Franklin Court, "Introduction" to Institutionalizing English Literature: The Culture and Politics of Literary Study, 1750-1900These excerpts are mounted as part of the History of English Studies Page (Rita Raley).
THIS study is intended to fill a gap in the current debate between theorists who argue for the indeterminate, contingent nature of the English literary inheritance and those who insist on the perpetuation of that inheritance as part of a tradition that has prevailed throughout history and that is, therefore, requisite to the survival of what they call "the culture." Considering the heated nature of the academic debate, one would expect to have at hand reliable scholarly accounts of the origins of English literary studies. But, as Gerald Graff and William E. Cain point out, informative studies on the history of the discipline remain noticeably scarce.
Richard Ohmann's 1976 study, English in America: A Radical View of the Profession , pioneered a long-ignored consideration of central issues related to the general, overall development of institutional English literature and composition programs in the United States. More recently, Graff, in Professing Literature (1987), has examined the significance of the underlying institutional and professional conflicts in American universities that particularly shaped literary study. Brian Doyle, in English and Englishness (1989), has traced the contradictory history of the discipline in Britain from thc late nineteenth century to the present. To date, however, the only attempt at a comprehensive overview of literary study in Britain before the twentieth century is D. J. Palmer's The Rise of English Studies (I965). Though helpful as a narrative history, it fails to examine in any detail the substructure of political and cultural controversy that produced the discipline and mediated its growth. As I argue in the pages that follow, the avenues of conflict are much deeper than the immediate questions of when the discipline first appeared, who taught the courses, what they taught, and why. Likewise, a selective biographical history like Jo McMurtry's English Language, English Literature (I985), though useful for the documented records and scholarly accounts it provides, takes no measure of the dynamics of disparate political and ideological influences within the society at large, particularly within the institutions that promoted and sustained interest in the subject. Chris Baldick's The Social Mission of English Criticism I848-I932 (1983) and Terry Eagleton's chapter on "The Rise of English Studies" in Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983) first raised the veil on the implicit social conflicts and cultural complexities that helped shape the discipline in Britain. I see this study as building on those two works, particularly Baldick's extensive examination of the inherently ideological nature of literary criticism in Britain from 1848 to I932.
A comparative study of Baldick's and Eagleton's work with Graff's Professing Literature makes clear, it seems to me, that the historical development of English literary study in Britain and the United States is different. The inherently class-conscious and racially ethnic character of British education produced a discipline far more explicitly concerned with social and ethnographical issues than its American counterpart. The wars for legitimating the study in the United States, as Graff describes them, were fought primarily in institutions for higher learning, making the formative years of English literary study here more of a cultural hybrid, a blend of American curricular experimentation with the distant but established authority of English intellectual tradition. By contrast, the rise of English studies in Britain is more clearly implicated in examinations of its political and social history.
As Baldick originally noted and this study reiterates, the history of English literary study in Britain has always been fraught with conflicts and uncertainties. In the United States, however, until the decade of the 1960'S, the discipline resisted wholehearted identification with real and immediate social and political controversies. One reason why the current crisis in literary study seems to loom so large here is precisely because of the persistent misconception that the history of the discipline is changeless, historically homogenous, and consistent with the ideals of a valorized concept of culture. In order to dispel that misconception, studies like this one must be methodologically self-conscious and sensitive to the analysis of the discipline's history, not only as a textual record but also as a record of marginalized nontextual or intertextual factors. Anecdotal surveys like John Gross's The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters , for instance, as entertaining as it is, do not challenge assumptions that can too easily compartmentalize and devitalize the discipline until it becomes little more than mere "chatter about Shelley." The record of the genesis of English literary study is in part a record of major institutional commitments, of the publication of definitive critical tomes, of the shaping and projection of a teachable canon of literary works, and of the vibrant and colorful personalities who left their marks on generations of highly impressionable students. But the full record of the genesis of the discipline also includes other traces of the past: salary disputes, professional conflicts, highly problematic programmatic needs and demands, conflicting pedagogical visions, territorial rifts, professional threats and jealousies, the rising awareness of British racial distinctions and British imperial power, the question of institutional credibility, economic constraints, the marketing of books, the idiosyncracies of committee formulations, unwritten committee and department agendas, degree requirements, academic factionalism, political demagoguery, pressures from privileged social and religious sectors, colonialism, campaigns for national literacy, academic one-upmanship-in essence, determining factors that, though they may not be included in accounts of literary history or histories of academic institutions, and though they may not get mentioned in commencement addresses, are still very much in existence. Course selections and programmatic changes, even at present, result as much from various forms of political cronyism and economic opportunism, especially where universities depend for survival on government money, as they do from altruistic visions about the principles and objectives of higher education.
The link between English social history and the rise of English studies prior to the twentieth century remains shadowy. As a result, in spite of the great continuing debate about the nature of the literary inheritance, the discipline has no convincing comprehensive awareness of its historical genealogy. That is why, for Stanley Fish, universities and curricula, though political achievements in themselves, tend to produce instructional agendas that take little cognizance of their institutional origins. But even for Fish, until recently, the concept of literature as an "institution," autonomous and dehistoricized, was the primary consideration in examinations of culturally bound evaluative conventions that govern the reading and interpretation of texts. At the outset, I want to make clear that my focus here is not on literature as an autonomous sociological phenomenon depending for its legitimation, as the now familiar argument goes, on communities of readers relating either to elite texts or to one another. My primary focus is not really on the ideological function of English literary study as an institution; rather, it deals with the institutionalizing of literary study in Britain-with the historical process that produced its emergence as an institution in the first place. The "institution" of literature, according to most predominantly synchronic accounts, gradually evolved into a recognizably hegemonic phenomenon that by the end of the nineteenth century combined, in its capacity as a cultural and political determining force, not only the controlling ideologies but also, as Louis Althusser suggests, the formal state apparatuses which made possible the transmission through time of those ideologies.
Although this study implicitly reafffirms current theories on the determining political and cultural authority of dominant critical paradigms and literary conventions, it attempts a far more detailed and systematic investigation of the mainstream and marginalized pedagogical practices and programmatic decisions that mediated the growth of literary study in British universities during the actual formative years of the discipline, from the time of Adam Smith in the middle of the eighteenth century to the emergence of Sir Walter Raleigh in the waning years of the nineteenth century. It is based on the contention that serious inquiries into the various speculative, ideological functions of English literary study in relation to the larger sociopolitical economy should be grounded in careful and discriminating research into the actual historical development of the discipline. The record shows that how and to what end texts and various genres were put to use in the classroom and lecture hall assumed distinctly different relational forms and structures during different periods of time.
In this basic and, I hope, clarifying effort to understand how the function of literary study in the university developed, my research methodology bears some theoretical resemblance to the "New Historicism," particularly in its emphasis on the silent, shifting currents of academic fashion; on influential founders, professors, and administrators at institutions that promoted the study; and on pedagogical and bureaucratic developments within the profession, such as the advancement of a racially centered concept of "civilization," that are not part of the mainstream traditional framework of English literary history as it generally is taught. Needless to say, English literary history and the history of the development of English studies are not the same. The difference helps to explain why, for instance, I find David Masson's career as an English professor at both University College, London, and at Edinburgh, a career spanning forty-two years, and the works he published more decisive for research into the functional history of the purpose to which literature was actually put in the classroom than Matthew Arnold's far less institutionally concentrated career as a critic and poet.
This study is less interested in generalized, conventional theories about the impact that "outside" critical voices like Arnold's had on the internal history of the discipline during those formative years than it is in how specific "insiders," that is, educators who promoted vernacular rather than classic literary study, professors who actually taught the courses, and pioneering universities that promoted the first programs in English literary study, determined the shape of the evaluative phenomenon that Fish and others can now refer to as an "institution." The current critical need, as Pierre Macherey argues, is for studies that examine concrete literary practices in specific historical situations, particularly within the formation of university programs that sustained interest in the discipline.
The historical and political determinants that gave rise to the formal programs of study are seldom accounted for, particularly, it seems, in the humanities. The disciplines, devoid of an accurate genealogy, tend to ignore their history by equating conventional critical axioms with academic and cultural legitimation, overemphasizing either the significance of "cutting edge" topicality or the traditional conception of professors as guardians and perpetuators of a sacred trust. The result, as Brian Doyle observes, all too often encourages mythmaking that reduces "disparate and dissonant fictions to some kind of simulacrum of harmonic unity."
A particularly disturbing example of a persistent fictional axiom is the historical overemphasis on Arnold as the strawman, the metonymic signifier, in much postmodern criticism, for the shibboleth known by various names as "Arnoldian humanism," the "Arnoldian position," "Arnoldian cultural politics," the "Arnoldian hegemony," or "Arnoldian cultural superiority." If one is to play by the rules, accounts of the history of English studies are expected, as one of my colleagues recently advised, to concentrate on Arnold rather than on figures like David Masson who are relatively unknown to the interpretive community. Hence, focusing on marginal figures like A. J. Scott, F. D. Maurice, Masson, and the many others who comprise the bulk of the research for this study, though they were actually the first in Britain to institutionalize the study of English literature in the classroom, is likely to make some literary historians uneasy. But the general, uncritical acceptance of the supposition that Arnold the literary critic, or Arnold the social critic, or even Arnold the school inspector, was primarily responsible for the influence of the humanist myth out of which English literary study evolved, really is the issue here, especially if knowledge of Arnold is limited mainly to anthology pieces, as is so often the case. That kind of facile assent sets up a conceptual barrier that makes it cliffficult to address the issue of Arnold's place in the actual formative history of the discipline without breaking a few rules.
This is not to deny, of course, Arnold's tremendous influence as the champion of literary culture (the "strictly literary") on the direction the discipline later took in the early twentieth century, especially in light of the efforts during those years of George Saintsbury, Stuart Sherman, and other "disinterested" humanists who were bent on separating the belletristic study of vernacular literature from the restraints of philology and the remnants of Victorian textual antiquarianism. As Peter Hohendahl points out, however, playing by the rules that currently privilege Arnold, though basic to the highly visible semiotic approach that has influenced recent critical evaluations of English literature, is questionable: those rules assume that meaning depends on an a priori system of literary signifiers (conventions, genres, influences, etc.) that ideal readers have assimilated and that subsequently regulates the culturally historical basis for institutionally determined acts of reading. Inherent in the semiotic approach, with its foundations in a system of synchronic determinations, is a problematic indifference to the historical process, realized particularly in politically deficient theories of deconstruction. It is especially disconcerting, for instance, to find literary critics ignoring the distinctly historical German roots of Arnold's position on the study of the humanities, one he outlines in his essays on education. The troubling reality is that many of the critics who claim Arnold as the first apostle of the "strictly literary," and therefore as the most influential figure in the development of university literary studies programs, seldom address his works on education, which are more pertinent to his advice on the actual classroom use of literary study--classic and modern--than either his essays on social criticism or his literary crlttclsm.
Ironically, as Chapter 3 shows, Arnold was pedagogically more in tune with the governmental principles of cultural democracy that regulated American educational objectives--borrowed from Germany--than he ever was with the less flexible ideological ideals of university education in Britain in the last half of the nineteenth century. Though Arnold was quick to narrow his own idealistic sign)fiers, as in his attacks on notions of "progress" and "class," even Raymond Williams acknowledges that he argued, nevertheless, for a new national education with a "capacity for detailed application of principles that in his theoretical writings are often open to a charge of vagueness." Culture and Anarchy , Williams advises, should be read alongside the reports and education essays, which are free of the impracticality and ambiguity that mar many of his other essays. On the subject of German borrowings, Stanley Fish cites Jeffrey Sammons' 1986 plea for expanding interdisciplinary study because American university education derived from a German model whose goal was "the cultural formation of the self" in "the fullness of its potentialities."" In the spirit of that Arnoldian educational ideal, it is the contradictory task of the various specialized disciplines to work against the confining limitations of institutional "specialism"--what Arnold called "concentration" and opposed to "expansion"--in order to avoid becoming repressive ends in themselves. Such deadening rigidity is precisely the position that Arnold deplored in 1867 in Schools and Uninersities on the Continent , a work that is seldom read but far more representative of his argument against the direction in which he was convinced literary study was moving in Britain during the 1860's than are his essays on poetry.
What I am concerned with, here and in what follows, is essentially the difference between aesthetic autonomy, or literary criticism as a "disinterested" end in itself, and pedagogy. Arnold recognized the distinction. He was, aside from being a poet and critic, a dedicated school inspector. In his model academy, students were taught to be open to all points of view, in the "fullness of engagement." Literary study was but one way to explore knowledge; it was not, as it was not in the more liberal German academies he admired, restricted to "disinterested enquiry" or entrenched in deadening stalemates over conventional issues of class or ethnic domination. Partiality and parochialism, particularly in the name of British nationalism, he found offensive. He also appears to have found offensive the exploitation of literature in the service of ideological exclusiveness. As a matter of fact, he was not even convinced, given the regimen of higher education in the last quarter of the century, that English literature should be granted academic autonomy. The spiritual anarchy that he associated with Victorian society required a cultural authority that was not academic but political--government-centered--and only depended on education as a means by which class could be annihilated and cultural perfection attained.
His mistake was to think, in his plea for the resurrection of high cultural values and the reestablishment of authority, that statesupported education could realistically be used to encourage the pursuit of that perfection. Its actual attainment would have required mass educational conformity to the principle of high culture and the elimination of a corrosive political pluralism that allowed people to do as they liked, as Sheldon Rothblatt points out in his study of nineteenthcentury Cambridge. English literary study, as well as any other study in the humanities, would have to shake itself free of social and political determinants if it hoped to reach the point of excellence that Arnold called "culture." His social dream as well as his dream about the central position of a literature of "high seriousness" in the transformation of the culture, as we have come to acknowledge with increasing alacrity in the last quarter of the twentieth century, was impossible to realize then and is impossible to realize now. What follows illustrates the ways in which English literary study, from its university beginnings with Adam Smith in the eighteenth century, always has been and probably always will be determined in its mainstream pursuits by the opinions and passionate convictions of influential professors declaring themselves in one fashion or another, either in the classroom, in their publications, or on the "lecture circuit," on preferred rules of conduct (Arnold's "Hebraism") for dealing with the rough but real extraliterary contingencies of the society- politically, economically, as well as culturally. Walter Raleigh, for instance, cut quite a figure of professorial and political authority while standing before the Royal Colonial Institute in I9I8, during the final days of the war, arguing for the superiority of English literature over German literature as a bonding factor in a war psychology that had united the English speaking peoples and was accountable, because English literature was taught in U.S. schools and colleges, for the eventual entry of the U.S. into the war.
The bulk of this study traces the more significant of the extraliterary contingencies and the shifting political and academic currents that mirror them in the institutionalizing of English as a discipline from the mid-eighteenth century to the formation of the Oxford English school in 1904. I have added an "Afterword" that attempts to link the general narrative of the study with a plea for more well-reasoned considerations of how the academic direction of the discipline has been shaped. I contend that the politicization of the discipline at present is an index that predicts an exciting, though controversial, future.
Throughout the course of my research, I have become increasingly convinced that, as Terry Eagleton concludes in Literary Theory , the general pattern of the historical development of "English" has been consistently ideological and politically predictable. There is, for example, a sketchy, uneven history of interest in the teaching of English literature antedating Adam Smith that, in all instances I have been able to isolate, is linked directly with issues of conduct, cultural authority, and political control.
In the Renaissance, the power base for English culture underwent a well-documented economic and political shift that eventually accommodated a visible, though tenuous, tradition of support for the inclusion of vernacular literary studies in schools and Io Introduction universities. Juan Luis Vives (1492-I540), humanist, statesman, and practical educational realist, was one of the earliest to maintain that the primary goal of a literary education should be the promotion of the common good and the preparation of students to become useful citizens. Vives' De tradendis disciplinis (On the Transmission of Studies ), published in 153 1, argued for both the need to teach vernacular languages and the formal study of books printed in the vernacular. His argument was based on the contention that vernacular literary works, like works surviving from antiquity, should have recognized value as "classics." The need at the time was for a center of authority that would accommodate vernacular study and make it academically and politically respectable.
Vives was a radical theorist with a prophetic vision. Printed books were for him mirrors of recorded wisdom that should be shared with all levels of society. The responsibility of educators was to use them to teach practical knowledge instead of wrangling over insignificant scholastic and religious issues. "Literature," for Vives, included more than just belles lettres: books in law, geography, and history, for instance, were also categorized as "literature." His influence helped to set the stage for the introduction of a wide variety of printed books, including literary selections, into the school curriculum in Britain. No study, however, literary or otherwise, could gain complete respectability without the political support of either the church or the monarchy, support that would be long in coming. The lack of a viable political center for vernacular literary study helps to explain why so many prominent Renaissance literary figures failed to support its educational potential.
Efforts to give English literature some academic credibility appear to have been undertaken at the grass roots during the later Elizabethan period, but the efforts never went much further. There are limited accounts of Elizabethan schoolmasters, for instance, choosing subjects for theses for their grammar school students that required examples from English literature. And John Palsgrave, in his dedication to his English translation of Acolastus , alluded to certain schoolmasters who were deficient in English and who consequently instituted reading programs for themselves in order to remedy the imperfection. But grass roots efforts did not succeed in giving the campaign the appeal it needed to attract a center of Introduction authority. What finally did, and the first influential argument for English language and literature studies that I can find, was Richard Mulcaster's Elementary (1582). Mulcaster argued that English had become a respected "literary" language because the extensive study of its grammar had made it credible. His argument was timely. The spirit of Elizabethan nationalism dictated that the language of England surely should have as much respect throughout Europe as the English political and military presence.
Although the sixteenth century ended with a fresh sense of national pride in the language and an awareness of its ideological potential, prospects for teaching it still looked dim. In the seventeenth century, Sir Francis Bacon argued that language was an instrument of power when employed in the support of institutions. And though he saw little substantial gain in the pursuit of "poesy," nevertheless, after him, any educational system that sought "truth" was obliged to consider such critical matters as the need for authoritative texts, the ability to provide interpretation and judgment, and a systematic accounting of the hierarchical order that would direct reading. Language as "truth" for Bacon was not considered in the vein of literature or mirrored reality; language as "truth" was rhetoric, the earliest form of textual politicization. That is why he insisted that rhetoric was the subject best suited for advanced study and that foisting it on minds too young was a serious mistake. His influence, though he never spoke directly to the issue of literary studies, helped to create an atmosphere that encouraged educational experimentation and serious language study, particularly in the area of discourse theory.
When the center of national authority shifted in the seventeenth century with the rise of Puritan dissent, the central concerns of middle class educators also shifted. For the first time, English literary study was viewed theoretically, as a possible way to promote religious doctrine. The earliest extant indication of the new role for English study that I have found occurs in the Logonomia anglica (1619), by Alexander Gill (1565-1635), a Puritan who first proposed using ready-made selections from English literature to illustrate rhetorical concepts. He also urged that English be accorded first rank before the classical languages because the "divine declarations" were expressed "a thousand times better . . . than in Latin." He appears to have been thc first actually to use a textbook to promote the idea that written works in English could be used in the classroom to propagate religious principles and improve conduct. Among the Dissenters, English, in closing ranks with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as a language of scriptural authority, the language of God, finally had found a doctrinal center of authority. As a result, English literature was invited to take its place as yet another exegetical carrier of sacred mysteries employed in the service of Christian dogma and the propagation of western culture.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the powerful Anglican church was in competition with increasingly popular and influential brands of low-churchism. New forces, new sensibilities, and new perspectives on religion, science, economic individualism, and social reform were in the ascendant. The result was a growing need for education more worldly and practical than Oxford and Cambridge seemed able to provide. Reformers sought to establish universities that would offer more diversity, including the teaching of modern languages and literatures. The new dissenting academies were important to the development of English studies in the early years of the eighteenth century because they dared to experiment with curricula, including specifically the teaching of English literature. By the middle of the eighteenth century, developments in the teaching of English literature accelerated, eventually to be reinforced by the publication for the first time of real critical "histories," such as Thomas Warton's History of English Poetry (1774-81) and Samuel Johnson's Lives of the English Poets (1779-81). Both works were promoted by London booksellers in order to satisfy a growing market demand for books about the literary past and to reclaim the British literary heritage from Scottish booksellers' "invasion of what we call our Literary Property," as Edward Dilly put it in Boswell's Life of Johnson..
Although interest in literary history and historical criticism was on the increase in Britain, learning about the literary past for the sake of the literary past seems to have had no discernible effect on the potential for offering courses in English literature at the two major English universities. Thomas Warton, as Rene Wellek notes, played a sign)ficant role in the genesis of historical criticism. Nevertheless, even though he was the professor of poetry at Oxford from 1757 to 1767, there is no record of any attempt on his part to teach English literature. A. L. Rowse, in his history of Oxford, underscores Warton's status as a critic who helped to awaken national interest in Medieval and Elizabethan poetry, especially the works of Spenser, but other than an occasional lecture on Spenser, he appears to have done little else for the promotion of English literature at Oxford. Stephen Potter, in The Muse in Chains , his account of the rise of English studies, writes of Warton giving lectures in Latin on classical prose and on Spenser, but quotes George Saintsbury's observation that Warton, "'finding that neither residence nor lecturing was insisted on, seems to have resided very little, and to have lectured hardly or not at all."' What finally did produce a serious and successful attempt to offer a formal university course in English literature occurred in Scotland and was the direct result of the belief, promoted first by Adam Smith, that the study of the English language and its literature could be treated as an academic discipline rather than as a simple exercise in the selective reading of great literary works of the British past.
As I discuss in detail in Chapter 1, Smith believed English literary study was ideally suited to meet the challenges of industrialism and the increasing political influence of a rising commercial bourgeoisie. English literary study survived, though barely, in Scotland for the remainder of the eighteenth century. Hugh Blair's efforts to associate the study with the highly aesthetic doctrine of taste shifted the emphasis away from the pragmatic and political concerns of Smith and toward a consciously limited belletristic objective. Blair linked the study with the emerging school of romantic "appreciation," where literature served either egocentric matters of taste or interpretive values derived largely for their own sake. Following Blair, significantly, the progress of English literary study in Scotland slowed to a virtual crawl until the middle of the nineteenth century.
In England, after the turn of the century, specifically during the late 1820's, growing political and social awareness, particularly among the utilitarians and Benthamites, promoted the possibility of including courses in English literary study in the newly formed London University. There, the modern history of the discipline really commences, influenced eventually by its logical association with continental developments in the study of philology. By the mid-nineteenth century, English literary study emerged as the ideal carrier for the propagation of the humanist cultural myth of a welleducated, culturally harmonious nation, in agreement on fundamental social goals and blessed with a sense of spiritual continuity. The projection assumed a consensus in an educational effort where, in fact, a consensus had never existed. The complex and disparate ideologies that did exist--those professorially authenticated opinions and passionate convictions that formed the pedagogical basis from which educators and critics of the nineteenth century advanced techniques that were designed to accomplish the great humanizing feat--constitute the main concern of this study.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from charting the history of the institutionalizing of the discipline. Perhaps the most important is the need to recognize the variety of historical discontinuities and ideological agendas that have promoted English studies. Like the variety of texts that have served the variety of ideologies over the years, the discipline itself is better understood as a variable entity whose "nature" will always be reformulated and deprioritized by the interpretive acts that give it meaning. Ultimately, there can be no fixed or final form to its academic identity or to its educational function. The discipline has existed in one form or another since the eighteenth century within a complex, interrelated melange of historical contexts. Moreover, the discipline does not gain its vitality exclusively from ideologies or interpretations, but from a variety of personalities and a clash of intellects engaged in the ideological and critical exchanges that make it essentially part of the generative core of higher education in the first place.
We should not, therefore, view the presence of opposition politics in the discipline as a sign of deterioration, whatever some professional voices might say. As this study hopes to demonstrate, from the outset the discipline has been marked by contradiction and confrontation. The historical reality is that English literary study in the United States and in Britain has never had a lasting political or ideological center. The history of the discipline shows that it is as much a product of the continual modification and transformation of dominant social values and the constantly shifting patterns of institutional support (governmental, commercial, religious, political) as it is a product of the desire to make literature into an institution supported by an apodictic canon defined by a select community of readers. The fear that presently emanates from the possibility of English studies redirecting its primary focus to include works and approaches that are non-traditional is alarming only to those who are indifferent to its long and complex history, particularly in light of the fact that works and approaches we now call "traditional" are, in large measure, less than one hundred years old. The discipline's origins depend upon the historical process, and its continuing existence is inconceivable outside history. It is an item of history, not an evolutionary totality.
This study unravels some of the complexities of that history. Of necessity, it falls somewhere between a complete accounting of the discipline, which obviously would be voluminous, and a more theoretical but less historically detailed book. I think of it as bringing to the foreground, for the benefit of those interested in the history of English literary studies, information about early professors, institutions, programs of study, pertinent influences and discursive directions that, to date, have been historically marginalized, when they have been recognized at all. I also think of this book as challenging assumptions that insist on compartmentalizing the discipline. Intrinsically, it therefore supports current critical efforts to redirect attention away from traditional formulations about the cultural "mission" of literary study and toward the kind of internal historical research that will reveal the details behind the various conflicting ideological agendas that shaped the discipline.
Much of the research for the book has been drawn from archival materials,
including university council proceedings, committee recommendations, letters,
testimonials, course outlines, class notes and examinations, most of which
have never been published. Primary materials such as these speak with clarity
and directness about the contested, contingent, and historical nature of
the discipline. They disprove academic theories and positivistic beliefs
about the timeless ideals of humanism, and they puncture shared, reinforcing
fictions about the consistent progression through history of increasingly
sophisticated and expanded techniques for interpretation. Recognizing the
disparate nature of the discipline's history and the significance of consistently
competing traditions in that history may make it easier to embrace other
cultural opportunities that are now available. It can help English literary
study throughout the English speaking world enter the future aware of the
diversity informing its own past.
Department of English
University of California, Santa Barbara