Date of Award

Spring 2001

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


When asked about their former experiences and attitudes towards reading and writing first-year students often begin with statements like, " I don't know how to write," or "I'm not a big reader," or "I'm not creative." Behind these facile and familiar sentences is a world of experience we know very little about and are hard-pressed to explain.

Students are situated on a precarious fault line within the academy and their narratives function like maps of this treacherous terrain. Their stories do not simply reflect personal, private crises but cultural phenomena---including taken-for-granted issues surrounding the "necessity" of discipline and an almost shocking attention to "cleanliness" in relation to the body and the body's prose. My aim, in part, is to question how culture acts in the classroom in ways that are not always apparent.

I show how students serve as cultural critics in crafting their literacy histories, pointing to a fundamental incoherence in what we believe constitutes good writing, academic excellence and "success." One of the purposes and central challenges in this dissertation is to develop ways to "listen to...the competing cultural logics" that students' stories expose (Ratcliffe 214).

In this qualitative research study I pursue two strands of inquiry: (1) What can literacy histories teach us about students' conceptual strategies developed over a lifetime of schooled literacy, and (2) What can we discover about successful and unsuccessful pedagogical practices as seen through their eyes.

In reading over one hundred literacy histories written by first year writers at the University of New Hampshire I've noticed that several conventional patterns of narration emerge: "The Rise To Success," "Stigma Narratives," "Transgressive Narratives," as well as telling portraits of teachers in and out of school. In examining these patterns I weave a close reading of student texts with literary texts. My readings are informed by a broad range of works in the fields of cultural studies, feminist studies, rhetorical theory and ethnography. I describe the ways "students' stories often confound, correct, explode, or refine writing theorists' constructs, researchers' findings and teachers' assumptions" (Bishop 177).