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Literary studies and the academy

Goldie, David (2013) Literary studies and the academy. In: The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 46-71. ISBN 9780521300117

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Abstract

In 1885 the University of Oxford invited applications for the newly created Merton Professorship of English Language and Literature. The holder of the chair was, according to the statutes, to ‘lecture and give instruction on the broad history and criticism of English Language and Literature, and on the works of approved English authors’. This was not in itself a particularly innovatory move, as the study of English vernacular literature had played some part in higher education in Britain for over a century. Oxford University had put English as a subject into its pass degree in 1873, had been participating since 1878 in extension teaching, of which literary study formed a significant part, and had since 1881 been setting special examinations in the subject for its non-graduating women students. What was new was the fact that this ancient university appeared to be on the verge of granting the solid academic legitimacy of an established chair to an institutionally marginal and often contentious intellectual pursuit, acknowledging the study of literary texts in English to be a fit subject not just for women and the educationally disadvantaged but also for university men.