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Bloom wins grant to study 50 years
of literary essays
Lynn Z. Bloom, professor of English and Aetna Chair of Writing, has received a grant from the National Council of Teachers of English Research Foundation for a project to study the American essay canon throughout the 20th century, particularly as these essays are published in anthologies and taught in American colleges and universities.
A literary canon, explains Bloom, is "a body of literature in a particular time, place and country that society values either because of what it says or the way it's written."
Bloom won the grant in a nationwide competition. The National Council of Teachers of English Research Foundation, a professional organization of elementary, high school, and college teachers, awarded 12 such grants this year. It is a very prestigious grant, she says, because it represents the judgement of the major professional community.
The project is a study of essays, originally published in literary and general magazines and newspapers, that have been reprinted numerous times for use in freshman English courses.
"There are about 2.2 million freshman per year and at least two-thirds of them are reading these essays," Bloom says. "What essays do they read, and why? What changes in teaching do these books reflect over time? The works don't get published in these books by chance and they don't stay there either unless there are good reasons - literary, pedagogical, political - for keeping them there."
One of the major tasks in conducting this research, says Bloom, is locating the roughly 450 textbooks that are the core of this study, for textbooks are constantly changing and being discarded. "It's very hard to find these books," she says, "libraries don't buy them and students don't keep them."
She has compiled a database of about 30,000 entries from these textbooks, that will be published. The books she has collected for the project will be donated to the National Archives of Composition and Rhetoric at the University of New Hampshire, an international collection of materials for research in composition studies.
Bloom's research, which encompasses collections of essays published from 1946 to 1996, will examine the relationship between literature and politics. "After World War II, with the G.I. bill, the university became less of an elitist institution. It was a huge change, and the books have changed," she says. "After World War II, you can't assume that Americans have a shared culture, and this is reflected in the gradual change of liberal arts anthologies to a much broader spectrum of books on a wide range of topics, such as gender, multiculturalism, and science."
Bloom says the way courses are taught is also changing. Her project will include an analysis of how these materials are being presented in the classroom.