Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Monday, May 18, 2009


This past Saturday we held our annual departmental convocation in Foellinger Auditorium, on the south side of our quad. What a lovely event, with scores of happy graduates in their blue Illinois robes and proud families dressed up for the occasion. It is really wonderful to see the smiles on students' faces as they cross the stage to receive their diplomas, and to shake the hands of beaming family members afterwards on the quad. The weather was a little on the chilly side Saturday, especially in the shade on the patio between the English Building and Lincoln Hall where we held our reception, but the people were all as sunny and bright as could be.

Dr. Carol D. Lee, a distinguished scholar of education, who graduated from the U of I with a degree in the teaching of English in 1966, addressed the graduates and their families. She spoke in very moving terms about the potential of literature to open people up to new possibilities, and about the importance of making that potential available to all. I thought her remarks were perfect: festive, grave, thought-provoking. She reflected upon her own experiences, as an African American student in English in the 1960s, before English departments taught much in the way of African American literature, and offered our graduates--along with congratulations and encouragement--some ways of thinking about the potential importance of English studies that they could feel proud of and be challenged by at the same time.

I know I speak for the faculty as a whole in saying that we are proud of what all of our graduating seniors (not mention our MA, MFA, and PhD students!) have accomplished here. But I want to mention by name the students who were recognized in the ceremony for successfully completing an honors essay and thereby earning departmental honors (either 'distinction' or 'high distinction'): Ashley Albrecht, Katelin Anderson, Lindsay Andrews, Jennifer Baader, Jaron Birkan, Alyssa Bluhm, Alex Chang, Jennifer Christie, Eunice Chun, Allison Clark, Kathrina Czarny, John Deckert, Brian Falbo, Elizabeth Hahn, Heather Hanks, Alanna Hickey, Rafael Ibay, Megan McKendry, Mark Mallon, Kevin O’Malley, Esther Dettmar Nadolski, Sonia Rodriguez, Britt Steinberg, Emily Stout, Jincy Tharu, Beverly Tsai, Jack Vuylsteke, Yana Yakhnes.

Completing an honors essay typically involves conducting significant critical and historical research and writing a paper that is longer and more professionalized than anything that regular classwork has hitherto demanded. And part of what is challenging about this kind of work is how it differs from a paper for a class: in the latter, a student is typically given some kind of framework or set of questions by the way the class itself is set up. Honors essays have to stake out their own claims in a much more independent way, and so writing one can sometimes represent a valuable and challenging shift in perspective as well as in scale or ambition for the students who write them. This can be a struggle--I remember my own senior thesis, written in the, ahem, 1980s, as both a failure and a valuable learning experience--so I'm pleased to have the chance here to celebrate the hard work and accomplishments of our honors students.

Even more, though, I wanted to use this space to congratulate the class of 2009. Congratulations!

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