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Professing Literature: An Institutional History
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Professing Literature: An Institutional History

3.36 of 5 stars 3.36  ·  rating details  ·  100 ratings  ·  12 reviews
Widely considered the standard history of the profession of literary studies, Professing Literature unearths the long-forgotten ideas and debates that created the literature department as we know it today. In a readable and often-amusing narrative, Gerald Graff shows that the heated conflicts of our recent culture wars echo—and often recycle—controversies over how literatu ...more
Paperback, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, 340 pages
Published December 15th 2007 by University Of Chicago Press (first published February 15th 1989)
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Liam Guilar
The version I read is the original 1987 edition. As a history of the field it is thorough, but as history it feels oddly dated. The final chapter on 'Theory" tries to show that all reading is theoretical, as though the discussion of methodology in the 1920s and full blown 'continental theory' (Graf's term), are identical.
Other than that a fascinating survey of the problems facing American institutions once they had accepted the study of literature was academically respectable. The initial misgi
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Mary
First off, can I take a moment to describe why I love Graff's writing style? True to his philosophies about high/low intellectual discussion, he'll always bring back down whatever theory or history he's talking about with quips and summaries that make me draw little smiley faces in the margins and the quote he includes from contemporaries often make their way onto my Facebook feed. Kind of a delight to read.

Next I'd like to say that in addition to being influencial, this book is quite useful. Gr
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Matthew Knip
How does one digest a two-hundred-and-sixty-page text in a paragraph or two? Perhaps to the accompaniment of organ music? Or should I begin with a ponderous “As everyone knows” (55) and then conjure up an obscure fact to intimidate all? (My only complaint with Graff as a stylist!) I’m reminded of David Kazanjian’s three “yeses.” (Did you know that “yeses” can mean the stimulation of one’s partner, producing the “yes”...”Yes”...”YES”? (As in “When Harry Met Sally”)). Well, “yes!” is what I found ...more
Mike Jensen
We begin by noting that PROFESSING and PROFESSOR share the same root, and this book is about professors professing. It is a response to ED Hirsch and Allan Bloom’s books about reform in the teaching of literature. The book is enlightening because Graff’s examines the pre-history of literature classes to show how they evolved from Greek and Latin studies, and how once introduced they were taught in the same plodding way. He eventually advances to the controversial “-isms” of today.

The first sent
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Gabriel Oak
A useful, readable history of literature as an object of study in higher education from the nineteenth century to the present. Graff is right that taking a slightly longer view of institutional history makes current debates about historicism, formalism, and theory and the incessant handwringing over the crisis in the humanities seem more recycled than provocative.
Melissa
It was well worth my time to read this book as a general overview of literature teaching in the academy. It helped to explain some of the conflicts and tensions we see in literature departments, the differences in approach by literary theorists, literary historians, and literary critics, to texts, how the various theoretical movements came into being over the course of the 20th century, and how they relate to or seek to refute one another.
Theresa
This is an interesting book for anyone interested in the field of English studies, but it's a weird read for sure. The history bit is pretty cool if you enjoy reading histories, but then there's some really weird arguing through history stuff going on that's really jarring. But anyone who's studying English has something to gain by reading this, if nothing else to read a history of the discipline that isn't Valium.
Brooke
This book discusses the history of pedagogy. Reading only the preface and introduction will suffice; the rest of the book deals with wordy, specific examples. I wouldn't recommend this book unless you're really, REALLY into the history of institutionalized pedagogy.
Kim
I am learning how to read in the world of high literature. This book is an interesting look into the start of English as a part of academia and the conflicts facing the discipline.
Klay Kubiak
An essential read for anyone interested in the teaching profession. A bit idealistic in the proposals that are made, but a very good examination of the history of lit studies in the US.
Amy
Awesome and insightful, renews idealism about literature departments and a sense of purpose for academia. Anyone know of another book like this that is more recent?
Tina
Brought up some good issues, but was really dry. I only read about half.
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