Composition & Rhetoric

At both undergraduate and graduate levels–up to and including the PhD–UHM’s English Department offers substantive areas of study in composition and rhetoric. Although some consider them separately, the fields of composition and rhetoric are so intertwined that most scholars speak of “rhetoric-and-composition” or “composition-and-rhetoric” as a singular discipline, often referred to as “rhetcomp” or “comprhet.” The discipline’s general aims include studying and producing persuasive discourses (both written and spoken), the end goal of which is the creation of socially active citizens capable of effecting change through skillful communication.

Composition and Rhetoric (C/R) has become increasingly important to English departments and the academy in general as critical theories have revealed the integral relations among language, thought, identity, and power. C/R specialists employ critical theories (many also shared with literary and cultural studies) to evaluate discourses that are socially and politically productive in everyday life. At the same time, C/R scholars engage in the art of creating (and teaching others how to create) such discourses–on the page, on the screen, and face-to-face: rhetoric has historically functioned as a practical art, one as much interested in producing discourse as consuming it. Students studying C/R at UHM can expect to learn a range of communicative skills that include traditional academic forms, technical writing, multimedia productions for the web, among others. Students can also develop professional editing abilities and enhance the writing they do in both public and private spheres. Finally, students can learn to be effective teachers of writing by studying pedagogical theories and practices, as well as histories of rhetoric and of teaching writing–a significant focus of the discipline’s work and one reason why many education majors take courses in C/R.

At the undergraduate level, all students beginning their degree programs at UHM are introduced to the rhetorical, stylistic, and conceptual demands of writing within the academy when they take first-year composition (English 100 or its equivalent), a general education course that satisfies the university’s Core requirement in Written Communication. The first-year course works toward its goals by providing students with instruction in rhetorical principles, composing processes, search strategies, and writing from sources.

After completing first-year composition, students can then take an array of courses in Composition and Rhetoric at UHM, including the rhetorical tradition (English 300), histories of the English language, grammar, and English in Hawai‘i (302, 402, 403, 404), writing for electronic media (307 and 407), autobiographical writing (311), advanced argumentation (306 and 406), technical writing (308), editing (408), the teaching of writing (405), and specialized “studies in” courses offered on a rotating basis (409). Students can receive a majoror a minor in English, either of which can include the specific Composition and Rhetoric courses listed here; to see individual descriptions of these courses, please visit the Composition and Rhetoric Undergraduate Courses page.

At the graduate level, students can earn an MA degree with a formal concentration in Composition and Rhetoric; they can also earn aPhD, specializing in Composition and Rhetoric through specific coursework, area exams, and the dissertation. Students at MA and PhD levels in Composition and Rhetoric study histories, theories, and practices of rhetorical action–both oral and written, interpretive and productive–in a variety of contexts; they also study how to teach rhetoric and writing. Students explore methods and contexts of composition instruction. They investigate writing processes, examine the continual shifts in what “counts” as literacy in the digital era, and evaluate teaching practices of collaboration, response, and assessment in writing classrooms and programs. They take introductory courses and seminars on the theories and practices of writing, writing across the curriculum, professional communication, assessment, and computers and composition. They also take courses in rhetoric and rhetorical theory, often studying intersections and relations among discursive practices and cultural productions, examining along the way employments of queer theory, cultural studies, feminism, and critical theories of technology: recent or upcoming courses include, for example, studies in Kenneth Burke, postmodern rhetorical theory, the rhetoric of popular culture, writing and difference, and new media rhetorics.

As graduate students develop expertise and research agendas in Composition and Rhetoric, they often engage in professional and scholarly activities in the field, serving on committees, attending and assisting in the running of local and national conferences, and presenting their work at regional, national, and international gatherings. Students at both the MA and PhD levels in Composition and Rhetoric have represented UHM by delivering papers at the discipline’s primary gathering, the Conference on College Composition and Communication; graduate students have recently presented at CCCC in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, in addition to presenting their scholarship at Computers and Writing conferences and at international meetings abroad. Students also engage in publishing: recent MA and PhD students have helped to run locally situated journals, and they have published chapters in anthologies as well as articles in journals like Freshman English News, The Writing Lab Newsletter, and Composition Studies.

Many of the graduate students in English also teach as Graduate Assistants (GAs); after apprenticing with a faculty member for a semester and taking a required graduate course, Teaching Composition (605), GAs teach first-year writing and, later, assist in or teach a range of other courses in rhetoric, literature, and creative writing. GAs can also work in the writing center (known officially here as the Writing Workshop) as tutors. Such professional experiences are among the many reasons that students, upon graduating from the program, are securing tenure-line jobs as Composition and Rhetoric specialists at colleges and universities here and in the continental US.