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

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  129 Ratings  ·  15 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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Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Liam Guilar
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 23, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This being written by Gerald Graff of They Say/I Say infamy, I proceeded with caution. Professing Literature, however, serves its purpose as a history of the English discipline. It investigates the premises and functions of literary scholarship from its derivation from philology and rhetoric in the late 1800s to its derivation of formal theory about a century later. Graff argues that recent anxiety over the specialization of academic English is only the latest permutation of the conflict between ...more
J. Alfred
This is a book which reviews the teaching of literature at the college level in America throughout history. With that as a premise, it is kind of astonishing that it reaches levels of real interest at many points, not just impressive details like the 1850s librarians who would attempt to keep anyone from borrowing any books. Graff's main idea in life is that conflict is not a bad thing (one of his works is called "Agonism in the Academy") and that pushing on and working through areas of conflict ...more
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academia
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.
Aug 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Indispensable for anyone who wants context for current debates in the discipline. (Whatever "current" may be for you: it's not like intradisciplinary debates are going anywhere.) However, given that Graff makes it clear throughout that the point of the book is to put forward a solution, the part at the end where proposals were given was surprisingly brief and vague.
Sep 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Klay Kubiak
Jan 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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?
Sep 09, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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does it count if i skimmed the last 50pgs.. ?
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