- Traditions and TrajectoriesComposition Studies, Norton, and the Shaping of a Field
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I knead dough at the kitchen counter, following the holiday recipes of my German mother, hearing her voice as I shape the dough, gently pressing it into the tin baking form that has been passed down to me. As I work, I am reminded of how certain indelible moments, traditions, and, most certainly, texts shape our academic conversations and future trajectories. In the fields of English studies, the anthologies produced by Norton are examples of how texts shape and leave their imprint on the respective literary traditions and conversations that we examine and teach. When I was an undergraduate literature major, the Norton anthologies lined my bookcase, and these tomes marked my different interests and trajectories as a major. To this day, they line the bookshelves in our living [End Page 591] room, having moved from house to house as I taught, completed my PhD, and became a faculty member. Today, I teach in a doctoral program in composition and rhetoric, and I work with graduate students and teaching assistants, who are often just entering the field of composition. Until now, my academic field of study was never represented among the Norton publications that lined my shelf. But The Norton Book of Composition Studies, edited by Susan Miller, changes that scenario and marks an indelible moment that acknowledges this field and the work of its scholars.
Like the other Norton books, Miller’s contribution will no doubt shape present and future generations of composition scholars and teachers. At 1,760 pages, the collection includes 101 essays. The book is broken into four parts: “Historical Accounts,” “Theories of Composition,” “Revisions and Differences,” and “Worldwide Projects.” As a tome, it is impressive in size and breadth. The collection draws upon both articles and book chapters. Some of these pieces have been included in other collections over the years. But perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the collection, as Miller notes, is the inclusion of “selections that are difficult to find elsewhere,” such as pieces from Edward Tyrrell Channing and Wallace Douglas.
“Part I: Historical Accounts” consists of two subsections: “Roots” and “The Emergence of a Field.” With “Roots,” Miller has chosen key excerpts from works by William Riley Parker, John Brereton, Edward P. J. Corbett, and others to trace the early history of U.S. writing instruction and the place of this work within English studies. The section also includes landmark essays, such as David Russell’s “American Origins of the Writing-across-the-Curriculum Movement” (1992) and Kathryn Fitzgerald’s “A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in Nineteenth Century Midwestern Normal Schools” (2001), a Braddock award-winning article for 2002. In the second subsection, “The Emergence of a Field,” Miller concentrates on the 1960s to 1980s, choosing essays that mark the rise of composition as an academic field. Here the book compiles a wide range of important works by scholars that have profoundly influenced the field. In particular, Miller includes excerpts from Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer’s “Research in Written Composition” (1963), Albert R. Kitzhaber’s “The Present State of Freshman Composition” (1963), Sharon Crowley’s “Evolution of Invention in Current-Traditional Rhetoric: 1850 – 1970” (1985), Nancy Sommers’s “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers” (1980), James Kinneavy’s “Expressive Discourse” (1971), and Robert Tremmel’s “Striking a Balance — Seeking a Discipline” (2002). This section also includes excerpts from Mina Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations (1977) and Ken Macrorie’s [End Page 592] Telling Writing (1985). For graduate students, understanding and positioning the roots of composition as a field is an essential aspect of their studies, and the essays included here would be a useful resource in a graduate seminar on the history of the field. In addition, many of Miller’s selections point to the importance of historical and archival work in composition scholarship.
In “Part II: Theories of Composition,” composition scholars will recognize a number of pieces that have become integral to any...