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The Evolution of College English

The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the Postmoderns

Thomas P. Miller
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    The Evolution of College English
    Book Description:

    Thomas P. Miller defines college English studies as literacy studies and examines how it has evolved in tandem with broader developments in literacy and the literate. He maps out "four corners" of English departments: literature, language studies, teacher education, and writing studies. Miller identifies their development with broader changes in the technologies and economies of literacy that have redefined what students write and read, which careers they enter, and how literature represents their experiences and aspirations.

    Miller locates the origins of college English studies in the colonial transition from a religious to an oratorical conception of literature. A belletristic model of literature emerged in the nineteenth century in response to the spread of the "penny" press and state-mandated schooling. Since literary studies became a common school subject, professors of literature have distanced themselves from teachers of literacy. In the Progressive era, that distinction came to structure scholarly organizations such as the MLA, while NCTE was established to develop more broadly based teacher coalitions. In the twentieth century New Criticism came to provide the operating assumptions for the rise of English departments, until those assumptions became critically overloaded with the crash of majors and jobs that began in 1970s and continues today.

    For models that will help the discipline respond to such challenges, Miller looks to comprehensive departments of English that value studies of teaching, writing, and language as well as literature. According to Miller, departments in more broadly based institutions have the potential to redress the historical alienation of English departments from their institutional base in work with literacy. Such departments have a potentially quite expansive articulation apparatus. Many are engaged with writing at work in public life, with schools and public agencies, with access issues, and with media, ethnic, and cultural studies. With the privatization of higher education, such pragmatic engagements become vital to sustaining a civic vision of English studies and the humanities generally.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7777-3
    Subjects: Education, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-23)

    My history of college English studies begins by looking past the rise of the profession in the last century to explore how the teaching of English in American colleges has been shaped by broader developments in literacy since the colonial period. Reflecting upon those developments can help us to come to terms with the changes in literacy that are redefining what we teach and how we study it. Most English departments have come to include a diverse array of critics, compositionists, writers, applied linguists, and educators who sometimes seem to share little more than a mailing address. If English is...

  2. 1 Learning and the Learned in Colonial New England
    (pp. 24-55)

    These student orations on the virtues of rhetoric highlight several of the converging textual, epistemological, and political changes that shaped the first century of English studies in American colleges. Wigglesworth’s oration seems rather quaint, and not just because he wrote before English was standardized by print. His notebooks show that he learned to define eloquence as the art of dressing up “ould truth” in a new style from reading Peter Ramus. Such assumptions were consistent with the duties that seventeenth-century college graduates assumed as preachers of virtue in isolated communities. Wigglesworth’s oration has a timeless quality the ironically makes it...

  3. 2 Republican Rhetoric
    (pp. 56-86)

    These passages set out the purposes that would shape the teaching of English in the colleges that were founded at Princeton by Tennent and Davies and at Philadelphia by Smith and Franklin. As New Light Presbyterians, Tennent and Davies assumed that a college would advance “enlightened” religion. As an unplaced minister and uneducated printer, Smith and Franklin justified education in more secular terms. Even though smith had himself recently arrived from Scotland, he appealed to anxieties about “Foreigners” by arguing that education would instill a common culture. Smith published his vision of the “College of Mirania” in an unsuccessful effort...

  4. 3 When Colleges Were Literary Institutions
    (pp. 87-123)

    In his often – reprinted survey of American literature, Tuckerman set out a premodern conception of literature that included the religious writings of the seventeenth century, oratory of the Revolutionary era, and the magazine literature of the antebellum period.Literatureandeloquencewere closely associated terms in the antebellum period. Graff identified this broad conception of literature with an “oratorical culture” that “pervaded the college and linked the classical courses with the courses in English rhetoric and elocution, with the literary and debating societies and with the literary culture outside” (35). These relationships shaped the founding of the first professorships of...

  5. 4 How the Teaching of Literacy Gave Rise to the Profession of Literature
    (pp. 124-172)

    Thorstein Veblen’sThe Higher Learning in Americais as pointed as his better-known account of “conspicuous consumption” in hisTheory of the Leisure Classin 1899 (396). Veblen complained that universities were being “given over to the pragmatic, utilitarian disciplines” (34). The “disinterestedness” of traditional intellectuals would be undermined if universities did not establish a critical distance from the rest of public education. While schools were intended to prepare students for “civil life,” universities should remain aloof from teaching anything practical, for teaching itself “properly belongs in the university only . . . in so far as it incites and...

  6. 5 At the Ends of the Profession
    (pp. 173-217)

    InThe Formation of College English, I drew upon Gramsci’s theories much more explicitly than I have here. His perspective has shaped the framework that I have used to examine how literacy and literacy studies have evolved in conjunction with the elaboration of civil society, including the institution of professionalism as the unifying ideology of the middle classes. One of Gramsci’s best known concepts is his definition of “organic” intellectuals by their integral involvement with the lived experience of a group, as distinguished from “traditional” intellectuals, such as educators and clerics, who occupy institutional positions from which they profess to...

    (pp. 218-250)

    In 1928, Clark envisioned a future in which the history of literature would be studied against changes in literacy, education, and mass media. Clark’s sense of history was shaped by the profound social and technological changes of his time. Technologies figure prominently in his set of historical benchmarks, and for good reason. In the decade in which he published “American Literary History and American Literature,” radio networks were formed, the first talking film was made, the television tube was invented, and signals began to be transmitted. Clark recognized that these media would transform literary studies, but he underestimated the profession’s...