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History of the English Department

The English Department was not formally created until 1829, but rhetoric, literature, composition, and pedagogy have been central to Ohio University’s learning experiences from the very beginning.

The literary societies, which were active by the second decade of the 19th century, spent a great deal of time on essays for competitions and discussion, and according to Betty Hollow, by about 1822 English composition and rhetoric was required during all four years of a student’s career (Ohio University 1804-2004: The Spirit of a Singular Place. 18, 22). Among other duties more typical of the presidency, the Board assigned President Ewing the job of “instruct[ing] all classes in English composition, with themes due every two weeks” (18). Clearly, the teaching of composition held an important place in the curriculum.

As Ohio University shifted from a focus on classical education to the more modern curriculum, the study of literature across histories and nationalities became central to a strong liberal arts education. Since that historical shift, the English Department has continued to cultivate a nationally and internationally known faculty of historians, theorists, and critics.

As with other universities, Ohio was not immune to the turbulent social scene of the late 1960s, and as part of the planning to form strong student communities, liberalize the curriculum, and bring student voices to life, the English Department formed what was to become our nationally ranked creative writing program (Hollow, Betty. Ohio University 1804-2004: A Singular Place. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2003.). Today the English Department has an esteemed and award-winning creative writing faculty who also shepherd several award-winning literary journals.

The three interrelated sub-areas of English studies—Rhetoric & Composition, Literature, and Creative Writing—currently form a “braided” experience in humanist experiences for English students, not only for the undergraduate majors and graduate students, but also for the more than 75 percent of the university student population that takes English courses.

In the 21st century, the department will build on these strengths as it prepares to engage students in reading, writing, and critical thinking through technologically rich curricula such as new media, hybrid pedagogies, and digital humanities.