English has been taught in Jamia Millia Islamia since its inception in 1920. Syed Raouf Pasha, who taught English language and D. G. Ibsen, who taught Journalism, were Jamia's first English teachers.
Since the inception, the Vision of the Department has been to strive for academic excellence and to advance research expertise in the core areas of English Studies as well as allied areas; expanding the Canon by incorporating Translation Studies, Culture Studies, Comparative Studies, Gender Studies and Studies in Margins.
The Department has been offering instruction for the award of the degrees of B. A. Honours (since 1975), M. A. (since 1983), M. Phil. (since 1993) and Ph. D (since 1988). It became a part of the Faculty of Humanities and Languages in 1985 and three years later, in 1988, the Department started teaching Certificate, Diploma, and Advanced Diploma courses in Russian and French. The teaching of Certificate in Italian started in 2001. From 2007, these languages are being taught at the Centre for European and Latin American Studies.
One of the major responsibilities of the Department is the ‘General English’ course, which is taught across the university - to all undergraduate courses in all subjects, whether it is Science, Commerce or Arts. The Department has also in the past offered “bridge” courses and Communicative English Programmes.
One of the aims of the Department is to help undergraduate and post-graduate students develop academic distinction together with honing skills and abilities required in the professional world. To this end, there is a regular revision of the syllabi, with contemporary issues and concerns being reflected in the papers and courses being added from time to time. The Department is also proud of its library which houses thousands of books and has access to online journals, e-books, manuscripts and more.
At present, it is one of the largest Departments in the University, with nearly 80 students in its PhD programme. Students come from all parts of India, including from the north-eastern region of India – Assam, Manipur etc, as also from Kashmir, Kerala etc. The Department also has a number of foreign students; in the past there have been students from Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Mongolia etc.
The Department has Faculty Members from different parts and universities of India with specialisation and publications in major areas of literary studies like Postcolonial Literature, Translation Studies, Literary Theory, Culture Studies, Cinema Studies, Dalit Literature, Adivasi Literature, American Literature, Renaissance etc., to name only a few. The Department has native speakers of Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Manipuri, Odia, Punjabi, Santali, Tangkhul and Urdu. Being bilingual, if not multi-lingual, is a major strength of the Department. Consequently, the Department has enriched the field of Translations. Translations by Faculty members include not just English translations of Urdu texts, but also translations into Urdu of English and Hindi texts, and English versions of texts originally written in Gujarati, Bengali and Hindi. These translations have been published by leading publishers like Oxford University Press, Penguin India, Speaking Tiger and Katha.
In 2004, the Department was given the DRS (Department of Research Support) status under UGC’s Special Assistance Programme. The thrust area identified for the programme was “Translation of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Texts, Critical and Creative (from Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Assamese, etc.) With Complete Notes and Annotations”.
The focus was on translating all of Premchand’s short stories and his non-fiction. The project reached its completion in the year 2020. Four volumes of The Complete Short Stories of Premchand, published by Penguin India in 2018, are among other publications under the programme.
The Department has been awarded a number of projects, including the Ministry of Education supported MHRD-SPARC projects, under the Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration in 2019. These projects have helped the Department partner with universities such as the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), Michigan State University (USA), University of Wurzburg (Germany), University of Heidelberg (Germany) to offer specially curated courses, hold talks, workshops and conferences, publish monographs etc as also facilitate exchange of scholars. These projects have covered areas such as: ‘Cosmopolitanism Cultures and Oceanic Thought: Thinking through history across the waters’, ‘Digital Apprehensions of Poetics’, ‘Debating and Calibrating the ‘Vernacular’ in South Asian Colonial and Post-Colonial Literature(s) and Public Spheres’ and ‘New Terrains of Consciousness: Globalization, Sensory Environments and Local Cultures of Knowledge’.
Other than these, some of the public intellectuals, thinkers, scholars and writers who have visited the department in offline/online mode recently are Nobel Prize Winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, Padmashree Prof Anvita Abbi, Prof Achille Mbembe, Prof Nancy Fraser, Prof Walter D. Mignolo, Prof Henry Giroux, Prof Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak, Prof Elleke Boehmer, Prof. N. Katherine Hayles, Prof Isabel Hofmeyer, Professor Sudipta Kaviraj, Professor G N Devy, Professor Arjun Appadurai, Professor Dipesh Chakraborty, Professor Dilip M Menon, Professor Shahid Amin, Professor Hans Harder, Prof Ania Loomba, Prof Gauri Viswanathan to name only a few.
The Department also offers a Certificate Course in Translation Proficiency as also a Diploma Course in Translation Proficiency under the Self-Financed Scheme (SFS) and has recently introduced two new SFS courses – a Post-Graduate Diploma in Translation Proficiency and a Certificate Course in Digital Humanities.
The Department organises co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, in addition to lectures, workshops and interactive sessions with national and international scholars and writers. Through its Subject Association, the English Literary Association (ELA), the department nurtures the talents of its students. The ELA magazine is the culmination of the literary output of the students. Many undergraduate students from the Department have participated in exchange programmes as well. There is a strong alumni network too, where ideas are exchanged through mails and social network platforms.