Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Kopelson, Karen Lynn

Author's Keywords

Historiography; Discipline; Rhetoric & composition; Rhetorical analysis; Current-traditional; First-year composition


English language--Rhetoric--Study and teaching (Higher)--United States--History; Language arts (Higher)--United States--History


This dissertation analyzes and critiques the historiography of more than 150 texts documenting the history of writing instruction in the United States. In examining the rhetoric of disciplinary historiography, I demonstrate how the historicization of composition has worked, rhetorically and politically, to highlight and complicate some of the central concerns of the field while also raising questions about and prompting proposals for the future of the discipline. To carry out this analysis, I engage in a process I call metahistorical critique, with which I trace three disciplinary narratives: the role of first-year composition, the discipline's legacy of current-traditional rhetoric and pedagogy, and composition's relationship to other disciplines. I argue that metahistorical critique can reveal many of the discipline's primary values and practices, which today create important possibilities and limitations in the ways composition scholars construct the past, present, and future of the field. I introduce the dissertation by laying the theoretical groundwork for my reading of disciplinary historiography using Michel Foucault, Hayden White, and Dominick LaCapra. In Chapter 2, I focus on how historians have used current-traditional rhetoric and pedagogy (CTRP) problematically as a trope, neglecting actual historical phenomena. In Chapter 3, I argue that composition historians' persistent focus on first-year composition (FYC) and the debate surrounding its viability as a required academic course allows the discipline tends to think of and define "work," "writing," and "writing instruction" as a problematically abstract, monolingual, institutionalized, pedagogically produced and reader-oriented practice relevant only to Americans. Chapter 4 explores how the relationship between composition and other disciplines has (or has not) been historicized in order to argue that the discipline should be rehistoricized as an interdiscipline. I conclude that if we are to allow for other questions and narratives about the discipline to emerge, and if we intend to promote ethical ways of engaging with teachers, students, and the world, we must continually interrogate the prevailing narratives that shape the field, as well as our habits of thinking, reading, and writing about the history of writing instruction in the United States and elsewhere.