What Is Composition and (If You Know What That Is) Why Do We Teach It?

  • David Bartholomae


I will not be presenting a theory paper here. Nor do I want to argue for a particular kind of program or set of practices. I have no desire to be comprehensive. I have, however, been “in” composition for some time; more recently, I have done a good bit of traveling to evaluate departments and programs. I would like to offer something like a report from the field and to write about some places where composition has shown its face in interesting or surprising ways. I need to be clear: the composition I am talking about is not a consensus or a specific professional (or “disciplinary” ) agenda; it is not in the control of composition professionals; it is not represented by the conflicts that take place at meetings or in journals. It is, rather, a set of problems produced by a wider, more diffuse set of practices and desires, usually brought into play by instances of language change or variety (or by the possibility that writing might change or be various). In a sense, the history of composition has been the record of institutional and professional responses to challenged standards, challenges to a standard of writing produced by writers who were said to be unprepared. Composition marked the people and places charged to prepare those students and/or to defend and rationalize their “unauthorized” writing.


Critical Scholarship English Teacher Practical Criticism English Department Student Writing 
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Works Cited

  1. ADE Ad Hoc Committee on Staffing. Report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on Staffing. ADE Bulletin 122 (1999): 7–26. Dec. 1998. 29 June 2000 <>.
  2. Brereton, John, ed. The Origins of Composition Studies in the American College, 1875–1925: A Documentary History. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1995.Google Scholar
  3. Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1998.Google Scholar
  4. MLA Committee on Professional Employment. Final Report of the MLA Committee on Professional Employment. PMLA 113 (1998): 1154–87. Dec. 1997. 29 June 2000 <>.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bedford/St. Martin’s 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Bartholomae
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PittsburghUSA

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