Carnegie Mellon University

Audience Theory and its Treatment in American Composition Textbooks 1850-1920

Author: Priscilla Kelly
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2000

This dissertation builds on Albert Kitzhaber's study of later nineteenth century textbooks in which he argues that the second half nineteenth century changed from an orally-based to a literate-based pedagogy and regarded education as a practical fitting for life in modern industrial society. This study extends Kitzhaber's study by addressing the questions: (1) What were the implications for audience when the rhetoric of the nineteenth century textbooks changed from an orally-based pedagogy to a literate one and required students to actually compose themes?
(2) In what ways did the textbooks of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries actually address the problem of the writer's audience?

This research shows that major textbooks responded to the change from oral to written pedagogy with a rich variety of audience theory.

This research suggests that major textbook writers theories reflected competing cultural issues that evolved from the needs of the developing industrialized society and the Constitution¹s promises of equal rights to all citizens. Rather than building an evolving theory of audience, textbook writers responded with a wide variety of concepts of audience instead of building a consistent theory. The diversity of audience theory found suggests fragmentation in an age in transition.

Many major textbook writers struggled primarily with the effects of the written artifact on the reader; Fred Newton Scott and Gertrude Buck worked on organic and democratic theories of audience that were reflective of their social concerns. Buck challenged some contemporaries' theories with a social theory and pedagogy that served both marginalized populations' needs for communication and technology's need for transference of information.

This dissertation contributes to the historical literature on nineteenth and early twentieth century rhetoric. It contextualizes the idea of audience in Current-traditional textbooks between 1850 and 1920, and it challenges the claim by rhetorical scholars that textbooks of this period have ignored the concept of audience in their rhetorical theory (Kitzhaber, Berlin, Crowley, Brereton). This study develops an understanding of the significant number of concepts of audience presented in the important textbooks of the period, and hence enhances the understanding of the roots of the Current-traditional paradigm.