Publication-Ready Author Bio

Rebecca Gerdes-McClain is an Assistant Professor of English and the Director of First Year Composition at Columbus State University in Georgia. Her scholarly interests include the labor history of Composition and Rhetoric, feminist research methodologies, and Writing Program Administration.


This paper is a personal and historical study of the labor conditions of composition teachers, in which I present the work of Edwin Hopkins, a professor at the University of Kansas from 1889 to 1937, who collected data on composition teaching between 1909 and 1915 in an attempt to reform the labor conditions of composition teachers. The paper is necessarily personal because I employ rhetorical listening, developed by Krista Ratcliffe, and strategic contemplation, developed by Jaqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch, as research methods for engaging with historical and archival research. Both of these methods require careful analysis of my personal interests in and motivations for this research. This analysis of my personal interests and motivation takes two forms: (1) narrative vignettes of my own labor experiences, which I use to facilitate rhetorical listening, and (2) descriptive analyses of my reactions to my research, which document how strategic contemplation was enacted through my reflective practices. The reader should therefore be prepared for the paper to alternate between readings of Hopkins’ work and reflections on my own teaching and research. Using rhetorical listening and strategic contemplation, I evaluate Hopkins’ strategies for reforming labor conditions in the early twentieth century and what they offer compositionists interested in reforming our current labor conditions. I focus particularly on Hopkins’ attempts to persuade those outside the composition classroom that labor conditions in those classrooms were untenable and directly related the “problem” of unsatisfactory student writing, looking for resonances—my term for connections and similarities—between attempts to reform modern labor issues in the composition classroom and Hopkins’ strategies. Ultimately I argue that attempts at labor reform need to consider historical case studies, like Hopkins', when strategizing ways to improve the teaching conditions of writing instructors. Too often, attempts to improve labor conditions surrounding the teaching of writing ignore the rich and complex labor history of our field.



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