Practices of writing: early modern metaphors of literacy and the function of composition, past and present
Georgecink, Susan Hrach
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This dissertation is situated within the body of historical studies of literacy, critiquing the quantitative measurement of literacy in early modern England. In keeping with new trends in literacy studies, this rhetorical analysis of a diverse group of texts, from handwriting manuals to George Herbert's poetry, provides a conceptual counterpart to previous statistical studies of the period. The use of metaphor to frame each chapter lends a crucial flexibility to the act of describing early modern literacy practices, and provides a means of comparison with the literacy practices promoted by contemporary composition pedagogy. As well as enriching the context of recent theories of composition, this historical study of literacy elicits further questions about the fundamental orientation of the modern discipline. Early modern literacy guides manifest the implied virtues of education and demonstrate how moral-philosophical and economic merits of literacy have been placed in opposition. Through Stuart-era mothers' legacy texts and the poetry of Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth, the personal and social risks entailed in writing are revealed; while a writer can establish social solidarity and signify an identity through text, the act of writing can threaten her with disenfranchisement. The circumstances of early modern women and contemporary student writers suggest that both engage in precarious practices of literacy. George Herbert's poetry evinces a private, protected practice of writing-to-learn that allows for rhetorical experimentation and a means to comprehension and cognitive exploration. The use of writing as a mode of contemplation, which Herbert ably demonstrates, offers all writers a model for expression as knowledge-transformation. Reflecting on the usefulness of early modern textual examples in addressing what purposes compositionists envision writing to serve, this dissertation ultimately seeks to address how composition pedagogies may encourage (or thwart) student writers in their pursuit of composing purposeful texts. Viewing literacy through an historical lens affords a new consideration of the role writing instruction plays within a system where education functions overtly as a class mechanism.
- English