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12 Reasons to Study English Literature as an Undergraduate

Posted on: October 7, 2022

By Richard Jacobs

Studying English Literature opens on to the world of creative imagination. Not only does it develop skills that are essential for today’s global environment, but it also inspires change and innovation. English Literature studies help us understand our world in all its social, political, economic and cultural aspects through stories, novels, poems, and plays. 

In his book Literature in our Lives, award-winning teacher and author Richard Jacobs shows that reading, thinking about, and writing or talking about English Literature involves us all personally: texts talk to us intimately and urgently, inviting us to talk back, intervening in and changing our lives.

Those who assume that English Literature is less significant than STEM subjects have failed to understand Literature’s potential to enlarge and enhance our own minds. Jacobs has shared his dozen reasons why studying literature matters, despite what the government says. 


Young women sitting outside reading book on the grass


  1. Literature can help us make better sense of our world, our lives and ourselves.
  2. Literature has the power to give us an enriched understanding of other worlds, lives and times, of the way things have been and how they might be.
  3. Reading, thinking, writing and talking about literature is both a personal and collegiate experience - a model of how society operates or should operate.
  4. Literature embodies the values of imagination, identification and empathy. These matter in an increasingly divisive world. 
  5. Characters in literature are very often transformed by the plot and this process models the way literature intervenes in our own lives and can transform them.
  6. The shared experience of studying literature in class gives us the ability and the need to read the world and its texts on our own.
  7. Studying literature recognises that the making of meaning is a dynamic and volatile process and that meanings are socially and culturally produced, as various and multiple as readers. 
  8. Studying literature explores the text in its many contexts, how the text finds and makes a place in the world, how it is enabled to speak and to make a difference.
  9. Studying literature and critical reading are an opening out that returns us to the text in an adventure that never finishes.
  10. The study and criticism of literature is the asking of questions that generate more and better questions.
  11. The study and criticism of literature is not just a social act but an inherently political act. Authoritarian governments are for that reason suspicious and antagonistic towards advanced literary study.
  12. Studying literary texts with my own teachers, and later with my own students, has very often changed my life. Take every opportunity to have your lives changed by the reading and studying of literature. Because it matters. 


There are many more reasons why students should study English Literature. For further inspiration, check out the timely and absorbing selection of extracts in Literature and the Critics. This volume includes over two hundred leading literary critics, writing on many of English's most widely studied literary texts—from Shakespeare to Toni Morrison.


A stack of books sitting on a windowsill

About the Author

Richard Jacobs’s many publications include three Routledge books dedicated to helping students find and develop their own critical voices. All three model what it is to be excited by the life-changing powers of literature and literary study.

•    A Beginner’s Guide to Critical Reading: An Anthology of Literary Texts
•    Literature in Our Lives: Talking About Texts from Shakespeare to Philip Pullman
•    Literature and the Critics: Developing Responses to Texts

Jacobs is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Brighton where he was subject leader for literature for many years and where he received teaching-excellence awards. 


Image Credits:

1st Photo by Nguyen Thu Hoai on Unsplash.com

2nd Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash.com