Given that it is so focused on understanding the role and practice of writing in the present and helping prepare student writers for the future, it may seem surprising that the discipline of composition-rhetoric is so self-conscious about its own past. But the evidence is unmistakable: scholarly articles and monographs about the history of the field proliferate in our journals and book series, and historical methodologies are increasingly deployed to examine “comp-rhet” itself. The results of this historical self-consciousness have been impressive: “Without quite setting out to do so,” John Brereton once wrote, “historians of composition have created the single most impressive body of knowledge about any discipline in higher education.”
This course is a graduate-level introduction to that body of knowledge: a broad survey of histories of composition with a focus on postsecondary writing instruction in U.S. colleges and universities from the mid nineteenth century to the present. We’ll examine received narratives about the field’s past but also more recent work expanding and critiquing those narratives, including research that looks at writing instruction outside colleges and universities and beyond the United States. A central topic will be the story of first year composition in U.S. higher education, but we’ll look as well at histories of writing centers, writing across the curriculum programs, professional and technical writing, and other projects. The course is also meant to be an introduction to historical research methodologies: you will not only study a broad range of others’ historical research, you’ll design and conduct a substantial historical project of your own.
The course will proceed roughly chronologically, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present; but, as the semester progresses, it will also increasingly make room for methodological inquiry and the development of your own research project.
Reading and response. Expectations for reading – both close and wide – will be high. I will provide guidance, but most of the responsibility here will be yours. To prepare and enrich our discussions, I ask that you submit to Moodle no later than 18 hours before the class meeting (i.e., by 7:00 pm the night before) a response to the relevant text, of 300-500 words or so (about 1 page SS), that engages the text in some way: summarizes one or more key points, connects the text to something you’ve read or experienced elsewhere, analyzes how a particular argument or narrative works, locates a problem in the text, asks a question perhaps to be pursued later in more depth, or makes some other kind of intervention not listed here. Please do not write more than 500 words and do not treat this as a formal paper – it’s meant to prepare discussion and jump-start our engagement with the texts. Before class, I ask that you also respond on Moodle to at least one classmate, taking care to spread responses around as fairly as possible.
Summary and discussion. Once during the semester, you will be responsible for preparing a summary, with questions, thoughts, and/or comments, and leading discussion on one part of the reading for that week (typically, a chapter or two). This should last about 30-60 minutes, including discussion. Your summary plus comments may include handouts or a PowerPoint presentation. You should meet with me about this assignment beforehand so we can coordinate class planning to some degree. You'll sign up for your summary/discussion at our first meeting.
Research and writing. Finally, you will turn in at the end of the semester a substantial paper, about 15-20 pages long (typed, DS, including works cited), reporting original historical research of your own on some issue relevant to this course. The project will be worked through in several stages.
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Most of the readings in the course will come from the following texts, listed here alphabetically, all available for purchase or rent through eCampus FAST Adoption Tool (except for Shepley) and as free e-books through UMass Libraries (except for Donahue & Moon and Howell & Prevenier).
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|wk||day||topics and assignments|
|1||T||Jan 22||Introduction to course and one another|
|2||T||Jan 29||Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University: A History (available as an e-book). Optional: read Halloran (1982)|
|3||T||Feb 05||Robert J. Connors, Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy (available as an e-book). Optional: read Mountford (1999)|
|4||T||Feb 12||David Gold, Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947 (available as an e-book). Optional: read Royster & Williams (1999); Enoch (2008)|
|5||T||Feb 19||No class (Univ. on Monday schedule)
Patricia Donahue and Gretchen Flesher Moon, eds, Local Histories: Reading the Archives of Composition
|6||T||Feb 26||Nathan Shepley, Placing the History of College Writing: Stories from the Incomplete Archive (available as an e-book)|
|7||T||Mar 05||David Fleming, From Form to Meaning: Freshman Composition and the Long Sixties, 1957-1974 (available as an e-book). Optional: read Moran (1994)|
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|9||T||Mar 19||On writing centers and writing across the curriculum: read Russell (1990); Boquet (1999); Lerner (2007); Lerner (2010). On writing outside the academy: read Solberg (2014); Litterer (2018)|
|10||T||Mar 26||On writing instruction outside the US: read You (2010). On archival research: read Biesecker (2006); Gaillet (2012); Solberg (2012); Parks (2017). On politics and historiography: read Skinnell (2015)
DUE: problem-posing paper
|11||T||Apr 02||Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods
DUE: literature review
|12||T||Apr 09||DUE: project proposals + brief oral presentations|
|13||T||Apr 16||Nancy Welch and Tony Scott, eds. Composition in the Age of Austerity (available as an e-book)|
|14||T||Apr 23||DUE: oral progress reports|
|15||T||Apr 30||DUE: oral progress reports|
|16||Th||May 9||Final projects due in my mailbox by 5:00 pm|