The Legibility of Literacy in Composition's Great Debate: Revisiting "Romantics on Writing" and the History of Composition

Michael Harker


This essay revisits two proposals for the abolition of compulsory freshman English: Thomas Lounsbury’s “Compulsory Composition in Colleges” in 1911 and Oscar James Campbell’s “The Failure of Freshman English” in 1939.  It demonstrates how the New Literacy Studies provides a generative theoretical perspective from which to make more visible the assumptions, definitions, and attitudes about literacy that perpetuate the compulsory composition debate.


the abolution debate; literacy; literacy studies; the New Literacy Studies; freshman composition; compulsory composition; first-year writing; literacy myth; literacy crisis; Thomas Lounsbury; Oscar James Campbell

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