Female student talking with male student

Focal Areas

The English Department’s four graduate focal areas in literary studies offer special opportunities for intellectual preparation and innovation to groups of graduate students and faculty members with shared commitments. The focal areas support fresh approaches to traditional fields and concerns of literary studies as well as thoughtful ways of investigating emerging cultural forms and practices. Building on the period-based expertise of graduate students and faculty members, the programming and coursework dedicated to the focal areas enable participants to become experts about topics and problems that cross periods, nations, and regions.

In the academy and the rest of the world, ideas about literature and how it matters have been changing. Expanded canons, ongoing developments in critical theory and cultural studies, new forms of interdisciplinary exchange, and the important transformations wrought by digital culture have revitalized literary studies. Grounded in literature’s long association with the history of writing and print and the cultural value of art, the graduate focal areas also prepare scholars and teachers to examine literature’s life across media and language’s activity in the world. 

Pitt’s graduate focal areas are designed to be broad enough to accommodate a range of scholarly projects but specific enough to offer direct support for those projects in the form of coursework, programming, and intellectual community. Applicants to the English Department’s PhD and MA programs are asked to designate a primary focal area, but this does not commit applicants to anything or limit their eventual course of study. We continue to be a department that encourages thinkers to follow important questions wherever they lead rather than trying to fit them into familiar academic containers. However, the department strives to support faculty and graduate student preparation and innovation in the graduate focal areas so that graduate students whose interests align with one or more of the focal areas can count on supports for their scholarship and teaching.

Additional Information about the graduate focal areas:

  • Applicants to the MA and PhD programs need not commit to participating in one or more focal areas. Participation in the focal areas is optional.
  • The focal areas are based in the literature sector of the English Department’s MA and PhD programs, degree programs that also serve students working in comp-rhet, film, or combinations of these fields. However, the focal areas welcome faculty members and MA or PhD students who are based in comp-rhet or film as well as MFA students and Writing Program faculty. The focal areas also extend beyond the department, building on relationships with particular other programs and departments at the University of Pittsburgh.
Stack of children's books spread out on table
Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies   

Drawing on Pitt’s nationally-renowned faculty in Children’s Literature and Culture, CLCS pursues the interdisciplinary study of children’s literature and media from the U.S., Great Britain, and beyond. 

Two female students reading a book
Genealogies of Modernity: Medieval and Early Modern 

Spanning the medieval and early modern eras, GenMod supports inquiries into religion and secularism, ethics, gender and sexuality, and comparative media during the “age of reform” (roughly 1300-1650).

Male Student in Cathedral Alcove with holding laptop
Media and Material Practices  

The MMP graduate focal area engages past, present, and emerging media, exploring how scholarly paradigms designed for print, performance, and digital cultures can inform the study of both new and old media.

Male and Female Student looking at computer
Race, Poetics, Empire  

The RPE graduate focal area examines how imperialism and its racial politics have shaped modern cultural forms.