Date of Award

Spring 2007

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas R Newkirk


Composition histories mainly focus on a study of "official" texts such as composition textbooks and administrative records to elucidate pedagogical and curricular practices in writing instruction. Yet in recent years, more studies have focused on archival research, on what John Brereton calls the "everyday fabric" of writing instruction. My dissertation project explores the "everyday fabric" of writing instruction during the 1940s at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), looking at archival records, 1940s disciplinary debates and pedagogical practices within and beyond the formal curriculum on the national and local levels, and interviews I conducted with UNH alumni about their curricular and extracurricular experiences while attending UNH during the 1940s. My study draws on primary sources to consider what I term institutional writing cultures that are shaped by external pressures, curricular choices, theoretical perspectives, extracurricular initiatives, and regional influences.

This institutional historical study highlights how the archival records of even one institution's writing culture can complicate the field's current views of the current-traditional period and issues a challenge to some of the assumptions in composition studies about 1940s writing instruction. I argue that organizing writing theory and pedagogy in terms of periods can limit ways that we conceive of, study, and write about historical and current shifts in writing theory. This study also includes an argument for and an illustration of writing methodological descriptions for historical studies in composition as a means of engaging with and yet resisting the hegemony of a grand narrative and as a means of displaying the seams and gaps within historical narratives. The findings from my study illustrate that institutional writing cultures emerge from reciprocal relationships between the formal writing curriculum and the writing initiatives in the extracurriculum. Overall, this dissertation demonstrates that the study of institutional writing cultures is a productive means of understanding and analyzing contradictions, connections and intersections among various sites of writing in localized contexts and a key starting place for future studies of regional trends in writing instruction.