say, one lecturer sketching medieval attitudes to authorship and authority. You could take a course in which several lecturers offered ideas and information about one essential work or author – say, four views of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. You could take a course which would extend your own focus on some particular topic – say, on slang in Victorian literature. Each lecture lasts around fifty minutes. The teaching will both illuminate the whole subject panoramically and light up more focused intellectual passions.
There are also then seminars to prepare you for examinations, on subjects such as Shakespeare or foreign literatures. Especially rewarding are the third-year seminars for the optional papers – Contemporary Writing, for example, or The History and Theory of Literary Criticism – in which small groups of students who have chosen to specialize in the field in question come together to discuss shared reading with the lecturers, and to give presentations of their own.
As well as larger lectures and seminars, what is famously distinctive about a Cambridge education is that each student has a director of studies who arranges weekly ‘supervisions’ in much smaller groups – typically in pairs, but sometimes in threes or solo. The supervisions are given by the various lecturers and professors and by advanced PhD students – so you could find yourself discussing Wordsworth’s poetry one-to-one with somebody who has just published a book on it. In English, you normally write a short essay for each supervision, which you then discuss, as well as considering the topic in general. This is an exciting form of teaching: intensive, exploratory and led by you. It offers potentially the most stimulating kind of education there is.
Each College, however, adopts a slightly different way of teaching: some favour larger classes to encourage undergraduates to exchange ideas; others favour smaller groups for intensive discussion. Some encourage undergraduates to produce written work each week, in order to develop breadth of reading and fluency of essay-writing; others prefer to give undergraduates a longer period to engage in intensive study.
Beyond The Curriculum
Finally, although the academic course is focused on literary criticism, the Faculty also encourages in creative writing or drama. We are lucky to have a bequest from the Judith E. Wilson Fund to support visiting lecturers in creative writing and drama, who run workshops and classes for students outside the main curriculum, or as unusual ways into it – drama workshops on dictionary definitions of different words, or performances of tragedies being studied for Part II.
Beyond the official teaching, an array of other things occurs to further your education. The Faculty and Colleges have many endowed series of lectures such as The Clark Lectures or the Leslie Stephen Lecture, which host visiting professors from overseas such as Elaine Scarry of Harvard or famous writers such as Seamus Heaney. And around the Faculty building, around your College, you’ll cross paths with the other students and academics for informal exchanges, advice in passing – part of the rich atmosphere of university life.