From the Desk of the Head

Welcome to the Department of English at Sardar Patel University.

Welcome to the Department of English, Sardar Patel University!

Our karmabhoomi, this hallowed educational township, the portals of our university and Department, where many like me have had the privilege of studying and doing research, is a very peaceful campus. A total of thirty-four years spent so far as a member of the faculty in the Department, beginning 14 August 1982, and the last eight years as the Head of the Departmental family, have given me the privilege of being a witness to history unfolding. I remember having seen Bhaikaka in my early teens in 1969-70, and this township and our university grow from strength to strength. History, asserts Collingwood in his inimitable style, is for “human self-knowledge”, for its value lies in the fact that it tells us “what man can do” on the basis of “what man has done” and, thus, “what man is.” (R G Collingwood, The Idea of History, 1946)

This Department was established by Sardar Patel University, three years after it was duly constituted by an Act of the then Government of Bombay Province, and we were assigned the task of catering to our learners’ needs vis-à-vis advanced learning and research in English Studies. We are certainly aware of the great responsibility this entails, for the great Sardar Patel, the illustrious Iron Man of India, had stressed on the need for imparting education of the kind that would prepare future citizens of independent India, self-motivated and self-reliant, rather than creating a mass of educated youth lingering after employment.

Beginning with Professor (Dr) K N Shah, our then Vice Chancellor during whose tenure I was I inducted into the Department as a Lecturer (Assistant Professor), I have had the privilege of serving this unique university under 8 of our 15 Vice Chancellors including our current Vice Chancellor, Professor (Dr) Shirish Kulkarni, trying to assist them to the best of my abilities as and when I was assigned to do something over and above the responsibilities in the Department. It has been a great learning experience!

This Department has a rich history. We have learnt from this history the need to have democratic practices put in place. I can say without any fear of contradiction from any of my colleagues today that each one of us on the faculty has a say in all aspects of functioning of the Department, be it decisions with regard to policies, syllabi, down to the smallest matter on which we may need to take a decision, with the sole exception of administrative matters in emergencies where decisions have to be made on-the-spot. However, in doing so, we have taken every care to ensure that our policies conform to the overall policies of the university. We have been completely transparent in our functioning and in taking full responsibility for whatever we have been able to do all these years and honest in accepting areas in which our effort has yet to bear fruit.

The Department today offers MA (Full-time), MPhil (Full-time) and PhD degree (Full-time/Part-time) programmes in broad areas of specialisations within English Studies. English Studies is a discipline within a specialism called English which pursues academic knowledge. Such knowledge presumes the scholarly and the theoretical rather than practical and that is why many of our literary theories cannot be applied to the study of a literary text beyond a few sentences or a paragraph. We live in times wherein practical relevance is an important point of reference since the sciences have established it for us. However, this is what English Studies was found lacking for a long time. This led to the inclusion of many sub-disciplines within English Studies, which have developed practical applications and grown in importance. Thus, English Studies have had a fascinating history.

English studies was taken to be synonymous with English Literature for centuries together before differences developed among scholars on the question of relevance of teaching English literature and language between 1880 and 1900. One school of thought favoured the retention of the teaching of literature as the source of aesthetic delight and moral renewal, and another school had specialist concerns about it as an academic subject. Anthony Kerney (1988) identifies this as ‘the first crisis in English studies’ (British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol.36, No.3, Oct., 1988, pp. 260-268), leading to a bipartite division of the discipline, but with agreement on the retention of mother English. English Studies split vertically into two distinct areas: English Literature and English Language. One obvious reason for this was the effort to philology with its origins in Greek antiquity into what was called general linguistics in the decade of the 1940s, and linguistics, or the scientific study of language, opened newer vistas not only within language education but also in literary studies as a part of English Studies.

A further major shift in concerns followed in the wake of the historical developments that led to the emphasis on communication and communicology on the one hand and postcolonial writings on the other in the 1970s. Communication and communicology started gaining ground in the decade of the 1960s and by the 1970s leading to the development of what was called communicative English, a variant of which was later renamed as functional English. Communicative English, based as it was on the Wilkinsian model of notions and functions, created the space for the development of English for Specific Purposes and English for Specific Academic Purposes. Alongside this, creative writing, English oracy, transcreation of region-specific folklore in English etc gradually began to gain respectability. The one-time colonies got down to the daunting task of redefining their own linguistic and literary output in English making a conscious attempt to use the local idiom and structures in English. Our postcolonial literatures owe themselves to this paradigmatic shift. English gradually started acquiring an international profile, giving birth to new literatures in English as a replacement for commonwealth literature.

Language being a product of culture, translation studies and cultural studies became important. Linguistic and Literary Studies within English Studies are no longer restricted to English Literature in the sense of British Literature but have begun to embrace American Literature, African Literature, Afro-Asian Literature, Australian Literature, Canadian Literature, Caribbean Literature, Indian English Literature etc. Similarly, phonetics and phonology, syntax and government, morphology and morphophonemics, semiotics and semantics, linguistic and/or literary pragmatics, linguistic and/or literary stylistics etc on the one hand, and discourse analysis, text linguistics, the history of the language, language teaching etc have come under this umbrella term ‘English Studies’.

Other emerging areas today include oriental literary theories, oriental literary criticism, creative writing, gender studies, ethnic studies and ethnography, feminist linguistics, feminist theories and/or poetics, feminist literature and studies, LGBT studies, science fiction, cultural studies, literature of protest and resistance, popular literature, tribal studies, diaspora studies, Dalit studies etc. The list continues to grow longer with the addition of newer areas at regular intervals. English Studies have, thus, far ceased to symbolize British hegemony, but represent the aspirations of the people in former British colonies through postcolonial and other literatures.