The 2019 English Capstone

Davina Tomlin writes on her time in the 2019 English Capstone class, lead by Professor James Elliot.

After years of study with the English Department, working in the office and attending all sorts of English Department events, when I first walked into the English Capstone, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Capstones at Clark—I find—are a nebulous and strange concept. Each major has one, but their requirements and set-ups vary wildly. In the English department, it takes the form of a dedicated class which begins by focusing on one specific text or aspect of the subject, and broadens out by the end of the course to create enough space in your schedule to write and review a 25-page paper.

A 25-page paper you say, that sounds terrifying! On what? Anything you want. If the purpose of the Capstone class is to be a grand finale to your English career, it follows that what you write about should be your passion, or an application of all that you’ve learned to a story (poem, author, what have you) that you love. The Capstone at its core is a way to showcase yourself as an English major. It is a way to communicate with others who have the same interest and level of knowledge and share your passions and interests with them.

The topics students have chosen for their capstones this semester vary wildly. Azariah Kurlantzick is doing their capstone on the Jewish Gothic, Emily Buza is doing hers on Cat-Woman, Alison Lamb is analyzing the literary elements of folk music, Andrew Brown is analyzing the poetry of Emily Dickinson and its connection to religion, and my Capstone connects literary analysis and fictional podcasts. There are 30 English majors in the Capstone class, and not one of them chose to write about the same topic. What an analysis of all of these topics reveals is more than a wide range of interest; it shows a high level of concern among English majors to discuss diversity within literature, connections across their majors and minors, and a range of what we can call literature.

All of these topics and their connection to social and political diversity is a statement on the desire on the part of this class of English majors to connect their studies to the real world. We see the ways in which our knowledge is important to the political, social, and economic problems we are facing, and want to connect this work to a larger context.

The class itself began with a focus on “Local Color” and Regionalism in 19th century America. The first half of the class focused on readings of short stories and panel discussions, and ended with Huckleberry Finn. The content portion of the course depends entirely on who is teaching it that year; in this case the course is taught by Professor Jay Elliott.

(Jay Elliot)

This portion of the course allows English students to demonstrate their abilities in group discussion and analysis and gives extensive time to analyze a text.

Often because of the amount of courses that English majors can take and the amount of double majors within the department, students don’t know who among their classmates is an English major as well. With the Capstone, all students are given an opportunity to get to know each other and support each other with work that we are all interested in.

(Allison Lamb, “What surprised me about the Capstone was how many other English Majors I hadn’t met before.”)
What is immediately noticeable in the Capstone class, especially when we were reading Huckleberry Finn, was how deep an analysis we could achieve through discussion. Given such a long period of time, with a class full of people who have spent their college careers learning and honing the skill of analyzing texts, it was fun and exciting to see how far we could go with Huckleberry Finn, and how far we could push our ideas. Not all of us loved Twain, or this novel in particular, but if the Capstone is a place to demonstrate our abilities as English majors, we all certainly did with Huck Finn.

To cap our Mark Twain experience, the class also took a field trip to the Mark Twain House in Connecticut. We enjoyed a group tour and also visited the museum and gift shop.

(Capstone class at the Mark Twain House)

“I think it’s been a great class that has had a lot to offer. The class is a group of very talented students with a diverse set of skills and interests and that has brought great conversation and discussion. I’m really excited to see where this major and these experiences take everyone! It’s truly been a pleasure to be a part of,” ¬–Kaitlynn Chase (TA)

Now that the class is winding down, our work is much more focused on presenting our final work, completing our research and papers, and peer review. With only so many weeks in a semester, it’s getting down to crunch time on that final paper. All in all, the Capstone class, while scary in terms of the scope of work that English majors have to complete before they graduate, presents a unique opportunity to demonstrate all that we have learned, to work on projects that interest us, and to remind us right before we leave college why we chose to do this in the first place.