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Composing Legacies

Testimonial Rhetoric in Nineteenth-Century Composition


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 Four Jessie Macmillan Anderson: A Composition Microhistory (Rhiannon Scharnhorst)


rhiannon scharnhorst

Jessie Macmillan Anderson was the first woman to publish a textbook on the teaching of writing in colleges: Sixty Composition-topics for Students in High Schools and Colleges: With Hints on Essay-writing, in 1894. Anderson herself was a college-educated woman, the main source of income in her marriage, and a regular lecturer on education for women’s groups throughout the United States. She also published prolifically, including four textbooks, four novels, and at least sixteen articles, poems, and stories between 1890 and 1932. Anderson does not seem to have been particularly well known in her own time, and her publications in education do not appear to have circulated very widely or far. However, by digging into this seemingly prosaic legacy, I see a woman whose surface ordinariness is remarkable for what it tells me about the everyday life of a nineteenth century educator.

Anderson’s history, and the legacy her writing leaves behind, mirrors the unrecognized lives and work of many contemporary composition teachers and scholars. Rhetoric and composition theorist Bruce McComiskey asks in Microhistories of Composition, “Has real teaching been abstracted out of our narratives of composition history? Have teachers and students been erased by the drive for temporal progression and narrative coherence?” (8). Most individuals in the field of composition are not distinguished scholars yet still contribute innovative pedagogy, written legacies, and ideas to the discipline. By studying the everyday work of Jessie Macmillan ←107 | 108→ Anderson, we come to appreciate the often-unseen labor of...

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