Electronic Reserve Text:
James Berlin, "Where Do English Departments Come From?"
from Rhetorics, Poetics and Cultures
A college curriculum is a device for encouraging the production of a certain kind of graduate, in effect, a certain kind of person. In directing what courses will be taken and in what order, a curriculum undertakes the creation of consciousness and behavior. A curriculum does not do this on its own, free of outside influence. Instead, it occupies a position between the conditions of the larger society it serves--the economic, political, and cultural sectors--and the work of teachers-scholars within the institution. The students themselves are, of course, central to this circle of curricular influence, but, unfortunately, their impact has typically been limited in the United States, as institutional practices have succeeded in limiting their effectiveness (the most notable exception being the brief period of the late sixties and early seventies). In short, the curriculum serves as a mediator between the demands of those outside the institution--employers, government agencies, political groups--and those within it--primarily faculty, the disciplines they serve, and students. The response of the curriculum to the exigencies of its historica1 moment thus represents a negotiation among forces both outside and inside the institution.
In this chapter, I want to survey the changes within the larger society and the changes within certain academic disciplines that took place at the end of the last century, changes that radically altered the nature of higher education in the United States. I want to situate the development of English studies within these larger formations, examining the role it played in the new curriculum The chapter will close with a brief consideration of the shortcomings of this curriculum, shortcomings that have thrown into doubt its contemporary relevance.
In the nineteenth century, the college curriculum in the United States was monolithic and relatively uniform throughout the country. A college education was intended to prepare students-overwhelmingly white males until late in the century--for law, the ministry, and politics. Significantly, it was assumed that a single liberal arts curriculum based on certain standard texts served all professions equally well. Higher education was by and large meant primarily for those already financially secure, young men getting ready to take their rightful roles as
professionals and community leaders. Meanwhile, the key to economic mobility in this period of comyetitive capitalism was in business, mainly the entrepreneurial venture. Colleges thus ignored the needs of commerce and manufacturing, arguing that higher education's mission was to prepare civic and moral leaders (most colleges were church-affiliated), not technicians. Practical scientific training was acquired in the world of work, after the college experience (Rudolph 1977). The center of the college curriculum was three to four years of rhetoric, courses in which students brought to bear the fruits of their learning in public performances and written essays (Wozniak 1978). Study in most colleges was capped by the senior-year course in moral philosophy taught by the college president.
Frederick Rudolph (1977) has detailed the tradition of complaint that surrounded the old liberal arts college. Attempts to introduce new scientific courses were successfully resisted at most schools. Those that did provide an alternative science curriculum commonly treated the students enrolled in ii as less than full-fledged members of the college community (221-33). Dramatic, quick, and widespread changes in the curriculum, however, took place during the last twenty-five years of the century.
The major cause of the changes was the shift from entrepreneurial to corporate capitalism. The college was soon regarded as an institution designed to serve the economic and social needs of the larger society, or at least the needs of newly emergent power groups. Gradually, the small liberal arts college was replaced by the research university. This reformed institution was to conduct empirical study in the useful sciences, improving the techniques of farming, mining, manufacturing, and commerce. It was also to train professionals who could take their specialized knowledge into the larger society, providing both increased profits for businesses and an improved standard of living for all citizens--for example, through new techniques in health care and urban management. New land-grant colleges participated in this effort, but private schools--notably Harvard and Johns Hopkins-and other state schools--Michigan and Wisconsin, for example--actually led the way (Veysey ~9h5).
One of the central elements in the transformation from the old liberal arts college to the new research university was the emergence of English-an area of study that simply did not exist in the old curriculum--as a disciplinary formation. As an introduction to considering this development, I would like to glance at one of the most widely read origin narratives of English studies, primarily because it prefigures some of the central disciplinary debates of the past and present.
In responding to the question posed in the title of his 1967 College English essay "Where Do English Departments Come From?" (reprinted in a popular collection by Tate and Corbett 1981), William Riley Parker engages in a number of slippery rhetorical strategies before settling into his argument. He begins by refusing the answer "out of the everywhere into the here," moves to a maxim from Cicero on the necessity of historical study, admonishes all students of English literature to learn Latin, and finally announces that college English departments are a recent arrival, less than a hundred years old. What follows this announcement, however, works with what precedes it to belie the parvenu status of English studies. Parker identifies the English department with what he declares to be its exclusive subject matter: literary texts in the authentic Anglo-Saxon line of historical descent. The need for an English department, in this account, clearly began with the first literary work in Anglo-Saxon, even though, as Parker admits, serious research in literature--and then without benefit of university status-began only with the Tudors in the 1560s.
Thus, even though he repeatedly concedes that the college English department is a recent affair, Parker forwards in defense of its appearance the historical succession of literary texts from the Anglo-Saxons to the present. English departments exist because literary texts exist. Parker underscores this point by repeatedly declaring the work of teaching writing to be an unfortunate historical accident, doing so even as he quite accurately observes that it "was the teaching of freshman composition that quickly entrenched English departments in the college and university structure" (II). He further acknowledges rhetoric as the grandmother of literary studies and oratory as its mother (Paternity is attributed to philology figured as an early linguistics.) For Parker, however, rhetoric observes a strict division between oral and written discourse, with its rightful sphere as the former.
Parker thus works hard to dissever the task of teaching text production from that of teaching literary interpretation, doing so despite all the evidence to the contrary (see Berlin 1987)--some of which, as we have seen, he himself acknowledges. He does, however, for one brief moment wander into a consideration of the historical events surrounding the creation of English studies--and in a way that offers a far more plausible account, Parker describes the following elements as operative in defeating the classical curriculum: "There were the impact of science, the American spirit of utilitarianism or pragmatism, and the exciting, new dream of democratic, popular education, an assumed corollary of which was the free elective system" (11). He adds a fourth factor as well:
"a widespread mood of questioning and experimentation in education, a practical, revisionary spirit that challenged all traditions and accepted practices" (11). Unfortunately, these events are relegated to the ranks of the merely ephemeral, partly responsible for the insertion of English studies into the university structure, but also culpable for having made these studies stray from their true purpose: the examination of the significant literary texts of the English language. One result, as already noted, has been the importance of what Parker calls the "slave labor" (II) of composition in the English department. For Parker, the genuinely significant social and political events that he correctly identifies as having influenced early English departments are finally mere ripples in the eternal sea of the literary tradition.
I will argue that the historical events Parker so blithely skips over, as well as those he does not consider, are indeed central to the formation of the college English department in the United States. These larger developments can be seen as formative of both the institutional shape of the department in all its diversity and of the literary tradition that it claims to stand for. English studies is a highly overdetermined institutional formation, occupying a site at the center of converging economic, social, political, and cultural developments at the end of the nineteenth century, developments that continue to affect it today. These forces have continually encouraged the diversity of English studies that Parker so deplored.
Making higher education the provider of scientifically trained experts and managers who would administer a corporate--as opposed to a laissez-faire-capitalist-- economy had widespread consequences. The modern university became the basis of a comprehensive certification process, setting requirements for credentials within the various new professions and determining who had met them. Compulsory education was one of the first effects of this new order, with colleges providing the trained teachers needed for the expanding public schools. Science and scientific modes of thought were at the center of the university's activities, since research--in addition to imparting knowledge--was seen as crucial to its mission. This scientific orientation was as influential in the English department as elsewhere, affecting methods of literary scholarship and study as well as methods of writing instruction. The professionalization of English studies in schools and colleges was also inextricably involved in the drive for equality of opportunity among women, as many of the new state universities adopted gender-equal admissions policies. Finally, this entire complex of occurrences was part of a reformation of class relations. The new credentialing process created a meritocracy, with the professional middle class at its apex. The
period also evoked a call from a Brahminical elite for a reassertion of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. This group was engaged in a holding action against the challenge to its power and privilege posed by the arriviste professional middle class and, more important, the huge numbers of recent immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. The new professionals commonly joined their betters in uniting against the latest wave of foreigners, out-Anglicizing the Anglo-Protestant elite in their zeal for things English and old. All of this finally contributed to the institutional form that English studies assumed as well as to the varieties of poetics and rhetorics studied in the early English department.
The dramatic change in capitalism begun during the last quarter of the nineteenth century has been well documented by Ernest Mandel, Alfred Chandler, Michel Beard, and others. During most of the nineteenth century, the path to economic success could be found in entrepreneurial activities. The dream of the ambitious worker was to own his or her own business, whether a farm or a small shop for manufacture or sales. By the 1890s, this dream was increasingly unattainable. The growth in the size of the farming, manufacturing, or retailing enterprise necessary to turn a profit led to a decrease in the rural population and an expansion of the city. Between 1860 and 1910, the percentage of Americans living in towns and cities grew from 25 to 40 percent (Noble 1984, 33). As Richard Ohmann (1987) indicates, "the value of manufactured goods increased sevenfold in the last four decades of the century, far outdistancing the value of farm products. The number of factories quadrupled, and the number of people working in them tripled....[B]usinessmen were in command of the nation's future" (29). In both the city and the country, work meant wage labor. Unfortunately, the unskilled factory worker's wage increases peaked by the time the worker was twenty-five (Noble 1984, 52). Success for the middle class was redefined in relation to educational accomplishment. High schools provided the training for lower-level skilled labor, while colleges provided the expertise needed to succeed in the upper levels of the meritocracy. The changing job market dramatically reflected this transformation. Between 1870 and 1910, jobs in the professions increased from 230,000 to 1,150,000; those in trade, finance, and real estate increased from 800,000 to 2.800,000 (Noble 1984, 52). Success in these endeavors commonly required educational certification.
This need for credentials meant that schools and universities grew precipitously. As Joel Spring (1986) has indicated, "schooling as a means of developing human cayital has become the most important goal of the educational system in the twentieth century" (185). The high school mushroomed as it became central to the management of this human
capital. In 1890, there were 202,963 students in 2,526 public high schools. In 1900, these figures more than doubled to 519,251 students in 6,005 public high schools. By 1912, the enrollment level reached 1,105,360. And by 1920, 2,200,389 students, or 28 percent of fourteen- to seven teen-year-olds, were in high schools (Spring 1986, 194). These schools became, to use Spring's term, sorting machines, reinforcing class relations by determining the future occupations and income levels of young people. Indeed, so sharp was the change in the life experience of teenagers during this time that adolescence as a distinct life stage was invented by G. Stanley Hall to justify the prolonged periods of financial dependence on the family demanded by the new schooling requirement. Adolescence became the period when young males, psychologically immature although sexually adult, needed protection from the stress of sexual and economic decisions. Young women were simultaneously depicted as more spiritual, less intellectually able, and more controlled by their emotions and bodies. Their educational preparation remained focused around marriage, family, and the home. (This formulation, however, did not go unchallenged.) In keeping with the invention of adolescence as a distinct life stage, the high school created a youth culture and organized student behavior around the principle of "social efficiency" (Spring 1984),
Universities also grew and changed during this time. While historical discussions of English studies have often focused on private institutions, transformations in these schools were commonly motivated by a fear of being outpaced by public universities. The passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862 began the use of federal funds for public higher education. By the 1890s, the contribution of Cornell, Michigan, and Wisconsin to the new developments in higher education easily matched that of Harvard and Johns Hopkins (Veysey 1965). The influence of German universities led to the research model for college professors--before all but unheard of in the United States. Of course, corporations began to look to the university for research to improve their profit margins as well as for instruction to train managers and researchers. The growth of colleges and the number of college teachers during this time indicates the effect of these forces. In 1870, there were 5,553 faculty members in 563 institutions; in 1880, 11,552 in 811; in 1890, 15,809 in 998; and in 1900, 23,868 in 977. In thirty years, the number of institutions had nearly doubled, and the number of faculty quadrupled (Bledstein 1976, 271).
Despite the fact that the new colleges and universities were committed to the ideal of scientific research and to the transferral of scientific knowledge in the service of corporate capitalism English studies was at the center of the new curriculum in both secondary and higher educa-
tion--and for a number of compelling reasons. As already mentioned, compulsory education was on the rise throughout this period, primarily as a device for preparing a trained and disciplined workforce. By 1917, 38 states had introduced compulsory schooling until age 16 (Noble 1984, 54). A significant motivation for requiring this schooling, especially in urban areas, was the determination to assimilate huge numbers of immigrants into cultural norms defined in specifically Anglo-Protestant terms. Much of the urban population growth in the United States from 1860 to 1910 was due to the arrival of some thirty million immigrants from Europe (Noble 1984, 33). Thus, between 1880 and 1920, 70 percent of city dwellers were foreign-born or children of the foreign-horn (Noble 1984, 43). The leadership class during this time was predominantly Anglo-Protestant, and it intentionally designed the schools to serve as devices for indoctrinating the foreign-born and their offspring in a particular ideological version of the Angle-American heritage (Noble 1984, 31, and Spring 1986, 167-69). The first requirement for doing so, of course, was the insistence on English as the official language of education. Many states introduced laws preventing immigrants from setting up schools that conducted instruction in their native language (Noble 1984, 98). Indeed, one measure of the importance of mastery in English was the ascendance of the Irish in the state and church hierarchies because of their command of English, while the various non-English-speaking Continental groups remained subordinate.
English teachers thus occupied a place at the center of the new high schools, and it was the business of the university to provide them with training and certification. College English departments as a result got a steady supply of students who needed their offerings. The students in these new teacher-training programs were most likely to be women, while their college professors were most likely to be men. The cult of true womanhood of the mid-nineteenth century, combined with the social gospel forwarded later, encouraged women to assume an assertive role in addressing the economically caused evils of the day especially in the crowded cities. While the cult of true womanhood urged education for women to make good mothers of the republic, the lessons of the social gospel argued that women should enter the world to improve it--in the settlement house, for example. Women called on the contradictions in these codes to increase their access to the professions. Meanwhile, school systems realized that they could save money by hiring women, since they could pay them less without fear of opposition.
Between 1870 and 1900, a dramatic increase thus occurred in the number of women in colleges, from 21 percent to 35 percent of the total attendance (Solomon 1Y85, 58). Furthermore, these women were strongly
motivated and at a number of schools were resented because they performed at higher levels than did men, outdoing the best men, for example, at the University of Chicago and Stanford University (Solomon 1985,58-61). Women also tended to choose humanities courses over scientific offerings, doing so for a number of reasons involving social expectations, previous educational training, and hiring patterns in the workplace. As a result, women were from time to time blamed for the declining enrollments of men in the humanities, the charge being that they drove men away from courses in Latin, Greek, and modern languages (Solomon 1985, 60, and Holbrook 1991). In fact, women selected these courses--some until just a few years earlier thought too difficult for a woman's delicate constitution--because they provided employment opportunities in the schools as well as because they were generally more hospitable. The men left these studies because their paths to success lay elsewhere in the curriculum.
Nevertheless, the fear of feminization had its effects on the gender distribution in schools and colleges. As Sue Ellen Holbrook (1991) has argued, there was a markedly defensive effort among college teachers during the early years of English studies to characterize their study of language and literature as a manly enterprise, hoping thereby to keep it safe from the incursion of women. At the turn of the century, 94 percent of university and college professors were men, while 75 percent of school teachers were women. During the subsequent eighty years, women constituted more than 25 percent of the professoriate class over only a single decade--the 1930s, when they represented 32 percent. Meanwhile, women have on average constituted 70 percent of teachers in the schools, reaching a high of 84 percent in 1930 and a low of 68 percent in 1981 (Holbrook 1991, 220).
This masculinizing of English studies relates directly to the establishment of the literary texts that were to serve as the basis for study in English courses. Despite the diversity in the twenty English programs described in William Payne's English in American Universities (the results of a survey published in 1895), all agreed that the core concern in literary studies, regardless of the method used, was to begin with Anglo-Saxon, proceed through Middle English, and end with certain mid-nineteenth-century English 1iterary texts. The overwhelming majority of the texts to be studied were written by men. Furthermore, while some texts in American literature were included, these were invariably by male New England poets who were thought to be extensions of a male-dominated Anglo-Saxon and Protestant heritage. It is neither chance nor historical inevitability that this heritage served as the source for coursework--and that it all but excluded women.
It is also significant that during the last quarter of the nineteenth century there arose among the ruling elite in the East a fascination with the Anglo-Saxon origins of the United States. The result was the resurgence of a strong U.S. tradition of racial nationalism. As John Higham (1988) explains, this position was characterized by the view "that the United States belonged in some special sense to the Anglo-Saxon 'race"' (9). This notion of an "Anglo-Saxon tradition" originally appeared in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries among supporters of Parliament. These Parliamentarians were, according to Higham, seeking "precedents and roots for English liberty in the ancient institutions and temperaments (if the country before the Norman conquest" (9). They ended by calling on Tacitus's description of the Germanic barbarians, among other texts, to trace England's heritage of freedom to the "Goths," here standing for Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and the other tribes that invaded the Roman Empire. This racial nationalism arose in England again in the nineteenth century and was a part of Romantic literary lore, a longing for the organic richness of the Gothic against the urban horrors of a mechanical age. It was reflected in Sharon Turner's popular History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799-1805), which appeared in the United States in 1851, proclaiming "the supreme Anglo-Saxon virtue, a gift for political freedom." As Higham explains, Americans thus saw in "the Anglo-Saxons, or perhaps the Teutons,... a unique capacity for self-government and a special mission to spread its blessings" (10). This notion was first used in the United States to support expansionism. There were also those who evoked it to protest the Irish immigrants of the 1850s. This use, however, represents a minor note, since the predominant view was that the Anglo-Saxon heritage was destined to prevail over all other influences in the United States by virtue of its inherent excellence, not by force and exclusion.
This confidence waned during the 1870s and 1880s, and with this waning came a revival of the cult of the Anglo-Saxon. By this time, the social and political threats to the old elite came from two sources: the Catholicism and political radicalism of the immigrant working class and the social climbing of the new rich, the parvenus who had amassed wealth and were eager to enter the most select circles of power. As Higham notes, "Anglo-Saxonism became a kind of patrician nationalism" (32). The interest in things English--ideas, literature, and social standards--grew among the intellectual elite. Anglophilia was especially endemic among the Brahmin gentry of New England, as well as among their arriviste imitators, including those of the new professional middle class.
During the 1890s, this enthusiasm became a weapon turned against "the new immigrants," the groups from eastern and southern Europe who, unlike northern European immigrants, could not be worked into the myth of the Anglo-Saxon heritage. Nevertheless, the reason for the hostility toward the new arrivals was clearly economic. The severe depressions that marked each decade between 1870 and 1900 resulted in an increasingly militant workforce, a third of which in manufactoring between 1870 and 1920 cosisted of immigrants (Higham 1988, 16). What had begun as a revival of a national heritage by a ruling group socially threatened by immigrants and parvenus thus became an economic and poitical weapon used against the working class. Furthermore, this effort was buttressed by "scientific" studies that established the "racial" superiority of the Anglo-Saxon tribes. These economic and political battles encouraged the forwarding of an Anglo-Protestant literary canon and the intalling of Anglo-Saxon studies in the early English department as an attempt to duplicate and supplant the ancient authority of the languages of learning, Latin and Greek.
It was within this context that the early English department entered a debate on the materials and methods of its discipline. I thus want to consider briefly the major forms poetics and rhetorics assumed in early English studies. My purpose is to offer a sketch that will support my stand on the ways English studies serves larger economic, social, and and political objectives. This is easier to see in the early days of the discipline, when the effort to divorce the aesthetic from the political and moral was less pronounced. I will rely on my own reading of the materials of the debate, offering an interpretation that often diverges from Graff's in his institutional history. I should add, however, that I have found his evidence useful, even as I arrive through it at a different understanding of the stakes involved in the early discussions. Once again, our differences come from the fact that I am arguing from the perspective that includes the history and theory of rhetoric.
We have already seen that the decision to focus on the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Protestant heritage in literature was made immediately. A minor challenge to this preoccupation was offered by those who wished to give equal emphasis to American literature, but this effort did not receive strong support until after World War I. The chief disagreement in considerations of the study and teaching of literature instead focused on methodology. The nature of the reading parctices to be recommended
in pursuing the study of the approved texts was a prominent preoccupation of early English studies. This preoccupation is hardly surprising, considering that Graff's disciplinary history demonstrates that this issue has been a continuous topic of debate in English studies.
The study and teaching of rhetoric was also at the center of the department's efforts and its disciplinary disputes. Some argued against including rhetoric in the projects of English studies in any form, despite its dominant place in the college curriculum of the United States throughout the nineteenth century. In fact, this dominance led to its censure, since proponents of literary study feared that their efforts to introduce new literary study would constantly be threatened by the oldest and most prominent discipline in Angle-American and European education. As I have tried to show in my histories of writing instruction in U.S. colleges, however, despite the "tradition of complaint" against rhetoric, its study was never successfully banished from the department's disciplinary agenda. While those in literary studies in the English department may have argued that writing was an accomplishment easily mastered in the lower grades, the testimony of experience in the United States--from the Puritans to the prerevolutionary colonial colleges to the democratically inclined colleges of the nineteenth century--indicated otherwise (Guthrie 1946-49, 1951; Halloran 1982; and Berlin 1984, 1987). Rhetorical accomplishment acquired through direct instruction in the college classroom had always been an important fixture of the college curriculum in the United States, and it maintained a place in the new English studies.
The early English department, then, engaged in the study and teaching of literature and composition. Just as the method to be pursued in reading literary texts was a central issue, so was the method to be pursued in teaching the production of rhetorical texts. As I indicated earlier, a poetic and a rhetoric tend to appear together, the one giving significance to the other through a division of textual labor. During the last two hundred years or so, poetics have commonly provided a method for interpreting literary texts. They previously offered, as in Aristotle, advice for creating them as well. Rhetorics during this time have offered methods for both producing and interpreting texts of all kinds, except, recently, the poetic. Once again, however, in previous eras, rhetorics explicitly included advice on poetic texts as well--for example, George Campbell's The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1776), in which literary texts are regarded as a subcategory in a hierarchy of discourses that culminates in the rhetorical. Most English professors today, however, would see this relationship as reversed, with poetry standing for the apotheosis of human discourse. The point I wish to make is that while the domains of
rhetoric and poetic are historically variable, these domains are usually established as a function of their relation to each other. The early English department displayed a division of discourse in which each major poetic theory and each major rhetorical theory appeared in a binary and oppositional relationship with its counterpart. There were three major paradigms of the poetic-rhetoric binary in competition with each other. Another way of saying this is that there were three alternative conceptions of literacy, of reading and writing: the meritocratic-scientific, the liberal-cultural, and the social-democratic. Each offered a poetic, or theory of literary interpretation, and a rhetoric, or theory of textual production, united by a shared epistemology and ideology.
Literacy for the Scientific Meritocracy
The teaching of reading and writing practices designed specifically for the new scientifically trained professional middle class appeared primarily at Harvard and a number of the other new elective universities.
These schools were to provide experts to control the vagaries of capitalism in the hope of avoiding the boom-and-bust cycle that haunted the economy at the end of the nineteenth century. They were devoted to implementing the scientific method in addressing the concrete problems of agriculture and commerce, providing researchers and managers to staff the new technical positions emerging in government and industry. In place of the nineteenth-century uniform curriculum, students specialized as undergraduates and received training for a particular profession, such as farming, geology, teaching, social work, engineering, or business.
The English department played an important role in this new university. Even in the most unrestrained elective system, first-year composition remained required of all students. At Harvard in 1897, it was the only course that all students had to take. No literature courses were required, but by the turn of the century, Charles William Eliot, Harvard's president, was surprised to discover that English was Harvard's most popular major. Very early, a knowledge of English and American literature and a certain competence in written discourse had replaced the classical languages as the mark of membership in the leadership class (Watkins 1989 and Douglas 1976). While these developments affected all three paradigms of English studies, they had a special relation to the new scientifically trained professional middle class.
Text production for the new scientific meritocracy has come to be called current-traditional rhetoric, a tribute to its prominence over the
last hundred years. Its most conspicuous formulators were A. S. Hill and Barrett Wendell at Harvard and J. E Genung at Amherst. Current-traditional rhetoric does not deal with probabilities--as do, for example, the major rhetorics of ancient Athens and Rome as well as those of the eighteenth century--but with certainties ascertained through the scientific method. There is no need to teach invention (classical inventia), since the truths of any matter under consideration reveal themselves to the correct application of scientific investigation, whether we are considering an engineering problem or a problem in government policy. Disagreements are easily resolved by an appeal to science or, more accurately, to a university-trained person who is a certified expert in the branch of scientific knowledge at issue. The major work of the rhetoric classroom, then, is to teach budding young professionals to arrange the materials (dispositio) their expertise has enabled them to locate and to express themselves in accordance with the highest standards of grammar and usage (an elementary form of eloclutio).
This rhetoric forwards the correspondence theory of language. The linguistic sign is seen as an arbitrary invention devised to communicate exactly the external reality to which it corresponds. Writing becomes a matter of matching word to referent in a manner that evokes in the mind of the reader the experience of the referent itself. This rhetoric accordingly emphasizes four modes of discourse-narration, description, exposition, and argument--each of which is thought to correspond to a different faculty of the mind. The assumption, of course, is that word and faculties correspond in perfect harmony--so many discourses for so many faculties. In matters of style, the class markers of superficial correctness become the major concern, with A. S. Hill cautioning against "barbarisms, solecisms, and improprieties," all of which are avoided through careful word choice and correct grammar.
The literary criticism forwarded as the counterpart to this rhetoric was philology. Philology, of course, originated in Germany in response to the study of the language and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. It was intended to discover the national spirit of ancient civilizations, although it was eventually applied to modern cultures of western Europe and even the United States (Applebee 1974, 25-28). In the hands of academics in the United States, however, it often focused on language itself, especially Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. (As suggested earlier, these languages were commonly required for graduate study because Sasdf provided the cultural capital once afforded by the languages of ancient Greece and Rome.) Its other major preoccupation was the search for historical facts surrounding the creation of the literary text. Literary study thus became data-gathering rather than literary or cul-
tural interpretation. The classrooms in which reading practices along these philological lines were taught accordingly emphasized linguistic--primarily grammatical--detail and historical data. This material was to be memorized and reproduced for exams. As Graff (1987) points out, through these practices, the new English studies could claim to be as difficult and rigorous as the old Latin and Greek studies (72).
Philological study, however, assumed another form under the influence of Herbert Spencer and Hippolyte Taine. Both attempted to trace the literary work to its historical and cultural milieu. The poetic of the meritocracy primarily emphasized the Social Darwinism of Spencer, applying evolutionary theory to all areas of human experience, including art. This view finds competition, natural selection, and survival of the fittest in all features of human behavior. The artist who--like the manager or doctor or lawyer--is most fit for the cultural moment emerges and survives. The literary critic studies the relations between the artist and the culture that produced him or her. John Rathbun and Harry Clark (1979) find this Spencerian influence in the work of Harvard's John Fiske and Thomas Sargent Ferry. (Graff attributes this merger of philology and historical criticism to the influence of Taine, but, as I will argue a bit later, Taine's method encouraged a somewhat different response.)
It is not difficult to detect the ideological commitments that under-wrote this conception of literacy. From this view, the real is always the factual and rational. The answer to all questions-scientific, social, political, cultural--can be found unproblematically in the facts of the material world. The method of investigation is inductive, amassing data for the analysis of university-trained experts. Power in society is put in the hands of professionals in a newly formulated misrepresentation of democracy. As Peter Carroll and David Noble (1979) explain, "Middle-class progressives argued that democracy depended on disinterested and objective voters who were able to see the concerns of the entire nation." Mere farmers and workers, although the majority of the population, could not do this, because they represented only their own interests: "But educated business people and professionals, although a small minority of the population, could establish a democracy for all the other people, because their education made it possible for them to see the concerns of all kinds of people" (350-51). In practice, this meant that elected representatives, themselves increasingly college graduates, came to rely on trained experts to identify and solve problems. It should not be surprising that the problems and solutions these experts discovered most commonly served the interests of their own class, a result they would attribute not to ideology but to their contact with the scientific truths of nature. Thus, class-based interests--including race and gender biases--
offered in the name of science and objective truth were at the center of the literacy of the meritocracy.
The Literacy of Liberal Culture
The liberal-cultural paradigm was found primarily at colleges that initially resisted the elective curriculum, most conspicuously its encouragement of an education in science. Certain old and established colleges--such as Yale, Princeton, and Williams--argued that there was a common core of liberal and humane ideas that all college graduates should share. Acknowledging the spirit of progress enough to admit this core was no longer located in the languages and literatures of ancient Greece and Rome, this group argued that its new home was to be found in the language and literature of the Angle-Protestant tradition. Classical education in humane letters became literary education in the language and literature of England and, to a lesser extent, America.
For this position, writing is a manifestation of one's spiritual nature. Errors in superficial correctness, for example, are considered the result of deep spiritual maladies. Teachers must address the source of this disorder, not its symptoms. This is done through the correct study of the best literature. Only after undergoing the experience of great art is the student prepared to express himself (but hardly ever herself) in truth and beauty. Reversing the more common historical pattern, rhetoric becomes a branch of poetry.
Graff (1987) treats the members of this group under the heading "The Generalist Creed." He explains, "In social outlook, the generalist tended toward a 'mugwump' view that saw national leadership as the virtual birthright of the cultured classes" (83). Yet while his discussion of their approach to the classroom and their avoidance of literary scholarship is accurate, Graff fails to recognize the systematic character of their poetic. This group embraced a philosophical idealism similar to Emerson's emphasis on the spiritual in human affairs without his commitment to democracy. Truth, beauty, and goodness are located in a transcendent realm beyond the material, an unchanging substratum only partially, although progressively, unveiled on earth. The act of revelation is performed by the gifted seer in philosophy, politics, or art.
From this perspective, art is the product of genius, of the inspired visionary who reveals to lesser mortals the meaning of life. The essential features of human experience, found in all great literary works, are eternally true. Thus, in this system, the new is not excluded, but is always suspect until it can be proven to be in harmony with the old and established. Literature here provides the central study of education, addressing all areas of human experience. It offers the collective wisdom
of humankind. Furthermore, it comes from the individual and is directed toward the individual, more specifically, from the best self of the author to the best self of the reader. The aim of art is thus self-discovery for both artist and auditor, since the isolated individual is the central support of truth, virtue, and beauty as well as the foundation of a sound society. Most important as Laurence Veysey (1965) notes, poetic texts cultivate taste, the sure mark of a gentleman and testimony to a whole range of political and personal convictions (184-91).
This group was distrustful of the philological methods they found in colleges because these methods reduced the work of literature to mere facts. This suspicion further extended to literary scholarship in general, since no research in literature could ever capture the actual experience of the text itself. Thus, as Veysey points out, Barrett Wendell of Harvard tried to teach literary texts "by creating a contagious mood of enthusiasm rather than by critical analysis. It is recorded that after reading a poem in the classroom Wendell would sit silently for a moment and then cry out: "Isn't it beautiful?"' (222). Hiram Corson of Cornell and Charles T Copeland of Harvard likewise put oral reading at the center of their classroom repertoire, since to those of taste the text spoke for itself. William Lyon Phelps, on the other hand, who taught Yale's first freshman course in English in 1892, was an animated lecturer who believed he must "inflame the imagination" (Veysey 1965, 225). Yet he scrupulously avoided the abstract, focusing on vivid imagery in his presentation instead. A passive receptivity to literature, rather than creative rigor, was usually preferred. As Veysey indicates, professors in this camp were reluctant to publish. Irving Babbit even commented that "to get rid of laziness in college [threatens] the whole idea of liberal culture" (188). When they did write about literature, their criticism tended to be unsystematic and impressionistic, celebrating the eternal spiritual values in great literature--as in the work of Hiram Corson, George Woodberry, and Brander Matthews. These values, of course, confirmed the power and privilege of the old New England leadership class. Members of this group also wrote histories, influenced largely by Taine. Their purpose was usually to chart the rise, as in Matthews, or the fall, as in Wendell, of eternal values invariably embodied within the Brahminical version of the Anglo-Saxon literary tradition, even extending, as in Woodberry, to "race power."
The literacy of liberal culture is based on a conservative ideology that treasures continuity While the new is not altogether rejected, longevity is the best recommendation for any concept or institution. Only a small minority can achieve the realm of higher truth, and it is this group that must be trusted for leadership in politics and culture. Education ought
to be limited to this small group, a natural aristocracy with the potential for genius. While in theory this included the Platonic faith that the natural disposition for genius could arise among all groups, including women, in practice liberal culture distrusted the meritocracy. As Veysey explains, "Numbers, which democracy produced, interfered with standards, which it was the special task of culture to maintain" (191). Power ought to be lodged in the hands of the gifted and brilliant few. Democracy, even with the limitations of a meritocracy, allowed too many inferior souls into the center of power.
I should mention here that during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the literacy of the meritocracy and the literacy of liberal culture tended to move closer to each other, each compromising its position in deference to the other. As Veysey indicates, "Harvard under Eliot had strayed from the natural propensity of its region and its clientele" (248). Most Harvard students, after all, came from homes very much like those of the students at the bastions of liberal culture. In time, Harvard had to make concessions to the power of this privileged group. Meanwhile, schools such as Yale could not ignore the increasing importance attached to professional preparation, even among the privileged. Thus, by World War I, the two schools came to look very much alike, both pledging allegiance to a democratic meritocracy while upholding the time-tested values of background and breeding in their admissions policies.
The social-democratic conception of rhetoric and poetic arose in response to the political progressivism that was an especially potent force in the Midwest, but it could also be found at schools such as Penn State, New York University, Reed College, and Vassar. This position agreed that universities should provide a group of trained experts to solve economic and social problems. These experts, however, existed to serve society as a whole, not their own narrow class interests. Power in a democracy must remain in the hands of common citizens, and citizens must finally decide on the courses that government and business are to take. While the voice of experts must be heard, the people must choose the heading the community should follow. This conception of literacy is the most committed to egalitarianism in matters of race, gender, and class--an objective to be encouraged through education.
Fred Newton Scott of Michigan and Gertrude Buck of Vassar, Scott's student, were the most conspicuous spokespersons for this position in rhetoric. Rhetoric in college should focus on training citizens for partici-
pation in a democracy. From this perspective, all institutions are social constructions continually open to revision. The democratic process always guarantees the right to change economic and political institutions to serve the interests of the governed. No class, race, or gender can thus claim ownership of the language. Accordingly, Scott and Buck rigorously argue for the students' right to their own language, paying special attention to the immigrants who were entering the public schools and universities.
Scott's essay "Rhetoric Rediviva" (1909) is an especially effective and succinct statement of this rhetoric. Here Scott criticizes both the rhetoric of the meritocracy and the rhetoric of liberal culture. The first is too concerned with winning, he explains, being more aware of the interests of the writer's discipline than of the community. The rhetoric of liberal culture is similarly committed to narrow and partisan class interests. Scott thus proposes a rhetoric that emphasizes service to the community and ethical commitment to the public good. Writing in this classroom must consider the entire rhetorical context--writer, audience, topic, and social and linguistic environment--in arriving at a statement that engages the student's interests as well as the community's. Students learn to write in a manner that will prepare them for participation in the political life of a democratic society.
This conception of literacy encourages a literary criticism that seeks to integrate the aesthetic response with a study of the social and historical milieu that generated works of art. This is seen, for example, in Fred Scott and Charles Mills Gayley's An Introduction to the Methods and Materials of Literary Criticism (1901), an attempt to catalog the vast range of critical work appearing in the university at the time while privileging the aesthetic response within its historical moment. Members of this group were inclined to favor the study of American literature--and in a manner most unlike their counterparts in the other two groups. America represented to them a unique set of social and historical conditions offering the potential for a new kind of art. This commitment can be seen in a brief glance at three representative histories.
In A History ofAmerican Literature During the Colonial Period, 1607-1765 (1878, revised 1897), Moses Colt Tyler, a professor at Cornell and later the University of Michigan, explains that he plans to discuss writing of Americans that has "some noteworthy value as literature, and some real significance in the literary unfolding of the American mind" (v). In his preface to The Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763-1783 (1897), he notes that he plans to set forth the period, "the history of its ideas, its spiritual moods, its motives, its passions, even its sportive caprices and
its whims" (v). He also promises to trace "the several steps of thought and emotion through which the American people passed during the two decades of struggle which resulted in our national Independence" (vi).
In A History of American Literature (1912), William B. Cairns of the University of Wisconsin offers "the course of literary development in America," placing "greatest emphasis on general movements because American literature is first of all important as an expression of national life" (v). Finally, in The First Century of American Literature, 1770-1870 (1935), Fred Lewis Pattee explains that in his three histories of American literature (the previous two appeared in 1896 and 1899), "My fundamental conception has been that American literature during its century and a half of existence has been an emanation from American life and American conditions. But I have begun every case with the literary product rather than the historical background, my eye always upon the American people" (vi). In short, each literary historian is attempting to arrange an accommodation of the aesthetic with the political.
As is apparent, members of this group present their ideological commitments in a fairly straightforward way in their statements on writing and reading practices. While they tend to be social constructionists in their conception of economic and political arrangements, their unquestioned faith in the rational powers of ordinary people often includes a corresponding faith in the scientific expertise of the professional middle class. Their support for a redistribution of wealth and power in the hope that all will be assimilated into the middle class shares the liberal's confidence in economic progress and the wisdom of professional middle class values. Of course, the key to this effort is the extension of free education to all. The social theories of John Dewey best represent this comprehensive version of democratic literacy (Spring 1986, 172-75).
This group also offers the strongest support for an egalitarian and participatory conception of democracy. All political questions are open to debate, and all citizens should be allowed an equal opportunity to speak freely. This view unfortunately displays an excessive faith in existing democratic procedures and an innocence about economic realities and their effects on politics (Noble 1984, 71-75). For example, this view rarely considers limits to open and free discussion caused by differential access to the media. All too often, it innocently and mistakenly assumes that the conditions of participatory democracy already exist. Finally, this view does not adequately take into account the effects of economic and social arrangements--for example, the conflicts of capitalism and the existence of unjust class, gender, and race relations.
The Continuity of the Curriculum
The nature of the rhetorics and poetics found in the English department underwent dramatic changes in the years immediately after the turn of the century. Developments in literary theory and criticism have been considered by Gerald Graff (1987), Vincent Leitch (1988), and others, while related developments in rhetoric have been discussed in the work of David Russell (1991) and Robert Conners (1991), as well as in my own work. The point I wish to underscore in considering these changes is that up until about 1970, the reading and writing practices taught in the English department responded in appropriate fashion to a curriculum and an economy that remained relatively impervious to alteration.
This is not to deny that change in these realms took place. As Frederick Rudolph's Curriculum: A History of the American Undergraduate Course of Study since 1636 (1977) makes clear, however, the curricular questions that continued to appear tended to repeat a few basic themes. The most important of these was that the curriculum failed to provide a stable core of general studies that unified the educational experience of students. This objection was never in any satisfactory way resolved. Instead, it was simply revived and given token attention from time to time.
The major reason for this complacency about the curriculum was that, despite acknowledged shortcomings, it was indeed doing the job of fulfilling the demands of the groups it most directly served, both within and outside the institution. Designed to prepare a workforce of trained professionals who could enhance the profits of diverse corporate enterprises, it accomplished its mission admirably during a time when the characteristics of economic activity remained relatively stable, indeed, as economists of both the left and right agree, the economy of the United States during most of the twentieth century--despite the immense historical upheavals of drought, depression, and wars--pursued a fairly constant course. Changes have amounted to adjustments in basic configurations rather than to a major overhaul of them.
For most of the twentieth century, a college degree has been a ticket to prosperity. Business enterprises increased their profits through an application of the skills of trained professionals, while government agencies looked to educated experts to fulfill progressive social policies (Carroll and Noble 1976, 350-54). The elective system was created so that students could freely select the curriculum appropriate to their career ambitions. The common core curriculum was simultaneously abandoned-so that by 1897, the only required course for all students at bell-wether Harvard was first-year composition. Later, general education requirements and core studies were introduced to address this exces-
sive move to specialization and to provide students with a common intellectual , and cultural orientation. Unfortunately, these core courses were usually taught by isolated experts from different disciplines who rarely communicated. Thus, at most schools, the only genuinely common and unifying experience in the curriculum remained first-year composition. At times, this course did try to bring an organizing force to bear, proposing a sense of common values along with instruction in writing (see Berlin 1987). This, however, is difficult to do within the frame of one or two semesters. Furthermore, teachers were more and more rewarded for being specialists, for disseminating knowledge that constituted their range of expertise, not for being liberal thinkers who explained the value of their discipline to society as a whole.
For the most part, there was no great concern about the fragmented curriculum. The Enlightenment conception of the unified, autonomous subject and confidence in the coherent metanarrative of progress governing the unfolding of historical events argued that the individual could make sense of the fragmented elective curriculum. It was left to the student to organize the smatterings of knowledge gathered from different departments. Ail of these would, taken together, finally provide a coherent formulation, because the universe was an organized whole, and the disciplines, after all, simply studied the various parts of this unified structure. In fact, this system did work well throughout most of the twentieth century, as graduates called on their specialized knowledge and their generalist courses in writing and speaking to serve the needs of the corporate workplace. This period of stability ended in the seventies. As has been repeatedly noted, capitalism underwent a major transformation at this time--a development characterized as a move from a Fordist to a post-Fordist mode of production. Along with this rupture came a loss of faith in the effectiveness of the current college curriculum to prepare students in ways adequate to new conditions. Today, a new set of criticisms is being leveled at the curriculum. Along with this crisis in confidence in the larger educational structure has come a challenge to the work of English studies, the caretaker of reading and writing practices in the larger society. The major questions universities are asking themselves today thus revolve a round the adequacy of their cu rriculum to the dema nds of the economic conditions of the moment. Related to this is an interrogation of the relevance of a college education to the political and cultural transformations of what has come to be called the postmodern era. In the next chapter, I will consider the convergences of these larger economic and social changes with the college curriculum and English studies.