The Literary and the Literate: The Study and Teaching of Writing in US English Departments

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Russell, David
Professor Emeritus
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The Department of English seeks to provide all university students with the skills of effective communication and critical thinking, as well as imparting knowledge of literature, creative writing, linguistics, speech and technical communication to students within and outside of the department.

The Department of English and Speech was formed in 1939 from the merger of the Department of English and the Department of Public Speaking. In 1971 its name changed to the Department of English.

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  • Department of English and Speech (1939-1971)

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The study and teaching of academic and other practical kinds of writing has become, over the last 40 years, a major focus within university English departments in the US. Although the study and teaching of imaginative literature has traditionally had greater prestige, writing studies (as it is coming to be called) has altered the landscape of academic English dramatically, both within and beyond English departments. A typical US university provides support for student writing in various programmatic ways, which are usually housed in English departments. There are introductory courses in general academic writing ('composition') in the first year or two, required of almost all students (and have been so for 140 years). There is a 'Writing Center' that provides one-on-one or small group tuition for students in any course. There is a 'Writing Across the Curriculum' or 'Writing in the Disciplines' program that offers support to teaching staff in all departments on ways to use writing more effectively to support students’ learning in their fields. There are English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) courses mainly for international students. Often there are specialized communication courses to support writing in such fields as engineering, commerce, law, or the natural sciences. And increasingly there are four-year curricula where students earn a bachelor's degree in writing, just as they might in literature or chemistry. All of these supports for writing are in addition to (and separate from) courses in creative writing (poetry, fiction, drama) and professional schools of journalism. This was not always so. And the expansion of English department curricula has been—and in some ways still is—a site of contestation, more and less bitter, for almost 150 years.


This accepted book chapter is published as Russell, David R. (2016). “The literary and the literate: The study and teaching of writing in US English departments” In Futures for English Studies. Ed. Ann Hewings, Lynda Prescott and Phillip Seargeant. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Chapter 8; 139-157; doi:10.1007/978-1-137-43180-6. Posted with permission.

Fri Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2016