Is the Word “Literature” Scary?

How do you feel about the suggestion that the word “Literature” be removed from the name of the department because when students hear it they supposedly get discouraged? And that instead of being a “Department of Languages and Literature”, it’s better to be a “Department of Languages and Cultures” because “culture” is more likely to attract students?

I feel that I don’t really need students who have such an unhealthy reaction to the word “literature.” Why should we cater to this kind of weird people and pretend that we are doing something other than what we are doing?

What do you, folks, think? It kind of really matters to me that I can remain working at a Department of Literature but I need help to win this argument with my colleagues.


26 thoughts on “Is the Word “Literature” Scary?

  1. I love the word “literature”! I was eternally discouraged to discover that I couldn’t minor in Comparative Literature while at UVic, because I loved the idea.
    “Culture” seems like it would attract people who are scared of analysing literature because it implies using independent thinking skills and deduction rather than memorizing a series of facts for a midterm and final spitback.


    1. ““Culture” seems like it would attract people who are scared of analysing literature because it implies using independent thinking skills and deduction rather than memorizing a series of facts for a midterm and final spitback.”

      – Yes, and also because it means you will have to read. Actual books. I mean, you will have to read anyways, but mentioning the word literature makes it very blatant. 🙂


  2. Does the department include anthropology, archaeology, sociology, women’s, queer, and race studies? Because those are the kind of programs I’d expect to see in an academic department that prominently featured the word “culture”.

    If the focus of the department is languages and writings done in those languages, or literature, then they should keep it “Languages and Literature”. Changing it to “Culture” would be arbitrary and misleading.


  3. How about “Modern” languages and literatures? I like it. It is the name of my department. One colleague wants to change for that “culture” travesty. I could not stand working in a “World Languages” or “Languages and Culturessss” department.

    You can also say that the next logical step would be to call your department “Paellas y tacos studies.”


    1. I’m all in for “Modern” but people are leaning towards the “World Languages and Cultures.” 😦

      “You can also say that the next logical step would be to call your department “Paellas y tacos studies.””

      – Funny. 🙂 🙂 But also quite scary because it might be going in that direction.


  4. If you department actually deals with literature then it would be fo0olish to remove it. “Culture” suggests anthropology. Is that what you teach in your department?

    Of course it is difficulot to appreciate literature without some knowledge of culture, and literature is one way of learning about culture, but if you say “culture” instead of literature you are likely to attract students looking for courses in anthropology.


  5. As for whether or not it makes sense, it doesn’t make sense to me–not if the classes are lit classes and even theory classes. Would I change the title of my Intro to Literature class so as to not scare off students? Would I change it to Intro to Culture? That’s just odd. I’m surprised that a lang and lit department would be willing to be so inaccurate with language and word choice!


  6. Dude, I learned that “literature” just meant “reading and shit” when I was in second grade and–now having an advanced degree in it–have not been forced to abandon this definition at any point since. (Thus, any college student who’s scared off by “literature” gets no sympathy, is what I mean.) Plus, undergrads can hardly be expected even to know the formal names of any department outside of the one(s) offering their majors, so I doubt it would have more than a minimal effect on course enrollment if the course names and descriptions aren’t similarly bowldlerized. Not to mention that putting “cultures” in your department makes you seem more suspicious to the conservatives who think universities are leftist elitist reeducation camps and (even) less rigorous to those science-types who already think that majoring in lit is about as useful as majoring in wanking.

    tl;dr: No, that’s stupid, don’t change it. Add some courses on Harry Potter or something if you want to reach the “I hate books” crowd.


    1. Add some courses on Harry Potter

      They probably already have them at UC Santa Cruz.

      What about, “World Languages and Literatures”? That makes it sound modern and life-enriching, less “trapped with Stephen Dedalus in a dark room reciting Shakespeare from memory in Latin”, which is the kind of thing I figure people must be thinking of if they’re scared of studying literature.


      1. I like “World Languages and Literatures”. I could definitely live with that.

        One colleague suggested we just call ourselves “Languages.” He is a linguist, so it’s easy for him to like that appellation.


      2. They have them lots of places less notoriously “hippie” than UCSC, and I think they’re starting in on Twilight by now. Edit: Yup.

        I agree about “X Languages and Literature”–my undergrad dept. was called “English Language and Literature,” and that seemed pretty accurate to me as there were classes in Old English and grammar as well as in lit. (“Culture” wouldn’t be remotely appropriate in this case, though, as little time is spent discussing “culture” in English classes compared with in area studies courses, even literature-focused ones.)

        I think “Reading: It Won’t Fucking Kill You” should at least be the new name for the first-year English course requirement. Schools who fail to adopt this new nomenclature will risk losing their accreditation. /worlddominationplot


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