Academic journal article College English

Journals in Composition Studies, Thirty-Five Years After

Academic journal article College English

Journals in Composition Studies, Thirty-Five Years After

Article excerpt

Thirty-five years ago in College English, Robert J. Connors published a capacious review of "Journals in Composition Studies," part guide to authors and scholars, part history, part analysis, part defense, part advice to a then-adolescent field on how to shape itself through the member writing, part prognostication, part hope. For demographers and social scientists, thirty-five years constitutes a generation, more or less. Those of us in writing studies-or is it composition or is it rhet/comp?-are now watching the third disciplinary generation since the early 1980s assumption of centrality. The field's pioneers from the 1950s and 1960s have almost all passed away, many long ago. Their apprentices, having succeeded to positions of scholarly prominence and professional leadership, are now retired or plan soon to do so.

Among those finishing careers, very likely, would have been Connors himself. Bob would have been 68 in 2019, had he survived being killed by a truck in the rain, a mile from home on his motorcycle, June 22, 2000. Then a professor at the University of New Hampshire, he was a vital scholar, teacher, WPA, and leader in rhetoric and composition studies during the 1980s and 1990s. Educated at Ohio State under Ed Corbett, beside peers Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede (who together later edited Connors's Selective Essays), he was an historian of both classical rhetoric and of composition in American universities, especially in its nineteenth-century formation. One result was his fine 1997 history, CompositionRhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy. Bob had an encyclopedic knowledge and a passionate dedication to writing-and to daily life, from planting orchards to fixing truck engines, as his colleague and friend Patricia Sullivan remembers. It's intriguing to imagine what sense he'd have made of things today, especially the mixed blessing he anticipated of increased scholarly rigor coming at a cost of collegial familiarity. Would age have muted or magnified that confident voice that allowed him to declare of one publication, "As an academic journal it is frankly second rate" (Connors, "Journals" 358)?

The journal world of 2019 is vastly different from the journal world of 1984, certainly in terms of titles and topics and editors, but perhaps even more in terms of how journals function in a disciplinary ecology that would be nearly unrecognizable. One quick indication is to skim the appendix to Connors's article, a list of fifteen journals, each with the names and street addresses of editors, several with separate addresses for subscriptions and advertisements. There are, of course, no email addresses, let alone websites. When I became editor of WPA: Writing Program Administration in 1994, each issue published a list of WPA members' email addresses, and a graduate assistant, Bill Weakley, and I created the first website for the Council of Writing Program Administrators. That site included a page that directed authors, once their paper submission had been accepted, to send their articles on a floppy disk, preferably in WordPerfect.

Lest I be perceived to sink even further into some sappy Remembrance of Professions Past, conjured not by the scent of madeleines but by the sight of Palatino typeface, I have a larger point: the technological changes in means of distribution betoken a profound change in the relationship of journals to the field of composition studies. In an age of physical communications at measured paces and routines, knowledge was dolloped in measured portions. Subscribing to journals was not only a symbolic means of identification, even consubstantiation, with disciplinary conversations but also a practical means of accessing and deploying authority. (There was Northian lore, of course, circulating orally and experientially, but that's another matter, to which I'll return.) Extended runs of journal issues on an office shelf provided more than professorial décor; they expedited research and citation and affiliation much more readily than did trips to library stacks, and they constituted a physical record. …

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