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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

David Fleming

Name: David Fleming, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Presentation Title: "The Power and Peril of Liminality: Freshman English at the University of Wisconsin, 1967-1970"

Date: October 25, 2007


From 1898 to 1968, the University of Wisconsin-Madison required two semesters of Freshman English from all first-year students, a group which numbered more than 4,000 by the end of that period. Then, from the spring of 1968 until the fall of 1969, at the height of campus unrest associated with the war in Vietnam and the struggle for civil rights at home, a time of increasing tension between faculty and graduate students as well, the English Department unilaterally remedialized the first-semester course and outright abolished the second-semester one, leaving the university without a substantial freshman composition program for the next quarter of a century. Using primary documents and oral history interviews, I tell the story of Freshman English at UW during the late 1960s, focusing on the graduate student Teaching Assistants who actually taught it, connecting their classroom experiences to wider cultural and institutional forces at the time, and attempting to understand in general how a course that is constantly at risk of marginalization can be so central, even inescapable, at key moments in our cultural, intellectual, and material history.