|Abstract or Summary
- First year college writing classes originated in the United States at Harvard University in 1874. Since then, theorizing such a course has proven a place of contention, as its purposes and subjects have proven difficult to sort and impossible to agree upon. When Harvard first began teaching introductory composition, literature played an integral role in the course, both as subject matter and as a means of acculturation for an increasingly diverse student body. Since then, many universities have continued to use literature as an important component of what has remained the only course largely required of all first year students. However, the use of literature in introductory composition has been contested since such courses began. Conflicting ideals have typified the conversation concerning the role(s) of reading in writing classes, in large part because of how the discussion has been framed. The difficulty in framing in part stems from participants thus far addressing the issue in limiting ways. For example, some have claimed that the issue had already been resolved, while others have argued to separate the discussion of literature in first year writing from theoretical, institutional, and historical concerns, given contradictory accounts of that history, or denied it altogether.
Re-examining that history demonstrates that the uses and purposes of literature in
first year writing have been continually and critically implicated in issues far more complex than whether or not a poem appears in a writing class. Institutions subordinated composition to literature in English departments, which led first to writing departments turning to literature as a validating subject matter, then later rejecting it to assert the independence of writing as a discipline. Institutional and political struggles have clouded adequate theorization of reading and writing in first year classes as well. The discussion has sometimes treated both reading and writing unproblematically, and even recent efforts to introduce to the conversation multiple ways of writing have ignored related and multiple processes of reading. Rewriting a historical narrative of how literature has been used in first year writing that includes theoretical and institution concerns clarifies how those concerns underwrite more recent discussion. Bringing those concerns to the surface allows a richer theorizing of introductory composition and literature's role in it, particularly with the inclusion of recent challenges to the privileged nature of the category "literature." Transferring a prevalent model of writing as a cognitive, expressive, or social-cultural process to similarly identify reading processes offers one means by which we might reconfigure first year writing, inviting students to engage various ways of reading and writing. Addressing ways in which theoretical, institutional, and historical forces have shaped first year writing provides the means by which we might be more reflexive and critical in shaping such courses in the future. It also might allow the conversation of the role(s) of literature in composition to leave its 120 year stasis and take a progressive turn.