The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Peter Mortensen


Peter Mortensen is Associate Professor of English and Director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Contact Information

117 Temple Hoyne Buell Hall| MC-621


Research Interests

Mortensen's research interests include the history of rhetoric and literacy in the United States and the ethnographic study of literacy in institutions.


He is author of Imagining Rhetoric: Composing Women of the Early United States (with Janet Carey Eldred, 2002), editor of Women and Literacy: Local and Global Inquiries for a New Century (with Beth Daniell, 2007) and Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy (with Gesa E. Kirsch, 1996), and author or co-author of essays appearing in College English, College Composition and Communication, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Rhetoric Review, Written Communication, and various edited volumes. (With Kirsch, he won the 1993 Braddock Award for Best Article in CCC.) Mortensen is currently completing Manufacturing Illiteracy in the United States, a book-length study of the rhetorical and material conditions that, from the presidential election of 1837 through the Great Depression, shaped public discourse on the causes and consequences of illiteracy.

Biographical Statement

From 1999 to 2006, Mortensen directed the Undergraduate Rhetoric Program at Illinois, which offers most of the courses students take to satisfy the campus’ first-year composition requirement. Also, from 2003 to 2006, he was a co-director of the Ethnography of the University Initiative, a cross-campus initiative that through sponsored courses and special projects promotes students’ ethnographic research on the university. From 2004 to 2006, EUI collaborated with the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society in research on race and diversity at the university.

Between 2006 and 2014, Mortensen held administrative positions in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, first as an Associate Provost Fellow and later as Associate Provost for Academic Affairs. He is now serving a three-year term as Director of the School of Architecture in the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

In the profession, he completed two terms on the editorial board of College Composition and Communication and served on the ad hoc Conference on College Composition and Communication committee that drafted Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Research in Composition Studies. He just completed a five-year term on the executive committee of the MLA Division on the History and Theory of Rhetoric and Composition.

Mortensen has been at Illinois since 1999. Prior to that, he spent a decade on the English faculty at the University of Kentucky, where he was affiliated with the Committee on Social Theory. He is past chair of the executive committee of the MLA Division on the History and Theory of Rhetoric and Composition.