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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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Conclusion: The Long Memory (Christopher Carter and Russel K. Durst)


christopher carter and russel k. durst

Artifacts to us are discards to many. Now is the moment.

—Nan Johnson, “History” (17)

Many entries in the Schultz Archive, whether incomplete or damaged texts or ones by nearly forgotten authors, verge on what Nan Johnson calls “ephemera.” To use her language, such entries are “marginalized, fragile, and quickly disappearing.” Often, they are “simply material that no one has yet categorized as important” (“History” 17). Granted, Schultz’s extraordinary efforts in gathering and organizing the texts garner them a degree of significance, as do the processes of digitization and cataloging that followed. Those processes help to preserve the works while inserting them into a scholarly domain, but nevertheless, most of the entries have yet to undergo analysis. Given Johnson’s idea of ephemera as “evidence that lies outside formal academic contexts” (17), the Schultz Archive poses a conceptual problem: it resides within the academic context of a digitized university archive, but at the same time, the preponderance of its holdings has not yet served as “evidence” for anything.

Carr, Carr, and Schultz have begun to rectify the problem of as yet unexamined sources. They have done so in their studies of select trends in the collection, looking especially at instructional patterns in rhetoric manuals, readers, and composition textbooks. Composing Legacies endeavors to continue that project, locating ←149 | 150→ instructional value in what others ignore and discard. Our book finds artifacts where others might see ephemera, and by...

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