Date of Award

Spring 2017

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Christina Ortmeier-Hooper

Second Advisor

Cristy Beemer

Third Advisor

Marcos DelHierro


My dissertation, building on the work of John Brereton, Robert Connors, and others returns to the Harvard University Archives to reconstruct the Harvard rhetoric program under the leadership of Edward Tyrrel Channing from 1819 to 1851. During that time, coincident with the industrial revolution, U.S. publishers experienced a period of rapid growth as the cost of production for books, newspapers, and magazines dropped, and demand for print grew among a nascent middle class. Against that backdrop, and in spite of considerable resistance, Channing engineered a substantial shift at Harvard from an oratory-based curriculum to a writing-based one, just as the orientation of public discourse was beginning to shift to the page. From a wide range of documents which have not been closely examined in previous histories, I argue that Channing viewed writing as primarily a modern, technologically-driven, social and economic act. Eschewing the classical pedagogies of imitation espoused by his predecessors, he pushed his students to be original thinkers in a newly information saturated market, to beware of influence, and to view writing as the manufacture of valuable products. This dissertation brings Channing (and one of his students) out of the shadows of composition prehistory, and in doing so it makes two important contributions to our understanding of the field’s past. First, it illuminates how changes in the machinery and economics of print influenced early writing pedagogies. Second, by revealing that formal writing instruction in American colleges began decades earlier than is typically acknowledged, it argues against the periodization that has often blinded scholars to early eras of composition’s history.