Miller, Thomas P. The Formation of College English: Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the British Cultural Provinces. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Much of the work that Miller does in this work is to demonstrate how English studies were reduced to literary studies (rhetoric and composition were stripped from the curriculum).  To achieve this Miller works an argument that traces the influences of Scottish professors whose roots in moral philosophy and faith in “commercial society” (vis-a-vis Adam Smith) and Dissenter professors at English universities facilitated the turn away from civic humanism, with its implicit emphasis on rhetoric, toward literary study.  This movement in the 18th century precipitated the mass spread of literature as English’s focus in the 19th century.  The Scottish professors (Blair, Campbell, Smith, turned toward literature in their pedagogy to engender a responsible sense of taste and propriety that were necessary to traffic in the social circles made possible by the Scottish inclusion in the British empire in 1707.  Because Scottish universities admitted students from middle-class and lower-class backgrounds who lacked the training in strict classics, English was the primary method of instruction; further, the cultivation of taste – a natural propensity that could be cultivated (according to moral philosophy) – was essential for the Scottish university students to enter into the larger capitalist discourse of empire.

The two trends that shaped the formation of college English include: 1)  The civic concerns of moral philosophy and rhetoric were redefined by belletristic tendency to treat ethics and aesthetics as matters of personal sentiment or taste; and 2) Moral philosophers and rhetoricians set out to apply the ‘experimental’ method to create a science of political economy with a laissez-faire view of politics (9).  Cosmopolitanism – embodied in the pages of Spectator – emphasized educated usage, critical detachment, and literary taste as decontextualized ideals shaped by the exercise of power through discourse.  The Scottish students often imitated this mode of being – this epistemology – so that they had access to cultural hegemony of the British.  The move from political agent to critical observer allowed moral philosophers to stand above self-interest that motivates action and created a premium on observing political economy and personal sentiment.

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