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  • Guest Editors’ Introduction
  • Ben Knights (bio) and Nicole King (bio)

The U.K. guest editors of this issue, one American, one British, leaped at the opportunity to contribute to the work of Pedagogy. For reasons we shall explain in due course, we are both dedicated by role and inclination to the enhancement of teaching and learning in English-related disciplines.1 But we believe that enhancement requires more than the exchange of tips, methods, and "good practice," important though they are. Teachers, we think, need to articulate and develop their tacit assumptions. So we also believe in the importance of developing a discipline-grounded idiom for pedagogical research and reflection. The opportunity to commission and edit this special issue provided a welcome occasion for furthering this aim.2 The articles and shorter pieces that make up this issue, while they cannot hope to be entirely comprehensive and inevitably leave many major areas uncovered, provide a snapshot of new pedagogic thinking in the English disciplines in the United Kingdom. We hope that individually these will be of interest to readers beyond as well as within the United Kingdom. But we hope further that, as a collection, these essays in pedagogic change within a national higher education system may take on a larger significance as a case study with relevance beyond national borders. In this editorial commentary we seek to sketch a context for these articles.

Teaching English in Britain

On the way to sketching that context, we must start by thinking through the meaning of the study of English in the British Isles. We ourselves have to venture no farther from our English institutional base than Scotland or [End Page 323] Wales (let alone Northern Ireland) to be made sharply aware of the anomalous meanings of English, naming as it does at once a language, a nation, and an educational subject. It is not that we think that readers in North America or India or Australasia will be entertaining a deluded, atavistic sense that English language or culture are somehow more authentic, more deeply "at home" here—or that members of the profession who work in the United Kingdom are privileged in speaking about the subject. But the apparently provincial proposal to talk about English studies in the United Kingdom might nevertheless activate tacit assumptions that we would like to question. The story of English in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland (where, incidentally, the study of vernacular literature has a longer history than it does in England) is tied up with histories of conquest, appropriation, and contested domination to which we can here merely refer. What we would like to register is that even in England, the formal study of English (growing in initial education under other names as the nineteenth century progressed, emerging in the University of London colleges before midcentury, and consolidating more widely from the turn of the twentieth century) was never unproblematic. Of course any account of English as a study must do justice to the major cultural changes wrought in the second half of the twentieth century by large-scale Commonwealth immigration (not to mention the vigor of Anglophone literatures from overseas). But the picture did not simply change with the symbolic arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1949. From the outset, the pressures of class and region militated against any straightforward attempt to unroll a study of language or literary tradition that could unambiguously be identified with "the nation." We see it as inescapable to the educational history of our subject to insist, however inadequately, on the plural nature of the "national" culture.3

Strong as were the pressures in the late nineteenth century (and even more so in the era of the Great War) toward the celebration of nation and national culture, attempts on the part of the great and the good to promulgate a common Englishness rooted in a glorious history and literature did not go uncontested. In the immediate aftermath of World War I, a Committee of Enquiry into "The Teaching of English in England" was set up. This was a major element in the national reconstruction that took place after the traumatic cataclysm of the war. The members of the committee, led...


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