We had the pleasure last year of Skyping with Bartholomae and talking with him a little bit about this article and his work in general, which can be found here. Students must appropriate this discourse or be appropriated by it in order to pass as members of the academic community. However, this is difficult, and Bartholomae notes that the characteristic slip of the basic writer is when they move away from this authoritative voice of someone whose claims are deeply rooted in scholarship and analysis and into a more comfortable role of someone offering a lesson or advice Part of this is an issue of having access to commonplaces—a culturally or institutionally authorized concept or statement that carries with it its own necessary elaboration—that allow us to interpret our experiences They must, that is, see themselves within a privileged discourse, one that already includes and excludes groups of readers.

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Writing on the Margins pp Cite as. Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion — invent the university, that is, or a branch of it, like history or anthropology or economics or English. The student has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community. Or perhaps I should say the various discourses of our community, since it is in the nature of a liberal arts education that a student, after the first year or two, must learn to try on a variety of voices and interpretive schemes — to write, for example, as a literary critic one day and as an experimental psychologist the next; to work within fields where the rules governing the presentation of examples or the development of an argument are both distinct and, even to a professional mysterious.

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Inventing the University

They cannot sit through lectures and read textbooks and, as a consequence, write as sociologists or write literary criticism. There must be steps along the way. Some of these steps will be marked by drafts and revisions. Some will be marked by courses, and in an ideal curriculum the preliminary courses would be writing courses, whether housed in an English department or not. His text is divided into three sections. He examines a student writing sample and discusses the moves the student has made, illustrating how the student at times appropriates and at times fails to appropriate convention. Much of the written work that students do is test-taking, report or summary — work that places them outside the official discourse of the academic community, where they are expected to admire and report on what we do, rather than inside that discourse, where they can do its work and participate in a common enterprise.


Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University”

David J. Bartholomae is an American scholar in composition studies. Bartholomae has served on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association and as president of the Conference on College Composition and Communication and president of the Association of Departments of English. David Blaton originally published this piece.


David Bartholomae

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Welcome to MR the podcast for beginngs and insiders aboutt he ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. For many of them, this was the first time they had been asked to write a rhetorical analysis and this assignment always makes me nervous. I give them sample papers.

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