A Brief History of the English Department at the University of Chicago
Ph.D. Candidate, English Department
The Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago was founded with the University itself in 1890, one of twenty-three original departments. Originally called the Department of English Language, Literature, and Rhetoric, the department served as part of the undergraduate College of Literature and the Graduate School of Arts and Literature. Under the administration of William Rainey Harper, the university's first president, “the core administrative unit of the new University was the department, and the early departments were ruled by 'heads' who until 1910 exercised almost autocratic authority, virtual petty presidents in their own right.” The first head of the English Department was William D. MacClintock, recruited personally, like many of the original faculty, by Harper. In the early years of the University, according to English Professor Albert H. Tolman, the English department was the largest of the departments.The University of Chicago was a part of a revolution that was occurring in higher education in the United States at the turn of the century. Colleges were transforming themselves into research universities, modeled on the great German (and, to a lesser degree, French) universities. Daniel Coit Gilman had traveled to Europe in the 1850s, observed the universities, and come back with the conviction that America had to change higher education to achieve the quality of the great French and German institutions. In 1876 he was given his opportunity when he was made president of the newly founded Johns Hopkins University (like the University of Chicago, founded from the fortune of an entrepreneur). Gerald Graff writes that “no institution in the United States had ventured on so bold and novel a program, and the Johns Hopkins model shortly began to be imitated by Harvard, Yale, and the new University of Chicago, opened in 1892.” The departmentalism of the original structure of the University of Chicago was a central feature of this novel program, reflecting new values of “disciplinary specialization and administrative autonomy,” meant to reinforce a focus on research rather than just teaching. The rise of the research university was correlative with both the progress of industrialization and the increased emphasis upon specialized training through graduate education. “By one estimate,” Graff points out, “in 1850 there were 8 graduate students in the United States in all subjects. By 1875, a year before Daniel Coit Gilman established Johns Hopkins as the first American research university, there were only 399, whereas by 1908 there would be almost 8,000.”
The value placed on the German model is reflected both in the fact that President Harper sought to recruit German Professors—and succeeded with scholars such as Hermann von Holst—and to send professors and prospective professors to do advanced work at German Universities. “Of the 204 members of the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1896-97,” writes John W. Boyer, “84 had taken degrees or advanced training at a European university and 70 of those had studied at one or more German universities.” After an event in March 1904, when the University of Chicago awarded honorary degrees, “with much rhetorical fanfare” and publicity, to five German scholars, President Harper claimed that it was “the greatest event that has happened in the history of the University.”
The scholarly orientation of the English department in the early years, reflecting the l'art pour l'art perspective of the fin-de-siècle, was aestheticist. In reaction against the traditional orientation of English scholarship towards philology and history, the “masterpieces of our literature,” as Professor Albert H. Tolman put it, “are studied at the University of Chicago primarily as works of literary art.” Tolman's list of the elective courses offered in 1895 shows that the focus was almost exclusively on British literature—sixteen courses covering the period from Old English literature to Milton; eight courses covering the period from Milton to the end of the nineteenth century; and only one course on American literature, titled “American literature in outline.” (American literature was not yet an established field of study.) There were only two 'theoretical' courses: “the elements of literature” and “theory and practice of literary interpretation,” taught by MacClintock and R. G. Moulton, respectively. As Gerald Graff sums up this period in the teaching of English literature in the U. S., the “clear trend was toward literary history as embodied in the survey course and the coverage model of departmental organization.” The focus of the department would change when John Matthews Manly took over as head in 1898.
Manly was recruited to the University of Chicago from Brown University by Harper. He had been a prodigy at Harvard, where he put together his own course of study to take a Ph.D. in Philology. Robert Morss Lovett characterizes the ensuing changes on Manly's arrival:
Manly's reorganization of the English Department involved a change from the aesthetic to the historical approach in the study of literature. Hitherto our discussions had turned on such questions as What is literature? Is Macaulay literature? Manly defined the basic discipline in six period courses each occupying a quarter, running from the sixteenth century through the nineteenth. 
Lovett himself recalls a colleague chiding him, saying “'You don't teach literature; you teach history and sociology with literature as a side line.'” Lovett conceded the point, but defended his method by arguing that his “generation was essentially historically and socially minded, and that literature approached from that point of view had a wider and more immediate appeal to our age.” The work of Manly illustrates well the return to an historical and philological focus. Manly, with the assistance of Edith Rickert and graduate students, produced a definitive edition in eight volumes of The Text of the Canterbury Tales by collating over eighty extant manuscripts—a project begun in 1924 and finished just before Manly's death in 1940. Manly also devoted a great deal of effort to discover the historical personages that were portrayed in Chaucer's work. He was “instrumental in founding Modern Philology,” writes J. R. Hulbert, and “guided the journal from the beginning and was for many years general editor.” President Harper had from the very outset stressed the importance of the publication of faculty research by incorporating the University Press and encouraging departmental journals. The University of Chicago Press was the second university press to be established in the United States (after Johns Hopkins). Modern Philology was established in 1903 as the outlet for the research of professors studying modern languages, including English, and, as Professor Richard Strier, the current editor of the journal, puts it, “Chicago was in the forefront in establishing such a journal.”
The focus on history and philology was seen as a way of grounding the study of literature in a scientific method, legitimizing the study of English literature as a specialized discipline. Previously the “generalist professors,” as Graff refers to them, suffered from the perception of a “lack of special expertise,” which “was a real liability in the fight for respectability being waged by the departments.” Manly would later write that the “two great intellectual achievements of the nineteenth century were the establishment of the reign of law in the natural sciences and the development of the technique of historical criticism in humanistic studies.” He went on to summarize the evolution of the English Department, an account which deserves extensive quotation:
The departmental organization of English has had an especially peculiar history. It grew out of the study of rhetoric, which was one of the subjects usually entrusted to the professor of mental and moral philosophy. As originally taught, rhetoric had no special reference to English. The text books were lineal descendants of the treatises of Aristotle and Cicero and the models or illustrations were taken from classical and foreign writers as often as from English. To the study of rhetoric were next added masterpieces of English literature annotated for details of meaning and allusions, and then came outline histories of English literature, usually unaccompanied by any reading of the literature itself. Meanwhile there were rumors of the great discoveries of the kinship of the English language with the Germanic, the Celtic, the Slavic, the Latin, the Greek, the Sanskrit and the Persian languages, and of the theory that languages were organisms existing and developing independently of the peoples who used them, but subject to laws as invariable as those of zoology and botany. Consequently, the history of the English language became a fascinating object of research and the earlier forms of English, commonly known as Anglo-Saxon received special attention. With the growing interest in the evolution of human culture and the doctrine most brilliantly expounded by Taine that all art products, including literature, were inevitably determined in character and quality by time, race, and environment, arose the study of literature as a product not merely of the individual author bu of the whole social organism to which he belonged. The development of English became then what it has since remained, a conglomerate of knowledges and disciplines loosely bound together by the fact that they were all in one way or another related to the English language.
The historical and philological method, reflected in the early years of Modern Philology, held sway in the department, as did Manly, until the early stirrings of New Criticism and the “Chicago School” in the 1930s, when the influence of Richard McKeon and R. S. Crane began to alter the orientation of humanities scholarship.
The decline in the value placed upon the teaching of rhetoric and oratory, evident in the disappearance of “Rhetoric” from the title of the department, is perhaps the most marked change in the early decades of the Department. In the early College, all students were required to take a course on rhetoric and English composition. In 1895, the English Department offered fourteen elective courses in rhetorical study. This reflected the value placed upon oratory, recitation, and speech, which had been important aspects of higher education in the nineteenth century. The teaching of English literature was modeled on the teaching of Greek and Latin, which meant that the texts were “subordinated to grammar, etymology, rhetoric, logic, elocution, theme writing, and textbook literary history and biography,” and “the recitation method remained in force.” Maintaining these traditional values, John Matthews Manly, as late as 1922, proposed a series of phonographic records to be titled “The Better English Records,” which would include such titles as “Pure Tone: Exercises and Directions for Eliminating nasality and other faults and developing Pure Tone,” “Chaucer's Pronunciation,” and “Shakspere's Pronunciation.” “The greatest and most profitable field for educational work at present,” he maintained, “and in the near future is that of training in correct English speech.” David H. Stevens, assistant to President Mason and former member of the English Department, writes that “the Department of English gave [President Burton] a plan for compulsory training in public speaking. Through the medium of required freshman English, the plan was to have every student tested and coached, at least until he satisfied Mr. Nelson that he knew how to enunciate clearly and how to organize short speeches extemporaneously.” The focus on oratory, rhetoric, and speech reflected the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social role of the university, which was intended to educate 'gentlemen' to be a ruling elite. Hence, as universities became more democratic after World War I and especially after World War II, these pedagogical values and methods began to disappear.
By the end of the administration of Harry Pratt Judson (1907-1923), the University had experienced remarkable growth. Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed characterizes this growth from the founding in 1892 to the beginning of the Burton administration in 1924:
The officers of administration had increased to more than eighty, and the officers of instruction, above the rank of assistant, to more than six hundred. There were forty-four buildings, and a dozen more were imperatively needed. The twenty-three departments of instruction had developed into thirty-four in the colleges and graduate schools, and there had come to be six professional schools: those of Divinity, Law, Medicine, Education, Commerce and Administration, and Social Service Administration.
Along with this growth, however, came problems, especially in the College, which was failing to attract enough students and failing to attract students of the best quality. This fact, coupled with financial issues that became more acute as the country approached the calamity of the Great Depression, led to necessary changes in the structure and functioning of the University.
In 1930 President Robert Maynard Hutchins implemented broad and general changes in the structure of the University of Chicago as a whole in what came to be known as the “New Plan.” This approach had an influence not only on the English Department at the University of Chicago, but on English departments in general. The University of Chicago played a central role in the changes that occurred in the teaching of English literature in the twentieth century as literary study came to figure prominently in general education. “No development had more influence,” Graff writes, “in securing the fortunes of criticism in universities and secondary schools than the movement for general education revived and restated by Robert Maynard Hutchins of Chicago in the 1930s and institutionalized after World War II.” Hutchins' most significant structual change was the introduction of the four Graduate Divisions—Physical Science, Biological Science, Social Science, and Humanities—adopted on November 13, 1930. The introduction of the Divisions, with the undergraduate College as an entity with its own governance, created the five-part organizational structure that still characterizes the University of Chicago. “By grouping the heretofore semi-sovereign departments under the leadership of a Division,” writes John W. Boyer, “Hutchins hoped that real Divisional cultures of research cooperation and inter-disciplinary educational work would emerge.” It was precisely the separation and sovereignty of the departments that Hutchins' reforms were aimed at, along with a complete reconception of undergraduate education.
The story of the changes of the 1930s, in the English department as in the University at large, is really one of conflicting tendencies and personalities. Hutchins' views about general education soon fell under the influence of a fiery young professor recruited from Columbia, Mortimer J. Adler. As William H. McNeill writes, “Adler did more than anyone else to shape Hutchins' mature ideas about education.” Adler had taken a course with John Erskine at Columbia in which the students read one of the 'great books' of the Western canon each week, and became convinced that this was a much better method of education than the use of textbooks. Soon, Adler had convinced Hutchins of the “proposition that the core of a liberal education ought to rest in firsthand acquaintance with books that had shaped Western literary culture,” his “principal and most enduring impact upon Hutchins and the university.” Adler was also a devotee of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, writing to Hutchins that he wanted “to do for science and culture in the twentieth century what Thomas did for that of thirteenth...It would mean cutting through all the departmental divisions, and 'dialecticizing' all the various subject matters, as I have already tried to do in psychology and evidence.” The application of Aristotelian methods of logic and analysis to various texts, whether philosophical, legal, or literary, would come to be a distinctive practice in the Humanities Division at the University in the ensuing decades, largely through the influence of Richard McKeon. That approach found theoretical expression in the work of the Chicago School of Criticism (also known as the Neo-Aristotelian School) that McKeon and R. S. Crane would establish at the heart of the English Department in the late 1930s and the 1940s.
The anti-departmental stance taken up by Hutchins and Adler, however, would prove controversial, especially amongst elder faculty well-used to departmental autonomy. A generational struggle began between Hutchins, the 'boy president', and his young acolytes like Adler and McKeon, on the one hand, and the scholars who were set in their ways, many of whom had devoted their careers to the University, on the other. An early omen of the struggle was the fracas that ensued when Hutchins and Adler tried to appoint Richard McKeon and Scott Buchanon to the Philosophy Department when two older professors retired. “Hutchins saw this as an opportunity to alter philosophy at Chicago along the lines that Adler envisioned,” McNeill writes. “He therefore rejected a nominee the department suggested as [George] Mead's successor and proposed Adler's two friends instead. The department was outraged. Mead and two of his colleagues resigned in protest, provoking campuswide controversy that came before the faculty Senate in March 1931.” The English Department, like the University as a whole, was divided in the 1930s.
The divisiveness centered around changes in humanities scholarship, in general, and the English Department, in particular, led by Richard McKeon and Ronald S. Crane. McKeon became Dean of the Division in the Humanities in 1935, and Crane became the chair of the English Department in 1936. As important as Hutchins' reforms were, William H. McNeill argues that “McKeon's influence far outweighed anything either Adler or Hutchins did to reshape the curriculum in the Division of the Humanities and, after 1942, in the College as well.” After the initial attempt to bring McKeon to the Philosophy Department failed, he was successfully brought from Columbia in 1934 as a professor of Greek. Crane had been a member of the English Department since 1924, but he soon became devoted to the Aristotelianism of Adler and McKeon. David Daiches, who joined the Department in 1937, offers an engaging account of both the excitement and the tension produced by the new developments:
Everyone concerned with the teaching of English literature and related subjects was excited about the 'new Aristotelianism' which Dean McKeon had propounded and Professor Crane, the Chairman of the English Department, had adopted. The argument about critical principles was fierce and continuous. Within a week of arriving at Chicago I was challenged to reconsider everything I had ever thought about literary criticism.
Daiches notes that such rigorous pursuit of questions about the methods and the theory of criticism were simply not a part of his educational milieu at Oxford. But at “Chicago nothing was assumed, all questions were asked point blank, and you were not allowed to get away with a perfunctory answer. It was exhausting, but valuable.” In short, the “English Department was riven by the Great Aristotelian Debate.” The debate within the English Department was mostly generational as well, the younger scholars like Norman Maclean, Elder Olson, and W. R. Keast becoming disciples of Crane and McKeon, while older professors, like Manly and Lovett, maintained their fidelity to previous methods.
The changes were not merely changes in critical method, but entailed as well a reform of the curriculum. “During the 1930s and 1940s,” writes Keast,
Crane was concerned chiefly with efforts to improve the university English curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and to help bring about a reconstruction of the arts of literary criticism comparable to the reconstruction of literary history to which he had been devoting himself. The first of these efforts led Crane and his colleagues in the Department of English, of which he was Chairman from 1935 to 1947, to undertake a whole-sale reform of the curriculum and the examination system, a reform whose influence extended far beyond the University of Chicago.
Crane expressed a similar view of the period in his Convocation Address in 1960, in which he took up “The Chicago Tradition”: “in less than a year, and with relatively little disturbance of mind, the Department of English decided to recast, not merely its reading-list, but its whole program of courses and examinations in the light of a new general conception of the aims and content of literary studies.” Clearly Crane understates here the 'disturbance of mind' occasioned by the reforms of the 1930s. The actual process of reforming the curriculum was slower and more painful—and Crane himself seems to have been slow in getting with the program of Hutchins, Adler, and McKeon. In a letter to Hutchins on December 13, 1930, Crane lamented the fact that the History Department was lumped in with the Social Sciences rather than with the Humanities. “My own early training,” Crane wrote, “was largely in medieval and English history, and as a consequence I have never been able to look on the work which I and many of my colleagues are attempting to do in the graduate school as other than a branch of history, in the pursuit of which the closest kind of association with “historians” (in the departmental sense) is essential – for our good certainly, and perhaps also for theirs!” Only a few years after this, Crane would lead a the crusade against history in the English department.
Crane attached an essay titled “The Place of History and Criticism in the University Study of Literature,” to a letter to Hutchins of December 22, 1934. By this point, he no longer saw his work as a 'branch' of history; history now became the enemy of properly critical pursuits in literary study. The central question of the essay: “Are we to look upon ourselves as mainly historians of literature or as mainly critics? The answer we give to this question will determine not only the view we take of our proper place and function, as departments, in the university, but also, to a greater or lesser extent, the policy we pursue with respect to courses and appointments, examinations and dissertations, and ultimately perhaps the orientation of research.” At the heart of Crane's position is the notion that literary history necessarily deals with facts pertaining to literature's “accidental characteristics.” As such, the value of historical research to properly critical study of literature is purely negative. “It is impossible, for example, that there should be a history of tragedy as such, or of lyric poetry or of the epic. These terms are universals; they represent natures which do not change, however differently at different times and in different places they may be defined by critics or embodied by artists in particular works; as essences they lend themselves only to general and scientific, not to historical statement.” Hence, history cannot, without turning itself into propaganda, deal with values.
Crane further argued that “theory, however much it may be denied or neglected, is inescapable.” Even 'impressionistic' critics, who scorned theory as below them, actually adhered willy-nilly to a tacit theoretical grounding. The task, then, is to bring theoretical possibilities to light in order to consciously consider what principles should guide literary research and education. The main theoretical task that Crane sets himself in the essay—and sets before his colleagues as the task of the English Department—is distinguishing the proper spheres of historical and critical methods. “But the problem of the relation of historical learning to criticism,” he claims, “has been enormously complicated in recent times as a result of the increasing devotion of university departments of literature to the distinctly modern enterprise of literary biography and historiography.” Historical research can only answer the 'why' of literature, Crane argues, not the 'what'. Because history can properly only narrate the causes of transformations, the 'why' of literature “has little or no relevance to the ends of critical interpretation or appraisal.” He concludes that literary history really valuable only as part of “the general history of culture,” and that it “has occupied, especially during recent years, altogether too privileged a place.”
The turn to criticism that Crane advocated ultimately centers on delimiting the domain of the aesthetic and defending it against encroachment by outside forces that were thought to be irrelevant to literary study as a discipline. This brand of criticism cultivated methods through which “imaginative works” could be “considered with respect to those qualities which can truly be said to be timeless,” in order to develop, not knowledge per se, but “appreciative understanding and evaluation.” The end-game was to “conserve, in the midst of a university dominated by science and history, the proper interests of art.” Crane's concluding prescription: “The remedy I would propose is nothing less than a complete reversal, in our departments of literature, of the policy which has dominated them—or most of them—during the past generation.”
By the time he took over as Chairman of the department in 1936, Crane was prepared to put his ideas into action through the reform of the curriculum and the examination system. In the “Report of the Committee on Examinations,” which Crane sent to Hutchins that year, the diagnosis was no less clear than it had been in Crane's essay of 1934:
It has been assumed, of course, that students preparing for examinations would acquire in the process, by themselves or from their instructors, something more than a superficial acquaintance with the books on the reading list or with the ascertained facts of literary history – that they would gain habits of independent intellectual work and skill in the analysis and interpretation of literature. That relatively few of them ever do so is a complaint heard increasingly in the department since the institution several years ago of the present system of examinations, and the members of the Committee are unanimous in believing that the reason is to be found, in large part at least, in the nature of the current examinations and of the objectives in English study which they reflect.
This state of affairs is blamed on an over-emphasis on survey courses and the attempt to cover minutiae of literary history and biography at the expense of developing “disciplined and independent habits of work; if they elect courses devoted to the critical investigation of problems or to the intensive examination of texts, they feel, rightly no doubt, that they are indulging in a luxury they can ill afford.” The suggested displacement of history in favor of criticism is reflected in the “four major intellectual disciplines underlying good teaching and research in English”: linguistics, criticism (“the analysis and evaluation of artistic works”), intellectual analysis (“the ability to understand and to discuss critically the ideas and arguments contained in various kinds of literary works”), and, finally, history. In the exam for the B.A. degree, “history as a discipline should be distinctly subordinated to the other disciplines: the dominant approach to literary works should be critical and analytical.” He concluded that the English Department must “alter completely” their examinations, curriculum, research and, above all, “should find it necessary to set up different standards of scholarly competence for the selection of new members of our staff.” By December 14, 1942, Crane was confident and blunt with Hutchins about these standards: “I don't want any more rhetoricians or kosher historians. And I don't want any second-rate men.” In making such a statement Crane was, to a large extent, following the general doctrines of Hutchins, Adler, and McKeon.
In Daiches' account of the English Department, he noted that “at Chicago I found that McKeon had laid down the doctrine of distinguishing disciplines: the discipline of literary study was wholly different from the discipline of history and to consider a work as illustrating or illuminating the history of ideas when you were supposed to be presenting it as literature was a culpable confusion of disciplines. Crane followed McKeon enthusiastically on this point, in spite of his earlier achievements in the history of ideas.” It seems very likely that the influence of McKeon was the primary factor involved in the utter change in Crane's opinion that is traced above. Indeed, McNeill writes that Crane's “dissatisfaction with his own accomplishment and with that of his fellows took a new turn after hearing McKeon explain how to analyze a text and discern its intrinsic structure and meaning. Applied to literature, McKeon's approach promised to show why some texts were great works of literature and why others fell short.” The crusade against history extended all the way to Hutchins' office. Boyer notes that during the 1930s and 40s “the Department of History found itself in an ongoing battle with President Robert Hutchins over new appointments.” Hutchins continually rejected well-qualified historians nominated by the History Department for professorships, resulting in much bad blood between the department and the central administration. The President was, however, well-pleased with Crane's efforts in the English department, and wrote to him on July 7, 1941 that the “program of the English Department under your leadership is one of the few things that makes me think we are getting somewhere.” By the early 1950s Crane's reforms had become entrenched enough for Chicago to be recognized as the home of a distinctive School of literary criticism. In 1952 the University of Chicago Press published a large volume of essays by Crane, McKeon, Keast, Maclean, Olson, and Bernard Weinberg titled Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern. The volume, edited and introduced by Crane, was a monument of the Chicago School.The conflicts and developments occurring at the University of Chicago in this period reflected a larger conflict playing out in English departments across the United States, a conflict that pitted traditional historically-minded scholars against those advocating for criticism and literary theory. The most notable result of this conflict would be the rise to prominence of the New Criticism in English departments, and it is interesting and productive to analyze the Chicago School in relation to the New Critics. The clear similarity between the New Criticism and the Chicago School is that both focused on textual analysis, interpretation, and close reading, in lieu of textual historiography, literary history, and literary biography. This confluence of aims made the Chicago School and the New Critics allies, in macro, against the historians. Graff relates that John Crowe Ransom, the critic “whose personal trajectory perfectly coincided with the institutional fortunes of criticism,” touted Crane as a model, referring to him as “'the first of the great professors to have advocated [criticism] as a major policy for departments of English.'” Moreover, when he was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago in 1945-1946, Cleanth Brooks wrote to Hutchins on March 6, 1946, to express his “admiration for your various statements on education.” “I fully subscribe,” Brooks continued, “to the indictment which you have made of the American universities in general.” He went on to claim that Chicago had not fully realized Hutchins' vision as yet, but the agreement on general principles about higher education and criticism suggests that there was a fundamental affinity between what was happening at Chicago and the New Criticism being developed and practiced elsewhere.
There were, however, points of antagonism between the two critical camps. Crane published an article castigating “The Critical Monism of Cleanth Brooks” in Modern Philology in 1948. Crane does stress at the outset that “on a number of points I am in sympathy with the purposes which differentiate Mr. Brooks and the writers commonly associated with him from most of the other critical schools of the day,” praising the New Critics “for having rejected the temptation to assimilate poetry, by large analogies, to metaphysics or rhetoric or history of the spirit of the age, and for having insisted on considering it, in Eliot's phrase, as poetry and not another thing.” Yet he goes on to delineate “the tacit assumptions about critical theory and method” in Brooks' work that he finds to be objectionable. The contention that irony, “or paradox, is poetry, tout simplement” deeply troubles Crane and leads him to a general condemnation of “the same tendency toward a monistic reduction of critical concepts” to be found in the work of the New Critics—“in Allen Tate's doctrine of 'tension,' in John Crowe Ransom's principle of 'texture,' in Robert Penn Warren's obsession with symbols, above all in I. A. Richards' Pavlovian mythology concerning the 'behavior' of words.” Crane contends that Brooks (standing in for New Criticism in general) has actually only offered an amputated form of Coleridge's theory of poetry as contained in the Biographia Literaria. The amputation is far from benign in Crane's view, as it divorces poetry “from the universal operations of the mind,” leaving “far fewer distinctions and criteria for the analysis and judgment of poems” and resulting in “a notable impoverishment of poetic theory.” Whereas for Coleridge it was necessary to locate poetry, in the broadest sense, in the synthetic power of the human imagination, the monism of Brooks results in “an attempt to erect a theory of poetry by extending and analogizing from the simple proposition of grammar that the meaning of one word or group of words is modified by its juxtaposition in discourse with another word or group of words.” Hence, while both the Chicago School and the New Critics emphasize the value for literary studies of analysis and interpretation, Crane finds the theory of New Criticism unnecessarily and detrimentally reductive.
Before turning to the developments of the 1950s and 1960s, it is important to note that one of the major effects of the two World Wars, especially of WWII, was a reorientation of the university's relations with the rest of the world. Both wars inspired more rigorous attempts to study and understand other cultures and to improve international relations in the process. The Oriental Institute was the major project along these lines that emerged after WWI, when in “1919 John D. Rockefeller, Jr., gave a fund to establish for a trial period of five years the Oriental Institute of the University for exploration and research in the Orient.” Not long after this, the Harris Fund was established, with an endowment intended “for the 'promotion of a better understanding on the part of American citizens of the other peoples of the world, thus establishing a basis for improved international relations and a more enlightened world-order.'” By the end of WWI, the University of Chicago had established sufficient prestige that it began to draw large numbers of foreign students. “By 1923,” Boyer writes, “432 foreign-born students representing 41 countries were registered in various academic programs at Chicago, across all departments and schools.” During the 1930s and the 1940s the University benefited greatly from an influx of refugee scholars from Europe, who would leave their mark on Chicago in many ways. One notable example, which Boyer treats in detail, is Max Rheinstein, who established a program of Comparative Law and later a Comparative Law Research Center. Then with a grant from the Ford Foundation, he initiated the Foreign Law Program in 1956 which sent students abroad to study the laws of other countries. There were many examples, if not quite as prominent, of foreign scholars contributing to a broader internationalism in research after WWII. In short, “Chicago profited from an infusion of extraordinary talent from scholars who brought new ways of thinking about venerable problems and who, in a few cases, even established major schools of thought at Chicago.” Boyer characterizes the changing academic landscape after 1945, noting that
new forms of education emerged that incorporated the non-European world into the study of culture. The end of World War II also brought crucial efforts on the part of American universities, foundations, and other academic organizations to reengage the world of international learning and student exchanges that had been abandoned during the later 1930s and early 1940s. Robert McCaughey has rightly designated the immediate postwar period as the “'take off' of American international studies.” The Fulbright Act (1946), National Association of Foreign Study Advisors (1948), Institute for the International Education of Students (IES)(1950), Ford Foundation's International Training and Research Program (1953), and Fulbright-Hays Act (1961) signaled a new appreciation of the values of international education on the part of higher education leaders. Moreover, American scholars now realized that the world included domains of cultural life beyond the European subcontinent.
This broader process of internationalism would certainly come to influence literary studies in the second half of the twentieth century, breaking down narrow notions of the Western canon and a unified European culture. The emergence of American literary studies was, perhaps paradoxically, another result of the world wars.
Graff notes that the study of American literature was really the result of patriotism during World War I. Unlike the cultural studies of the end of the twentieth century, which focused on critique as much as understanding of American culture, the early “teachers of American literature tended to adopt an apologetic view of their subject.” But the result was that American literature became a legitimate object of study in English departments. Once American literature and contemporary literature were accepted as legitimate subjects of inquiry, the focus of study in English was permanently altered. I noted before that in 1895 there was only one course offered on American literature. It is an index of how rapidly things changed in fifty years that the two chairman of the English Department succeeding R. S. Crane—Napier Wilt and Walter Blair, respectively—were both committed scholars of American literature. By 1969, a third of all the recent dissertations written by graduates were on American literature, and almost half of those were dealing with twentieth century authors. In the 1970s and 80s other new fields of study emerged as scholars became interested in tracking the resonance of issues of gender, race, and class in literary works.
As Boyer puts it, a “curricular and structural counter-revolution [occurred] between 1952 and 1965.” Hutchins resigned in 1951 and Lawrence Kimpton took over as president, inheriting an unbalanced budged “at a time when shrinking enrollments meant diminished tuition income and when a deteriorating neighborhood threatened the survival of a middle-class style of life in Hyde Park.” It became clear that for various reasons, the separation of the College from the Graduate Divisions, and the structure of the College, which under Hutchins comprised the last two years of high school and the first two years of university study, needed to be changed. In 1953 the College program was amended; it became a normal four-year undergraduate program with two years devoted to general education and two years to study within a particular department. This change brought an end to the separation of faculty between the College and the Divisions, and by the end of the 1950s new faculty had joint appointments. This trend culminated, in the English Department, in 1963 when the “Constitution of the New English Department” was ratified. The Constitution established a single department to teach “all courses in English at the University, on both the graduate and the undergraduate level.” Previously
the Department of English had, for over twenty years, been officially charged only with the conduct of the graduate program, leading to the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. All undergraduate courses in English had been the province of the College English Staff, an autonomous body, some members of which were also engaged in graduate departmental teaching, but which had as its exclusive concern the undergraduate programs in English literature and composition.
The English Department newsletter noted that the “reorganized department represents an important structural innovation within the University and, as such, has attracted wide attention from the campus community. It is designed to employ maximally all relevant resources at every level of English instruction in the curriculum as well as to extend opportunities for diversified teaching and the pursuit of academic specialties to as many members of the faculty as possible.” While many of the structural and curricular reforms that Hutchins inaugurated remained—and remain to this day—in force, this consolidation of the undergraduate and graduate faculties nonetheless represented a departure from one his most innovative ideas about undergraduate education. Soon the radical reforms of the curriculum that Crane and McKeon had made would be repealed as well.
Thorkild Jacobsen took over for McKeon as Dean of the Humanities in 1947, and, as early as 1949, he wrote a letter to the Vice President noting that the English Department “has passed through a period of transition in which emphasis has shifted decidedly from language to literature.” He went on to caution against “an obvious danger that this shift may over-reach itself and produce a lopsided department.” He points out the diminishment of faculty in the fields of linguistics and philology during the 1930s and the 1940s, concluding that at “the present, the field is represented by only one full professor (Hulbert), by one assistant professor (Silverstein) whose field is only partly linguistics, his major interest being in literature.” The Department would never again return to a focus on linguistics and philology (although they did hire an important scholar, Raven I. McDavid), in part because of the establishment of linguistics as a separate field of study from literature. And some worried that the Department had turned its back not only on philology and linguistics but also on literary history.
With Norman Maclean and Elder Olson still prominent members of the faculty, the Chicago School of criticism remained a prominent aspect of the scholarship and teaching of the English Department in the 1950s. Olson, in particular, rose to a place of eminence among formalist critics, as evidenced by his participation in a “Symposium on Formalist Criticism,” in 1965, along with such luminaries as Kenneth Burke, John Crowe Ransom, Mark Schorer, and René Wellek. But the crusade against literary history waned in the 1950s, and by 1964 the Curriculum Review Committee of the Department of English suggested drastic alterations to the program of education that Crane and McKeon championed. “The indispensable foundation of advanced literary studies,” the Committee asserted
is an acquaintance with the whole sweep of English literature seen in its historical sequence. This is not to say that the end of literary studies is a set of historical propositions or the capacity to recognize unerringly the traits by which a work betrays the time and place of its origin; nor is this to deny that a man lacking such a foundation can sometimes comprehend and evaluate books with considerable penetration. But analysis and criticism are greatly facilitated by breadth of reading experience, and awareness of what an author knows as his past and as his present is often illuminating to one who is interpreting his literary products.
Hence, all undergraduates were to begin with three courses (spanning the entirety of the third year) in “The Historical Study of Literature,” followed by one course “in the principles of literary criticism and in the structure of Modern English,” after which they would take four elective courses to complete their major. This period, then, shows an attempt to find a balance that would include literary history, criticism, and a continuing, though greatly diminished, commitment to linguistics and philology.
The 1960s were another period of fundamental change at the University. As Boyer puts it, “the 1960s were characterized as the Golden Years of America higher learning. Federal funding increased, numbers of faculty positions exploded.” In 1965 the University applied for and received a $25 million grant from the Ford Foundation for an ambitious program of growth and restructuring. The program, branded as the Campaign for Chicago, called for a substantial increase both in the number of faculty positions and in faculty compensation and for new facilities for student housing and for research. This expansion was to be paid for by nearly doubling the number of undergraduates, and by raising more unrestricted gifts. The Campaign went well in the last years of the 1960s, many of the early goals being reached. The Regenstein Library, among other buildings, was financed and built; faculty ranks increased substantially. In the English Department, for example, there were only four full professors and five associate professors in 1952, down from twelve and four, respectively, in 1933. By 1976, there were sixteen full professors and six associate professors, as well as ten assistant professors and three visiting professors, including Richard Ellmann.
The Campaign for Chicago, however, faltered in the seventies, as a broader atmosphere of austerity in response to an economic slump dried up sources of funding. The University faced serious budget deficits, and failed to increase undergraduate enrollments at the rate that had been projected in the program of 1965. Although inadequate student housing contributed to the difficulty of increasing enrollments, the late 1960s were a period of unrest which virtually all universities experienced. At Chicago there were protests and sit-ins in opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s, but the major event came in 1969 when the Sociology Department failed to reappoint Marlene Dixon, a young radical professor popular with students. This decision ultimately prompted a student sit-in at the Administration Building, when on January 30 over 400 students occupied the building. The students called for Dixon to be rehired and also demanded that students be accorded the same voting rights on faculty appointments that the tenured faculty themselves had. One of the student demands was the “creation of a 'Suppressed Studies Division in the University to study the working class, black and third-world peoples, women, and radical movements.'” Although the sit-in failed, the political spirit of the students of the late sixties would increasingly exert its influence in later decades.
The story of the English Department in the 1970s and the 1980s most fundamentally concerns the establishment of new fields—and new methodologies—of literary study. The political impulse to rectify the narrowness of the literary canon, coupled with the dramatic entrance of Continental theory on the scene, have probably been the strongest forces shaping the contemporary English department. Part of the aftermath of the Dixon affair was an increased focus on discrimination. Gwin Kolb, then Chairman of the English Department, wrote in 1971 that a “committee from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare is investigating the U. of Chicago for possible discrimination against women; and, since English is one of the departments selected for examination, I've had my hands full the past few days.” One of the young women on the faculty at this time, according to a report from Stuart Tave during his chairmanship, was enormously “concerned with the state of the Department, the profession, women, and [wanted] something done.” It was in the 1970s that the Department hired a specialist in African American literature. American popular culture began to emerge as a field; of John Cawelti, the early representative of the study of popular culture, Tave reported that his work “in teaching and in publication is different from anyone else's in the department...; [but] he's one of the best in that field and getting better all the time.”
Another major event of the 1970s was the establishment of Critical Inquiry, the first volume of which was published in 1974. Under the editorship of Sheldon Sacks of the English Department, the journal quickly established itself among contemporary journals of criticism. Stuart Tave reported in 1975 that Sacks' “editing of Critical Inquiry, now completing its first year, has been superb,” and that the “journal now has, as it should, international high reputation, not only in literary study but in humanities more generally. He's got a star cast of contributors doing mainly star-level articles.” The journal was clearly in part an organ for faculty of the English Department and the Humanities Division, the first volume containing essays by Wayne Booth, John Cawelti, David Daiches (no longer at Chicago), Gerald Mast, Elder Olson, Jay Schleusener, Joshua Taylor, John Wallace, Edward Wasiolek, Karl Weintraub, and Richard McKeon. But Sacks and the other editors showed excellent judgment in including other contributors, publishing, inter alia, Jacques Barzun, Jorge Luis Borges, Kenneth Burke, Stanley Fish, Nelson Goodman, E. D. Hirsch, Frank Kermode, and Barbara Herrnstein Smith in the first volume.
The last few decades saw the Department establish ties with various centers and insitutes that support interdisciplinary research. The Franke Institute for the Humanities was founded in 1990; the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture (CSRPC) was founded in 1994; the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) was founded in 1996; the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT) was founded in 2004; the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture was founded in 2006. More recently, the Committee on Creative Writing has made creative writing a more active presence within the English Department.
R. S. Crane spoke in 1960 of the unique “intellectual climate” of the University of Chicago, and the English Department in particular, which he claimed was “permeated with the esprit critique; and...has been so permeated as long as I have known anything about Chicago.” This esprit critique was manifest in a kind of criticism which Crane thought peculiar to Chicago:
it is a criticism directed primarily not at the accuracy of my facts or the soundness of my opinions but at things more basic than these—the relevance of my assumptions, the appropriateness of my method, the sufficiency of my notions of evidence, and so on. We are more than usually self-conscious at Chicago about these fundamental aspects of our research and teaching.
Despite the changes and developments through the years, that the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago has fostered this critical spirit or something near akin to it and has remained committed to interrogating the most fundamental questions about literary study and its reach.
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