Thursday, April 11, 2013

Brereton and History

Question Three:
Think back to the day we composed a Brereton grid. If the only texts surviving from this era were the ones you traced for the grid, how would you view the teaching of rhetoric and composition in late 19th-century American colleges? What stories would you construct, or did you construct in your grid, that other historians might see to take up?

Looking back on the Brereton grid we composed in class, I would venture to say that the texts included would position the teaching of rhetoric and composition in terms of correctness and taste. Each scholar we looked at, many stemming from the Harvard model, spoke to the value of positioning students into the first year writing course, and the testing that positioned.

I would construct the story of how taste and correctness inform one another as well as how they position the approach to style in writing and elocution. The focus on taste and correctness raises the question of "who's taste?" "what is correct?" and "why"?  Historians could work from our grid to tease of these questions that establish the grey area of the space that on the surface appears to be black and white: correct/incorrect.

Another path of historiography this grid could cultivate is to look at the scholars presented in terms of chronology. For instance, we gridded Hill across a couple of decades. The shifts in his texts could speak to a shift in approach to the teaching of rhetoric and composition in the 19th century. These shifts could reflect a need, the challenges the model was met with, or the realization of new criteria.

If we think about the Brereton grid in connection to our mapping exercise a few weeks ago we could also map a history that speaks to teaching approaches that deviated from the Harvard model based upon the teaching population, the location, and the specific student population that would create a need for deviation.

Finally, the Brereton grid also speaks to the secondary I read by Hawhee that examines the Harbrace Handbook. This handbook, as well as others like it mirror the correctness and taste that informs the historical moment we looked at in Brereton (education in the 19th century). Finding a parallel between the scholarship and the handbook focuses could create another vein of history that could grow out of the Brereton Grid. These handbooks established what was correct, who decided it, and who needed correcting. By looking at the scholarship and the textbooks/handbooks together we could map the challenges that faced taste and correctness.

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