Handbook of Writing Research

By Charles A. Macarthur; Steve Graham et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
The Social and Historical Context for Writing Research

Martin Nystrand

The start of empirical research on Writing in North America is typically benchmarked circa 1970, especially by the publication of Emig's The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders in 1971 (Nystrand, Greene, & Wiemelt, 1993). This is not to say that no such studies had previously been conducted—Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer, for example, reviewed such work in Research in Written Composition (1963)—but rather to note that such studies were isolated and unsupported by professional networks and support systems, including doctoral programs training Writing researchers and overseeing dissertation studies, as well as refereed research journals and professional organization special interest groups devoted to such research. Cumulatively, these developments established Composition and Rhetoric as an academic discipline and research specialization in the 1980s.

With hindsight, we can see that the ideas about Writing typically associated with the 1970s and 1980s were not altogether new. For example, articles about Writing as a process had previously appeared as recently as Young and Becker (1965) and as early as 1912 in numerous articles in the English Journal (see Town, 1988), so Emig was not the first to conceptualize Writing as a process. In addition, University of Chicago English professor Henry Sams promoted interest in invention in the 1940s. Yet his visionary efforts went nowhere amid the formalist literary currents in his department. For invention to be put into play as a topic with currency in the field, it had to wait 35 years after Sams to be discovered once again and put on the map at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (the 4 Cs) and beyond, especially by Richard Young at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1970s and 1980s, when the cognitive science climate there was receptive to ideas about invention in terms of cognitive plans and goals. The influence of the Carnegie Mellon school of cognitive rhetoric, exemplified by the research of Flower and Hayes, ultimately derives from the currency it achieved within the 1970s and 1980s receptive contexts of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the National Council of Teachers of English, new doctoral programs in departments of English, and federal research support, especially in the Center for the Study of Writing funded in 1985.

Many pioneering studies, like the researchers who conducted them, came from English education programs. Some of the most influential early Writing researchers (e.g., James Britton and Nancy Martin in England), were English and language arts teachers who, despite their faculty and administrative associations with universities, had few if any graduate degrees. Both Britton and Martin were English Language Arts teachers at the United Kingdom's Harrow Weald school in the 1930s and 1940s before


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