“For this additional burden we had no additional help”: First-year composition and writing program administration at Iowa State from 1869 to 1939
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This dissertation is a history of Iowa State University’s composition program from 1869 to 1939, including its origins in the idea of the land-grant college. Unlike many histories of composition and rhetoric, instead of exclusively tracing the rhetorical theories that influenced the composition curricula, this history also investigates the political pressures imposed upon the English department due to Iowa’s land-grant politics, as well as the writing program administrators’ (WPA) adaptations to these external influences. I found repeated examples of the land-grant college mission, which was itself a hotly contested ideal, wielded by various interest groups to either protect or to attack the composition curriculum. External influences, however, did not pour unmitigated into the first-year composition (FYC) program. Emerging from this investigation was the importance the WPA as a mitigator of external influences, including their cultivation of new pedagogies, curricular designs, and faculty labor rights. To accomplish this uncommon historical perspective taking, I developed three methodological heuristics that guided my investigation: (1) centering the institution’s influence on a composition program’s history, (2) observing the program’s changes over time and across administrations, and (3) focusing on WPAs and the transitions between their administrations. These methodologies allow this history to rejoin composition’s larger narratives, especially conversations about how ideologies enter the composition program and the origins of writing program administration.