The History of Literacy and the Future of Literacy Studies

printing press on top of copy machine  
English 696d 
This course will be revised to take account of the historic changes we face.
Nonetheless, this page should still give you a sense of the course structure.
For example, we will work with the same basic writing assignment sequence.

Thomas P. Miller, 

Weekly Assignments 
D2L Page to Post Drafts
Download syllabus as Word doc 


We will explore how college English studies have evolved along with broader changes in literacy and the literate since the colonial origins of American higher education.  We will look past the development of the field to examine the development of literacy and the literate.  To ground rhetorical studies in rhetorical practices, we will review theories of social movements, articulation, genre, and publics.  Our discussion will provide a range of opportunities for us to explore how the teaching of English has been shaped by the expansion of educational access and the evolution of professionalism as a cosmopolitan ideology that helped unify broader classes of readers.  Our explorations of the impact of such movements will provide a context for us to reflect upon the transformations in literacy that are currently redefining what we study and how we teach it. 


Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the Postmoderns, 2011.

Packet of excerpts from selected primary texts and articles (with those copyrighted using the password rhetor).


  • You will develop research methodologies through a sequenced series of assignments to help you learn how to refine a research question, develop appropriate methodologies, and critique others’ methods.
  • You will also refine your theoretical perspective with a well-defined interpretive vocabulary informed by related scholarship that forms a coherent interpretive framework that you can apply to selected objects of study and use to bridge theory and practice.
  • The course assignments will also help you historicize your research program by providing opportunities to work closely with related historical texts and contexts, mapping broader socio-ideological trends, and developing a well-informed historiography.
  • The cumulative sequence of assignments will also help you improve your writing skills by providing you with staged opportunities to engage related scholarship, outline a program of research, and draft and revise a paper with detailed attention to improving your style, engaging personal experiences, and deepening your arguments.



You will write four assignments: a review of a book that addresses the historical development of your research interests, a literature review of at least eight books and articles to map out your research agenda, a proposal that builds on your literature review, and a seminar paper.  We will incorporate your research into the course readings and discussions.  The following suggestions are intended to outline the assignments, not to limit your sense of possibilities.

  • Book Review (3-5 pages, with drafts due on 2/7 and revisions on 2/14, for 10% of final grade)
  • Literature Review (6 pages, 8 sources, drafts on 3/1, and revisions on 3/8, for 15% of grade)
  • Proposal (3-4 pages, with drafts on 4/4 and revisions on 4/11, for 15% of final grade)
  • Journal Article (15 to 20 pages, with group 1 drafts on 4/25 and group 2 on 5/2 and revisions on 5/12, for 35% of final grade, including the presentation of the full draft in the workshops).
  • The rest of the course grade will be based on daily class participation (10%) and responses to drafts (15%). 

Book Reviews are a good way to begin publishing.  Working on the genre will help you to work on summarizing the arguments of books, locate them in disciplinary discussions, and reflect upon their claims to significance.  Your book review should include a coversheet and a published review of another book that you have examined to learn how to summarize arguments, analyze their significance, and relate them to issues of importance in the field. 

The coversheet should include 1) a paragraph on why you selected the review as a model, 2) a paragraph on how the book is related to your research interests, and 3) a paragraph reflecting on how you have framed your review to appeal to specific concerns of the audience for the journal that you have selected.

 As with all the assignments, the draft is due to D2L by 5:00 on the due dates, and you should respond to two other no later than two days later by midnight.   As with all papers, respond to drafts that do not already have two responses.  Hard copies of revisions should be submitted to my mailbox with your draft and your responses by 5:00 on the due date. 

The Literature Review should develop a unifying analysis and not simply summarize sources.  A literature review should generally focus on a specific problem, controversy, or area of study.  Throughout the course, we will work on reading as writers by focusing our discussions on the arguments of readings and considering the relations among them. 

Your introduction to the review should set out the context for the issues and trends that you will survey in your literature review.  The review should be organized around an overall evolution or development to frame your summaries of the individual sources.

The conclusion of a literature review is crucial because it generally sets up the need for further research, and it will be particularly useful in helping you think ahead to the next assignment.

The Proposal is a reduced and focused version of the literature review.  In so far as it requires you to project a line of analysis and set out guiding claims, this assignment has similarities to both conference proposals and dissertation proposals. 

To revise your literature review, you should expand your framing to establish your theoretical context, and perhaps the historical context as well.  Your introduction should set out your definition of the problem or issue in terms that establish why your approach is important and how it will solve the problem or elucidate the issue in ways that your readers will see as significant.

The body of the proposal should be tightened by cutting the supporting specifics.  Your focus in this assignment is not on reviewing the sources but on setting up how your overall analysis fills a gap or moves beyond the published research.

Your conclusion may expand upon your claim to significance by connecting with broader trends, or your may review your argument to reiterate its significance.  As with the rest of the proposal, your purpose is to demonstrate the significance of your line of research.

The Journal Article will follow through on your literature review and proposal.  You will include a cover sheet that has the same four paragraphs as your literature review.  Your article should begin with a lead that connects with your readers’ interests.  Your introduction should relate your research to a problem or issue that your audience will see as significant.  As with the review, your framing should develop your historical and theoretical context, and you may also want to set out the parameters for your study.

In your body paragraphs, you will build on the skills you used in the literature review by leading with well defined points, quoting selectively, and summarizing and synthesizing your sources to advance your overall argument.

One of the major challenges posed by writing longer pieces, as you know, is to set out a unifying overall argument.  Sectional headings can be useful to divide your argument into shorter sections.  The sections should generally have introductions and conclusions that relate the sections to the overall argument.