Monday, September 08, 2008

35.0 Draft of Puff Piece: Feedback Sought

So I am trained as a rhetorician, interdisciplinarily, but I am living in a disciplinary world. At UMD, that means that "rhetoric," as a key term, is "owned" by my colleagues in Comm. While we are making good inroads to collaboration among the junior faculty, old habits die hard, among the senior ones, where the term was contested.

My own department used to be called "Composition," but we are now "Writing Studies," a name we embraced without really defining. I am trying to draft a puff piece, a PR piece that pulls together what Writing Studies is for the layman, for the alumni, and for our colleagues. How does this one work? What questions does it leave you with?

Writing Studies
at the University of Minnesota Duluth:
The Newest Department in the Oldest Field of Study

The University of Minnesota is the new home (on both the Twin Cities and the Duluth Campuses) of Departments of Writing Studies. The UM-Duluth Department of Writing Studies is a reconfigured Department of Composition (a department originally formed in the late 1980s).

Our colleagues, students and alumnae may not know what it means to live, work and collaborate with the new Department of Writing Studies. Among other things, it means that UMD is on the cutting edge of a national movement, while remaining committed to teaching and research that improves undergraduate education in writing.

What was the Department of Composition?

For twenty years, the Department of Composition offered courses designed to improve student writing at UMD. Those course offerings and those strengths remain, but Writing Studies reflects the changing strengths of the Department in the last twenty years.

Teacher-scholars at UMD have always made teaching and research into undergraduate writing the core of its mission. It retains that mission while it steps into the changing disciplinary formation of Writing Studies.

What is Writing?

To understand writing in the new Department, we need to understand what writing is, beyond a series of exercises in the classroom. We need to understand that writing is a practice, an object, a technology. Andrea Lunsford defines it as a technology for creating conceptual frameworks and performing lines of thought within those frameworks.

In the university, this means that it is writing that makes academic fields of inquiry possible. Writing allows the best physicists, historians and management theorists to create the conceptual frameworks that define the discipline. Students perform lines of thought, their own ideas and arguments, within those conceptual frameworks.

Outside the university, the language of advertising creates conceptual frameworks – attitudes toward products or political campaigns. The language of self-help books creates conceptual frameworks for understanding who we are and what we need to be happy. And the language of law creates, perhaps, the most powerful frameworks of all.

What is Writing Studies?

Writing Studies is a reconfiguration of the intellectual resources in the Department of Composition for the new millennium. Charles Bazerman defines "writing studies" as composed of three kinds of investigation:

1. Scholars in Departments of Writing Studies investigate the historical picture of writing practices and related institutions and social systems. We are as interested in writing practices in the 21st century as in the 12th, in school settings as well as workplace and political life, globally, on the printed page and on the new media screen. And, we understand that writing within our convergence culture is pulling the public and the personal, the civic and the commercial forms of writing together.

2. Scholars in Writing Studies engage an interdisciplinary research program, connecting the humanistic study of rhetoric with contemporary social theory and empirical social science. The end result is a refined body of theory to study the technology of writing as both a practice and as a cultural artifact.

3. Scholars in Writing Studies undertake a practical examination of writers' socialization into communities, as well as their emergent identities as literate social beings. We study the writer, the reader, and their community.

As the Department of Writing Studies refines and redevelops its curriculum for the 21st century, it does so within this broad intellectual frame.

What Does Writing Studies Offer the Student?

Writing Studies houses four minors: Journalism, Information Design, Professional Writing & Communication and Linguistics. Each focuses on an area of writing and language use that steps outside the classroom and into the professional and civic contexts.

Additionally, we offer graduate courses in the teaching of college composition, information design and other areas of writing studies, more broadly. We also supervise internships for graduate and undergraduate students.

What Does Writing Studies Offer UMD?

We bring a continued commitment to quality teaching of writing, enhanced by collaboration with faculty across the campus. And, we bring a body of research in the dynamic field of writing studies. If writing is the practice that perhaps defines the bulk of our everyday personal, professional and civic lives, Writing Studies has much to offer our sisters disciplines at UMD.

For further reading:

David Bartholomae, “What Is Composition and (if you know what that is) Why Do We Teach It?”
Charles Bazerman, “The Case for Writing Studies as a Major Discipline.”
Andrea Lunsford, “New Directions in Rhetorical Studies.”

Pull Quotes:

Composition is the “institutionally supported desire to organize and evaluate the writing of [student] writers and and to define it as an object of professional scrutiny.
--David Bartholomae, University of Pittsburgh,
one of the founding generation of scholars in Composition

is technology for creating conceptual frameworks and for creating and performing lines of thought within those frameworks.
Writing draws from existing conventions and genres,
utilizing signs and symbols, incorporating multiple sources,
and taking advantage of a full range of media.
– Andrea Lunsford, Stanford University

Writing Studies
is the study of writing--its production, its circulation, its uses, its role in the development of individuals, societies ... and cultures.
--Charles Bazerman, UC Santa Barbara,
one of the founding scholars
in Writing Studies

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