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Composing Legacies

Testimonial Rhetoric in Nineteenth-Century Composition

Series:

Christopher Carter and Russel K. Durst

In 2015, Professor Emerita Lucille M. Schultz donated to the University of Cincinnati her set of composition materials gathered from fifteen libraries and collections around the country. With 350 entries ranging from 1785 to 1916, the collection includes picture books for early primary schools, grammar textbooks, student writing, and advanced rhetoric textbooks for undergraduates. The documents afford a thrilling glimpse into nineteenth-century ways of thinking and teaching, highlighting practices we would today identify as prewriting, collaborative invention, freewriting, and object-oriented pedagogy. Composing Legacies relates these pedagogies to expressions of social class, nationalism, and public engagement that run throughout the Victorian era and the Gilded Age. Early chapters show how writing and grammar handbooks aimed to reproduce social hierarchies; later ones show how textbook authors aimed to mitigate lecture-style pedagogy with attention to student backgrounds, personal interests, economic aspirations, and presumed audiences. Often, those authors demonstrated a pronounced interest in national unity, but not without exception. Little-known Confederate textbooks took the ideology of unity to be a form of Northern aggression, promoting the maintenance of state and local traditions through their classroom exercises and sample passages. Composition scholars who see the nineteenth-century as a period of skills-and-drills teaching, devoid of explicit political concern, will find surprises in the archival texts’ testimonies about national crises and civic participation. Those scholars will also find that the “social turn” in writing and rhetoric, however recent as a historical framework, has been underway for more than two hundred years.
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Chapter Three Composing American (Daniel Floyd)

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daniel floyd

In liberal democracies, public education serves a crucial function in helping to shape the polis. Most often the way public education is crafted reflects the needs and values of the society in that moment. In The Young Composers, Lucille Schultz explains that the nineteenth century’s

textbooks represented the values and lives of the European American, Christian haute bourgeoisie and were written for its members and that European American really signified Anglo-American. The families that students read about and saw pictured in their nineteenth-century composition books had summer houses, playrooms, pet kittens and rabbits, and sometimes even ponies; and it wasn’t unusual to see a young girl sitting in a rocker with her feet resting on an upholstered footstool. (29)

Schultz notes that such representation was particularly explicit in the early part of the nineteenth century. Textbook authors wrote works that would serve as part of the civic training education young citizens would receive, but they also wrote with particular notions of what it meant to be an American. Schultz observes that these authors had students examine what it would be like to have a “life on a farm or [a]‌ life in poverty,” but that the exercise was hardly hypothetical, for educational historians “[R. Freeman] Butts and [Lawrence] Cremin estimate that ←77 | 78→ before the Civil War, ninety percent of Americans lived on farms” (29). Authors wrote with a particular audience in mind, but the vast majority of readers knew too well...

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