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The London English Study Group

Director Spring 2020: Greg Ames, Department of English

The History of the London English Study Group

In 1966, the English Department joined the Economics and the History Department in a modus vivendi, under the supervision of three Colgate faculty, one from each department. Professor Russell Speirs was the English Study Group first director. Similar to the other groups, the professor would teach three courses and supervise a special “intern” experience representing an independent study designed to take full advantage of the English environment. The English Study Group was required to take two or three courses offered by the department and one or two electives from the other departments. The courses depended on the leadership but every academic year, students (English concentrators: juniors and seniors) were required to take the Independent Project based on contemporary English work, such as contemporary English Theater. The courses would be offered simultaneously from September until November when all students would embark upon their Independent Study Project. Until recent years, housing used to be a challenge, students had to make their own travel and living arrangements, which took a long time to find fairly decent housing. After the January Term was no longer continued, the English Study Group in London was moved to the Spring Term. In the spring of 1979, the English Department expanded their study group so that it began operating on a full-year basis. Today, the English Study Group in London continues to operate in the spring semester opened to all students interested, but priority is given to declared/prospective English and English/Creative Writing concentrators.


Established in 1966, this Study Group will provide students with a unique opportunity to engage 20th- and 21st-Century British literature in London, where they will be immersed in the arts, history, and culture of one of the world’s greatest cities. Students will visit the significant landmarks of London—British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, Tower of London, Camden Town, etc.—and will also be afforded an opportunity to experience some of the lesser-known parts of London’s underground scene—comedy clubs, music venues, pubs, fashion, and nightlife. In addition, this Study Group will travel to Italy for five days, following the peregrinations of several characters in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View.

Course of Study and Calendar:
All students accepted into the group will be enrolled during the fall semester of 2019 in a 0.25-credit course at Colgate to prepare them for the study abroad program. In London, all students will take four courses. Two of these courses offer credit in the English Department: English 331Y and English 377Y, taught by the director, and Theater 332Y, taught by a resident theater specialist and playwright. The fourth course will be a course on the history of London, History 349Y, which will also be taught by a resident London specialist. With minor adjustments, the program will follow Colgate’s academic calendar for the spring semester of 2020.

This study group (and English 331Y) meets the Core Global Engagements requirement.
Students explore ancient building on London English Study Group

Required Courses

Director’s Courses’

1) English 331Y: British Comic Novel (G. Ames) The comic mode in English literature has a long and celebrated history. In this course we will range over 100 years of humorous terrain from E.M Forster’s A Room with a View (1908) to Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals (2015). We’ll embark on an investigation of various comic modes—including wit, irony, satire, parody, and the absurd—to understand how British writers critique human folly, expose corrupt social institutions, discredit vice and hypocrisy, and offer solutions (sometimes outrageous) to the very problems they ridicule. Most great works of humor, however, have at their heart tragic implications, and the novels we’ll study are no exception. Questions we’ll address over the course of the semester: What is comedy’s relation to tragedy? Is comedy universal and timeless or is it culture-gender-experience-specific? What exactly is comedy’s purpose? Does comedy have its own language, rules, or system? Is there a difference between British and American comedy? And what might the comic mode teach us about the self and culture(s), especially when we come to understand its patterns as a form of transgression? A sense of humor, we might argue, is an essential survival tool in the ominous 21st Century.

2) English 377Y: Fiction Writing Workshop (G. Ames) This course involves the critical study of British short-story writers within the framework of a creative writing workshop. We will explore the broad diversity of voices that populate the literary landscape of Great Britain. Students will engage a wide range of literary styles and techniques that reflect the dynamism of an ever-shifting landscape of cultural, political, and artistic visions. Writers to be studied may include Elizabeth Bowen, V.S. Pritchett, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Zadie Smith, Hanif Kureishi, Kei Miller, Ross Raisin, and Helen Oyeyemi. This class is designed to improve a student’s ability to read literary and cultural texts with discernment and comprehension; to draw on relevant cultural and/or historical information to situate texts within their political and historical contexts; to perform critical, formal analyses of literary and cinematic material; to write focused, analytical essays and creative pieces in clear, grammatical prose; and to employ creative skills to produce original, persuasive work.

Other Courses Taught for the Program

English 332Y: London Theater (M. Punter)  A study of drama, both classic and modern, as represented by plays in production in London during the spring of 2019. Students will see, study, and write about roughly ten plays, focusing on theoretical and technical aspects of drama, as well as on what specific productions reveal about British culture or contemporary London.

History 249: History of the City of London (K. Layton-Jones)  A course in the social and cultural history of England’s greatest city. Students will meet every week for one session in the classroom and one session in the form of a walking tour.

Field Trips

Italy! Students will read E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, a British comic novel about Britons abroad, before embarking on a field trip to Florence, Italy. This expedition will immerse students in an Italian voyage from the British home base, mirroring the escapades of Forster’s characters. A Room With a View opens with two upper-middle-class Englishwomen searching for the Santa Croce church in Florence where Giotto's frescoes can be seen. What they find, however, goes well beyond that, the trip offering them deeper insight into their identities as travelers. The humor arises from their hesitancy and fear of being out of place, which many of us will feel in both Italy and England. This unique experience will deepen students’ view of British culture and enrich their connection to other lifestyles and traditions. In Florence, students will also roam the historic piazzas, contemplate Michelangelo’s The David, and, of course, eat gelato! Day trips from Florence will include visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the churches, flea markets and winding streets of Arezzo, where the film Life Is Beautiful was filmed.

Classrooms, Libraries, and Other Facilities

Classes will be held at the Accent Study Centre, in Bedford Square, just a couple of blocks west of the British Museum in Bloomsbury. The complex houses a modest library and computer facility, which will be available to students. Students have membership to the University College London student union, providing them access to student clubs, and other activities with UCL degree students. Students will reside nearby in five- to six-person furnished flats in Bloomsbury. Each flat has a bathroom, kitchen, and common room.  Students share kitchen space and are expected to provide their own meals.


For details of student expenses on this study group, please see Student Cost Estimate Sheets.

Prerequisites and Selection Criteria

Priority will go to declared and prospective English and English/Creative Writing concentrators in the class of 2021. But there are no formal prerequisites for the program, and all Colgate students may apply, regardless of their concentration.   

Calendar and Deadlines

The study group application will open on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, and will close on Wednesday, November 7, 2018. All applications are on the Off-Campus Study website and are submitted online at The director will arrange interviews of applicants by email. The director will announce admissions decisions by late December.

Passports and Visas

You must confirm that your passport is valid through December 2020.  All students participating on the Spring 2020 London English Study Group will be required to obtain a U.K. visa.  With participation on this study group comes the responsibility of understanding and complying with U.K. visa requirements. If you will not be traveling on a U.S. passport, it is imperative that you contact an adviser in Off Campus Study, 101 McGregory Hall, to learn as much as you can about the visa requirements.  For some students, there can be significant requirements to be met that take time, advance planning, and incur extra costs.

Program Dates

Late January to Early May, 2020

More Information

For more information, contact Prof. Greg Ames, 304 Lathrop Hall or