Master's in English Thesis Topics
- Write About a Well-Known Author's Lesser-Known Works
- Apply Familiar Ideas to a Contemporary Context
- Study a New Literary Genre
- Write About the Movie
- Look to Other Disciplines
Of all the requirements of a Master's program in English, the thesis is the most daunting. Georgetown University's English department states, "theses [should] reflect original research, analysis, and writing of considerable depth and complexity appropriate to Master's level work." Your Master's thesis in English is an argumentative literary analysis on a topic of your choice, and that argument must be thorough, insightful, and, most importantly, original.
The expectation of originality can seem particularly challenging. Is it possible to say something new about Dickens, whose work has inspired thousands of scholarly articles? If you're having trouble choosing a thesis topic that feels original, consider these five approaches.
1. Write About a Well-Known Author's Lesser-Known Works
Everybody loves Pride and Prejudice: it's sold over 20 million copies. It's also been fodder for plenty of academic writing. Scholars have inspected it through a feminist lens, a Marxist lens, and just about every other lens available to the literary critic. But Austen wrote other things as well. Her juvenilia, the short works she composed as a teenager, are less popular than her major novels, but they're a fascinating insight into Austen's early life. If your thesis topic focuses on a well-known author, consider honing in on that author's early or less famous works.
2. Apply Familiar Ideas to a Contemporary Context
Edward Said developed the concept of Orientalism in 1978 as a way to describe attempts in nineteenth-century English literature to imagine the cultural milieus of European colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Orientalism as a literary trope is often discussed in analyses of literature from the European colonial period. But its relevance extends into contemporary American culture, where, since 9/11, an imagined "Middle East" has been a major cultural preoccupation. Said may have been writing about Mansfield Park, but if you're interested in a Master's thesis topic that deals with Orientalism, you can apply his ideas to contemporary works with a post-9/11 focus like The Kite Runner.
3. Study a New Literary Genre
Poetry and drama have existed for thousands of years. The novel has been around since the seventeenth century. And scholars have been writing about poetry, drama, and the novel for almost as long as those genres have been around. Graphic novels, by comparison, have only existed for a few decades. You'll have an easier time finding an original thesis topic if you're working with a newer genre. And if your English department is resistant to the idea that a graphic novel counts as literature, respectfully disagree (nobody thought of the novel as real literature when it was brand-new either).
4. Write About the Movie
Many great literary works have been adapted to film. While some adaptations are straightforward, others are exercises in literary analysis in their own right, providing fascinating commentary about the texts on which they're based. Think about the way that Coppola's Apocalypse Now uses the Vietnam war to update the concepts of civilization and violence broached in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. A good literary adaptation, analyzed in tandem with its source material, could make for an interesting Master's thesis topic.
5. Look to Other Disciplines
English departments are recognizing that the skills required by literary study are strengthened when combined with skills from other fields like history or even the sciences. A unique thesis topic might combine the study of English literature with ideas from other disciplines you enjoy working in–if your interests include both English and math, for example, you can attempt something like this project that conducts a statistical analysis of the language of Shakespeare.
Finding an original topic for your Master's thesis in English doesn't have to be a struggle. If you think outside the box, you'll find an idea no one has come across before.