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 (CompRhet). CompRhet 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, CompRhet 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 examining it. Students studying CompRhet at UHM can expect to learn a range of rhetorical concepts, histories, theories, and strategies—by examining works by Ancient Greek writers like Aristotle and Plato alongside contemporary works informed by indigenous, queer, feminist, digital, speculative, postmodern, ecological, and embodied theories of rhetoric (among many others). Students should also expect to practice working within diverse genres and modalities that include traditional academic forms, creative and hybrid forms, writing for the public, technical and professional writing, multimedia productions for the web (among many others). Finally, students can learn to be effective teachers of writing by studying pedagogical theories and practices–a significant focus of the discipline’s work and one reason why many education majors take courses in CompRhet.

First Year Composition

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, and information literacy.

Undergraduate Studies

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 the web (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 major or 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.

Graduate Studies

At the graduate level, students can earn an MA degree with a formal concentration in Composition and Rhetoric; they can also earn a PhD, specializing in CompRhet through specific coursework, area exams, and the dissertation. Students at MA and PhD levels in CompRhet 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 in a variety of curricular and cultural contexts. They investigate writing processes, examine the continual shifts in what “counts” as literacy in the digital era, and evaluate teaching practices in writing classrooms and programs. They take introductory courses and seminars in composition studies, composition theory, rhetorical theory, and rhetorical history. In these courses, they will study intersections and relations among discursive practices and cultural productions. Recent or upcoming courses include, for example, studies in postmodern rhetorical theory, the rhetoric of popular culture, writing and difference, writing center theory and practice, and new media rhetorics.

Graduate Student Professional Development

As graduate students develop expertise and research agendas in CompRhet, they often engage in professional and scholarly activities in the field, serving on committees, working as assistants in departmental administrative positions, and presenting their work at regional, national, and international conferences. Students at both the MA and PhD levels in CompRhet regularly represent UHM by delivering papers at the discipline’s primary gathering, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, as well as the Biennial Rhetoric Society of America Conference. CompRhet graduate students are also encouraged and assisted in academic 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 Rhetoric Review, Peer Review, and Composition Studies.

Graduate Student Teaching

Finally, many of the PhD students in English also teach as Graduate Assistants (GAs), designing and delivering first, second, and eventually third-year undergraduate courses in writing and rhetoric. Master’s students often also work as writing tutors either in the Writing Center or in the English 100 Mentoring Program. Such professional experiences are among the many reasons that students, upon graduating from the program, are securing tenure-line positions as Composition and Rhetoric specialists at colleges and universities here and in the continental US.

Composition and Rhetoric Faculty

Composition and Rhetoric Courses