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Articles on Writing Across the Curriculum—History

Listed below are articles on this topic from the Campus Writing Program library. Short summaries and citations are provided when available.


Berlin, James."English Studies: Surveying the Classroom." Rhetorics, Poetics, and Culture: Refiguring College English Studies. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. 1996. 97-113.

Looks at the role of English studies in preparing students for a participatory democracy. Traditional civic discourse involves constructing persona universal in thought and language. A participatory democracy, however, embraces differences, and for students to be prepared for such a society, the classroom dynamics need to be changed. Teachers need to enable students to identify culturally determined textual modes so that students, once they gain control over those modes, can become agents of political and social change.

Berlin, James. "Where Do English Departments Really Come From?" Rhetoric, Poetics, and Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1996. 17-37.

Takes issue with Riley's argument that, while English departments may have entrenched themselves into the academic structure through the teaching of composition, the departments exist because literary texts exist. Instead, English departments serve larger economic, social, and political objectives. On one hand, competence in literature and writing marked one as a member of the leadership class, but on the other hand, the need for a well-educated citizenry meant that this type of learning had to be extended to all classes. The often contradictory goals of English studies produced a fragmented curriculum in which students were expected to figure out what was applicable to their own endeavors, and which worked well until the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Beyer, Barry K. "Using Writing to Learn in History." The History Teacher XIII.2 (1980): 167-179.

If students write in a history course they learn to think like historians. As students write for history courses their writing becomes more sophisticated, along with their understanding. The fact that writing is aprocess, that it is thinking, and that students learn as they write all encourage the development of more sophisticated historical thinkers. Beyer also discusses how to use and teach writing in a history course: assign specific assertions, not general theories; require multiple drafts and revision; assign several short papers rather than a term paper; require students to write for different audiences and points of view; and use writing to advance study of content.

Dillon, George L."Dialogues with the Dead: The Rhetorics of History." Contending Rhetorics: Writing in Academic Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1991. 113-125, notes 172-173.

While the purpose of history is often characterized as "giving voice to the dead," both the rhetoric of historical discourse and its implications in the construction of historical knowledge generate less generally accepted arguments. A brief survey of three historians' (Hexter, White, LCapra) views of the rhetoric of history indicates the grappling with the position of history between social science and literature. Historical discourse resists both the positivist-empiricist forces in scientific rhetoric, it also resists literary criticism's impulse to discount knowledge claims as irrelevant to the construction of meaning.

Holsinger, Donald C. "Writing to Learn History." Social Studies Review (Fall 1991):59-64.

Argues for incorporating writing into history courses. Holsinger suggests that professors use writing to engage students in the subject matter; use simple writing exercises as preparation for in-class discussions; have students write in response to specific statements and questions rather than vague topics; have students write frequently and freely; have students keep course journals; assign writing in developmental steps; have students revise and resubmit; and have students write to different audiences and from different perspectives.

Law, Joe. "WAC Profiles: Department of History." Writing Across the Curriculum 6 (November 1997): 2-3.

The history department at Wright State University has tried to better students' reading and writing skills through writing assignments.

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