The House That Jim Crow Built: A Microhistory of Student Writing at the University of Houston, From the Nineteen-Fifties to the Nineteen-Sixties



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With particular emphasis on the period from the 1950s to the 1960s, this case study traces UH’s development under Jim Crow laws, already in place when it and TSU, its sister institution, were established in 1927. In the first chapter, I situate UH’s designation as a Tier-One Research University in the larger context of its history as a segregated institution. While acknowledging revisionist Rhetoric and Composition histories, I argue that my microhistorical study adds another layer to disciplinary master narratives. By shifting back and forth between changes at the institutional and department levels, I argue that a more vivid picture of student writing emerges during the years of integration. The second chapter provides a review of microhistories of Composition which have direct bearing on my project, as well as enumerating the central theoretical questions, methods and methodology, research sites and sources. Providing a brief sketch of UH’s beginnings, the third chapter focuses on institutional and departmental developments from 1950 to 1963, when it became a publicly-funded four-year university. Despite the absence of “traditional” archival evidence such as syllabi, assignments, and student essays, I contend that the student newspaper The Daily Cougar offers valuable insights into institutional leaders’ efforts to raise academic standards and the English department’s implementation of a non-credit-bearing laboratory in the early 1960s to address rising undergraduate enrollment. In the fourth chapter, I recount TSU’s beginnings, while focusing on the 1950s and early 1960s. I closely read articles from the student newspaper TSU Herald and The Informer and Texas Freeman to argue that students used writing outside the FYC classroom to agitate for change. The fifth chapter brings together interview excerpts from faculty with in-depth knowledge about UH’s and TSU’s shifting identities as well as their own FYC teaching experience to argue that, despite the formation of the NCTE’s Black Caucus in the early 1970s, whose aim was to showcase the work of African American scholars, literary specialization remained highly valued. In the sixth chapter, I elaborate on my findings and assess the implications of using a microhistorical approach to recover glimpses of student writing from diverse sites.



Undergraduate student writing, English Composition, First-Year Composition, Integration, Desegregation, Student protests, Civil Rights Movement