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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Harmonious perfection : the development of English studies in nineteenth-century Anglo-Canadian colleges Hubert, Henry A.


In the last three decades, English studies in Anglophone colleges and universities in Canada have seen a marked diversification, including a return toward an historically normative program featuring both poetics and rhetoric. Such a balanced program, present at colleges like Dalhousie and McGill at the time of Canadian Confederation, developed from the earlier classical program of studies that itself included both poetics and rhetoric in Latin and Greek in each college's Classics offerings. The earliest Anglo-Canadian colleges, opened in the first half of the nineteenth century, were products of the religious interests of separate social groups each rooted in particular traditions. Anglican colleges stressed a curriculum modeled on Oxford and Cambridge, who featured liberal studies emphasizing classical learning in both content and language. Presbyterian colleges, modeled on Scottish universities, included classical studies but included a practical emphasis on rhetorical study in the vernacular. Methodist education, influenced by both English and American ties, was the most practical, with a strong rhetorical emphasis in the vernacular. Shortly after mid-century, English literature began to gain a place in non-Anglican colleges, and the rhetoric and poetics focus of Classical studies gradually moved to English. In the 1880s, however, the development of English studies was suddenly diverted from an expansion of rhetoric and poetics together to a strong literary focus. Instruction in oral rhetoric virtually died, and the teaching of written rhetoric was subsumed into a focus on expository writing as a means of examining literary criticism. The new curriculum, following Matthew Arnold's emphasis on "the best that has been known and thought," featured historical masterpieces in British literature. The focus of this curriculum was supported by a philosophical idealism that combined historic Christian thought with neo-Hegelianism in liberal Protestant institutions throughout the nation at the century's end. The narrowing of the curriculum was further fostered by academic specialization that swept Anglo-Canadian colleges just as idealism took a strong hold on liberal academic thought. This late nineteenth-century idealistic curriculum controlled Anglo-Canadian English studies until the late 1960s.

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