Literatures of ‘Contact Zones’

The readings for this week seemed to be primarily concerned with classifications of pedagogies. What kinds of teachers are we? What kinds of teachers should we be? Berlin[1], in particular, set out somewhat rigid categories of pedagogical style; but the essay that most caught my attention was Patricia Bizzell’s essay, “”Contact Zones” and English Studies” [2].

Bizzell addresses this issue of rigidity that has guided English Studies nearly since the formation of the discipline. As she notes, even Composition is very narrowly left to its own category of course. Bizzell writes, “Focusing on a contact zone as a way of organizing literary study would mean attempting to include all material relevant to the struggles going on there.” (166) Composition must respond to something. Composition for the sake of composition seems empty and devoid of purpose aside from the technical mechanics of writing. My own students have struggled with the idea of a Composition class and I have sought to find ways to make it meaningful for them.

Bizzell’s notion of organizing literary study, as well as the composition component, around a contact zone is a potentially innovative way of engaging the student in thought. Rather than teaching a class on Jane Austen or American Literature or simply Composition, why not design a course around a specific conflict or moment of contact? Why not have a course based around, for example, Early Modern trade routes? One might incorporate contemporary literatures of Britain, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as primary materials such as charters, letters, and other such materials. This would supply a targeted means of thinking about composition and rhetoric. Bizzell suggests that this organizational method would facilitate looking at “rhetorical effectiveness of each writer in dealing with the matter in hand” (167). This ultimately allows for rhetorical analysis in context. The syllabus could include a historiographic approach to literature, rhetoric, and composition.

1. Berlin, James A. “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories.” College English 44. 8 (1982): 765-777.

2. Bizzell, Patricia. “’Contact Zones’ and English Studies.” College English 56.2 (1994): 163-169.

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