GUEST ROOM | Deconstructing Cornell’s ‘Literatures in English’ Fiction

In 1994, the name of the English department at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica was changed to Literatures in English.  Twenty-six years later, two distinguished scholars at Cornell University, Professors Carole Boyce-Davies, English, and Mukoma Wa Ngugi, English, make a startling claim in their self-congratulatory essay, “Decolonizing the English Department,” published on Oct. 5 in the online literary magazine Brittle Paper: “A historical change, one that we believe will impact other English departments in the US and the West in general, happened during our first 2020-2021 academic year English faculty meeting.”

The Department of Literatures in English at The University of the West Indies. The “historical change” was a new name: “[F]rom the narrow Department of English, to the more embracing Department of Literatures in English. The name change captures the fact that within the U.S. and globally there are multiple literatures and many ‘englishes.’” I applaud the Cornell initiative. But though it may be “historical” for the U.S., it is certainly not so for “the West in general.” It seems as if the Cornell professors were not aware of the fact that a ‘global’ university in the Caribbean had long recognized the need to decolonize the English Department.