Laura J. Davies
October 9, 2006
Independent Reading and Writing Project Proposal
The Birth and Development of the Writing Major
An important sign of maturity for an academic discipline is for it to be a separate, autonomous field of study, in which graduates and undergraduates can pursue that specific field of knowledge towards a degree. Doctoral degrees in composition and rhetoric have expanded from minimal offerings twenty years ago to 66 different programs today, as listed on the Consortium of Doctoral Programs in Rhetoric and Composition website. Now, there is a new and exciting recent development in the field of composition and rhetoric: the creation of undergraduate writing majors, situated in both separate writing departments, which also house the university-wide writing programs, and in English departments.
For my independent reading and writing project for CCR 601, I want to investigate the writing major, which is being developed and implemented at colleges and universities across the country. I want to see how this administrative development reflects on the discipline as a whole: how does composition and rhetoric assert itself in the academy on the undergraduate level? I find the undergraduate major interesting because it is often said that composition, like law and medicine, is a graduate discipline. How are faculty bridging that gap and presenting a worthwhile, varied, four-year program of study to undergraduates?
I am fascinated by the processes that go into building an undergraduate major:
how its objectives are framed, how tracks and courses are conceptualized, how syllabi are constructed, how texts are selected. I want to see how different institutions define writing. Do they emphasize creative writing, technical writing, journalism, or are they a smorgasbord of all sorts of writing? Do the writing programs echo art and music by situating writing as productive knowledge, or do they include studies in history and methodology, making writing and rhetoric more like theoretical or practical knowledge? How is a writing major different from an English, journalism, or communications major (especially at institutions that offer all four!)
For me, a doctoral student in CCR at Syracuse University, the writing major is an especially relevant topic of inquiry now because the Writing Program here at Syracuse is currently in the process of proposing the adoption of a writing major. Therefore, I can use Syracuse’s proposal as a dynamic case study for my project. I also plan on using program descriptions from other colleges and universities (Ithaca College, University of Florida, Loyola College of Maryland) who have implemented writing majors as examples that showcase the variety of undergraduate writing degree programs. The writing major is a relatively new area of study in composition and rhetoric, so there are several recent articles dealing with the topic. Since I want to someday run a writing program, I believe that this project will give me a good foundation about a current development in writing program administration.
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