1950s Courses

The BookstoreThere isn’t much to report from the decade of the 1950s. The 1940s produced pronounced changes in the curriculum—the loss of courses in speech, theater, debate and media studies; the addition of a new Writing Major. In the 1950s, a period with substantial turnover in personnel, the challenge to the faculty was to settle into the new curriculum.

In the bulletin for the 1957-58 academic year, the English department represented itself as follows:

The undergraduate program of the English department has the following objectives: (a) to train all University students in clear, correct, and effective writing; (b) to guide the general student toward an understanding and appreciation of literature, with emphasis upon the insight which literature gives into the nature and condition of man; (c) to provide literature majors with a perspective of the main trends on English and American literature, acquaintance with the  lives and works of the more important writers, familiarity with the major literary types, and sufficient knowledge of literary techniques and critical principles to permit independent judgment of literary productions; (d) to give writing majors, in addition to the kinds of knowledge mentioned above, instruction and practice in original, creative composition; and (e) to supply special courses of professional value to students in the School of Business Administration, the School of Education, and the Schools of Engineering and Mines.  

In 1951, the department participated in a cross-disciplinary program of study called “Anglo-American Civilization.” Students involved took courses in English, Geography, History, Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology. But subsequent bulletins make no mention of this program, suggesting that it was unsuccessful and short-lived. 

In 1953, the department offered an honor major to students who maintained a B average and who would, then, complete two Honors Seminars, choosing from “English Literature of the Renaissance,” “English Literature of the Age of Enlightenment,” “English Literature of the 19th Century,” “American Literature,” or “Seminar in Criticism.” The honors degree was available to both literature or writing majors. 

Literature:  The department now offered two courses on European literature (in translation): “Modern European Fiction” (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Mann, Proust) and “European Backgrounds for English Literature” (a “masterpieces” course). Frederick Mayer created and regularly taught a course in the “Literature of the Bible” (the Bible as literature as well as the Bible as a source for English and American writers). Richard Snyder, after a year as a Ford Fellow studying the new “humanities” curricula at major universities, created a course titled “Literature and Human Values.” The department continued to offer a literature course directed toward students from the Schools of Engineering and Mining.  

The PhD program provided advanced study in literature and criticism. There were 26 PhDs granted in the 1950s (and 21 in the 1940s). Many PhD graduates went on to substantial and productive careers. Two students, we believe, were African American—Sophia Phillips Nelson went on to teach at West Virginia State University and Naomi Johnson Townsend taught at Tougaloo College.  

Composition: There is little change. The department offered a “Fundamentals Course” (2 hrs, no credit) for students unprepared for Freshman Composition. And the required composition course offered advanced sections requiring a placement exam. The department continued to offer courses in business and technical writing and a dedicated writing course for students in the Schools of Engineering and Mining. George Crouch regularly taught an advanced course in “Engineering and Managerial Report Writing.” The advanced courses in nonfiction are the courses Percival Hunt taught in the 20s:  “Description and Narration,” “Advanced Writing,” and “Writing the Essay.” 

Creative Writing: And there is little change here. You can see Lawrence Lee working to establish his niche in the curriculum. Edwin Peterson continued to offer advanced “conference” courses. Lawrence Lee created two new courses: “Special Projects in Writing” (for students working on a novel or a collection of short stories or any extended project) and “Principles and Practices in Writing.”  

Journalism: Journalism stood apart from Composition and Creative Writing as an independent “division” of the English department, but with separate course listings in the College catalog. This was how “Speech” was represented in the 30s and 40s. The tenure track English faculty members teaching journalism in the 1950s are Robert Graham, Marjorie Avery Bernhard, and Donald Swarts. There are several additions to the usual courses in newspaper journalism, and these show the curriculum responding to the new media and the new professional venues for writers. New courses include “Reporting Public Affairs,” “Newscast Writing,” “Public Relations,” “Book Publishing Practice,” “Television Production.” With speech and psychology, the department supported a course in “The Role of Communication in Human Relations.” And the curriculum included a special “Seminar in Journalism” for honors students.