By 1900, composition as a university subject was already a century old. Writing instruction and the writing of regular “themes” were part of the university curriculum in the United States throughout the nineteenth century, with goals and methods perhaps best represented in Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783), Newman’s A Practical System of Rhetoric (1827), Parker’s Aids to English Composition (1844), Boyd’s Elements of Rhetoric and Literary Criticism (1844), and Quackenbos’s Advanced Course of Rhetoric and English Composition (1855). Composition courses, usually required, are among the most distinguishing features of the North American version of university education. They represent a distinctively democratic ideal, that writing belongs to everyone, and a contract between the institution and the public — a bargain that, over time, made English departments large and central to the American university and to the American idea of an undergraduate education.
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