Department of English
Up the Academy: Cambridge English Studies and the Makings of an Illiberal Education
“Up the Academy” investigates the ways in which “English” became a formal field of academic study at its purported fountainhead: the University of Cambridge in the early 20th century. Through this examination, I show how the efforts to formalize the study of English were not strictly limited to literature but also entailed an effort to codify “Englishness” itself. This codification is often portrayed by literary historians and literary critics as inherently conservative and reactionary in nature. While that characterization is certainly true in some respects, a closer examination of the ways in which literary studies was formalized in the late 1910s and early 1920s reveals a much more nuanced and complicated narrative. By analyzing both the formal praxes as well as the pedagogical practices of the Cambridge English School, “Up the Academy” challenges the monolithic tethering of conservatism to early English literary studies, and, further, illuminates how the introduction of English literary studies at Cambridge was actually, in many ways, an energetic and innovative enterprise. “Up the Academy” ultimately offers a radically new history of early English literary studies at Cambridge—one that treats its formalization as a resource for critical reflection on our own formalizing processes and pedagogical practices within today’s academy instead of as a castigatory strawman upon which we champion our own supposed variations of liberalism.